The Big Read: How COVID-19, dubbed the ‘inequality virus’, has further widened the rich-poor gap
Nevertheless, NUS’ Dr Ong said there is a need to look deeper into how training benefits low-wage workers.
“There are many schemes to support upgrading in these pandemic times in preparation for more digitalisation in work. Many financial support schemes are tied to individuals’ participation in training or activities to improve their work situations,” she said.
She stressed that it is crucial that the training programmes have a “real impact” on the wages and job prospects of low-income earners.
“Otherwise, these could simply be additional responsibilities they have to juggle, which may increase further risks of psychological functioning impairments, leading to even poorer decision-making and performances,” she added.
MINDING THE GAP
Assoc Prof Theseira said that people should also be concerned whether COVID-19 has made it worse for low-income households overall, even with the unprecedented amount of support that they have received.
While there has been extensive government support for lower-income families during COVID-19, there is no data to show if that has put them back on the paths they were before the pandemic, he said.
“We have to take the perspective that low-income families are likely to have suffered impacts that go beyond just the wage losses. Career paths have been upended, families have suffered tremendous stress from being trapped in what is often inadequate housing, and resources will have been drained to cope with the various challenges of daily life under COVID-19 and our changing economic and social restrictions,” he said.
“We have to look at schemes that go beyond just ‘fixing’ the losses in wages, which have already been accomplished to some extent, and look at how to ensure that low-income families can share in the economic recovery, through helping them achieve higher earnings and better job opportunities.”
It also means addressing the burdens of everyday life, such as through flexible work arrangements, so that working age members in these households can seek meaningful employment without having to compromise due to their personal circumstances.
One such group, for example, is single mothers, who make up around 40 per cent of Daughters of Tomorrow’s beneficiaries.
Ms Kua noted that working single mothers often find it necessary to reduce their working hours in order to take care of the elderly or children, which leads to them having little for themselves and becoming needy in their retirement years due to a lack of savings.
“That is a pretty important point, because if they do not have enough in their Central Provident Fund or funds for retirement, it could end up in transgenerational poverty because the burden of care passes to their children, who may then have to leave their jobs to look after their parents,” added Ms Kua.
With the unprecedented amounts of financial aid used to help needy families stay afloat during the pandemic, several interviewees also reiterated the importance of allowing them to provide for themselves instead of solely relying on aid.
Ms Selene Ong, the acting head of the Community Resilience department at the Singapore Red Cross, said these families have faced a plethora of challenges during the pandemic, such as the loss of jobs and income, and experiencing feelings of uncertainty.
This has made the process of securing new employment, either by having to upskill or to seek career counselling, feel like a long and uncertain one.
“Some may even have lost hope along the way and fell back to total reliance on assistance, which whilst temporary, was provided almost immediately if they walked in and presented the necessary documents,” said Ms Ong.
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