PM: Low-income families will get help as prices rise

SINGAPORE - THE Government is aware that the cost of living is on the rise and knows who the most needy people are, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Citing various government welfare schemes such as Com-Care, he said: "We know what to do, and we know who the people are who need the help.

"The broader range of Singaporeans - well, we'll see how things go and what is necessary to be done."

Mr Lee was speaking at an event yesterday in his Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC where 280 needy residents received hongbao containing $100 cash and $50 worth of FairPrice vouchers. It was held at the Teck Ghee Community Club.

Mr Lee had earlier mentioned the rise in prices of Chinese New Year goodies this year which, he said, was not due to "what is happening in Singapore".

He explained that food-price hikes are being felt not only in the region but internationally, due to storms and floods which have plagued countries such as China and Australia recently.

He said: "We import from these countries and our food prices have also gone up. New Year goodies' prices have also gone up."

Looking beyond Chinese New Year, he said that when food prices go up, for instance, the Government has in place a number of welfare schemes to help the needy tide over difficult periods.

He said: "We can help them and particularly help their children to make sure that they can cope."

The subject of Singapore's cost of living was also raised in Parliament earlier this month by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

He had said that it was driven partly by higher food prices, and is expected to soar further in the first three months of this year before moderating.

Mr Lee added that Singapore weathered high inflation in 2008 when food prices rose sharply.

In that year, there was a shortage of rice in particular, causing wholesale prices of the staple to go up by 50 per cent or more, he said.

But prices stabilised after a few months, and Mr Lee said he expected that to happen again.

Placing rising costs in the context of a recovering economy, he said: "I think one good thing this year is that everybody has a job. Unemployment is very low, about 2 per cent.

"So finding work and earning pay is not a problem. That's a big plus."

He added that shopkeepers have told him they are doing well after a year that brought generous wage settlements and bigger bonuses for workers.

"Of course, a little bit of extra warmth and friendship from the Government is always welcome and we will see what we can do in due course," said Mr Lee.

He declined to elaborate on what Singaporeans can expect in the upcoming Budget to be unveiled next month.

"I am not the Finance Minister and I have not seen Tharman (Shamugaratnam)'s proposals yet. I have some idea what he is going to do, but I think it's best that we decide carefully and then announce (them) properly," he said.

PM: Low-income families will get help as prices rise