Cost of living motion: Sim Ann addresses WP MPs' concerns, noting improvements in housing supply & availability of healthier food options

Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann explained Singapore's housing strategy and revealed a new scheme for budget meals.

Khine Zin Htet | November 08, 2023, 05:11 PM



Members of Parliament (MP) from all parties debated in Parliament on Nov. 7, 2023, on areas where the government should look to help Singaporeans cope with the rising cost of living.

This followed a motion filed by Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh and MP Louis Chua.

Housing demand and supply

WP Louis Chua's speech

Chua called on the government to increase the supply of HDB flats across both the for-purchase market and the for-rent market.

With increasing population growth and housing demand, supply needs to be met to ensure Singaporeans can access appropriate housing and shelter, he said.

Even though the government assured that it has significantly increased the supply and will launch up to 100,000 new flats from 2021 to 2025, Chua believes the government has not yet addressed the backlog, and it is unclear if the recent decline in application rate will be sustained.

Furthermore, he believes the new BTO classification system does not sufficiently address housing affordability.

Chua explained that the new system may potentially exert additional upward pressure on resale HDB flat prices in certain Plus and Prime locations as the classification system only applies to new BTO launches.

He recommended that the Government consider building residential homes ahead of demand and undertake a fundamental reassessment of the BTO system.

He also proposed resuming the pace of rental flat construction to at least match the net increase observed between 2011 and 2020. This is to minimise the agonising wait for an allocation of a rental flat and to alleviate the worries of many Singaporeans who have not been able to access a rental flat, he said.

Sim Ann's response

In response to Chua's proposal, Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann set out the government’s overall approach towards maintaining stability in the housing market.

She said that improvements in the economy and a rise in income in Singapore over the long term can manifest in a gradual rise in housing values and prices.

"Sudden shocks in either the public or private housing market will cause serious problems and even hardship for Singaporeans, and this is why the Government actively uses policy levers to moderate price increases," she said.

She also said that recent housing price movements are caused by specific imbalances such as:

  • Delays in building programme due to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Significant rise in HDB resale prices due to factors like buyers turning to resale flats during the pandemic due to delays in BTO construction and shifts in social norms prompted by the experience of the pandemic.
  • Concerns caused by the price of mature estate BTOs

On Chua's suggestion on increasing the supply of HDB, she said that HDB has been doing all it could and activated more levers on the demand side, such as by prioritising BTO flats for young married couples.

"We have been building HDB flats faster than HDB's population growth," she noted.

Rising food prices

Singh, the leader of opposition, raised the issue of rising food prices, saying that food prices account for a large proportion of income in the lower strata of society.

When food prices increase, "the pinch for low and even middle-income Singaporeans is real and painful," he said.

WP MP He Ting Ru elaborated on concerns about the cost of healthy eating in Singapore.

She asked if more could be done to improve the availability and accessibility of healthier food and drink options.

"Eating well is eating in a way that at least meets what nutritionists recommend as a bare minimum," she said.

She pointed out that meeting this recommendation becomes challenging for individuals who work or reside at a considerable distance from supermarkets or areas with various food choices conducive to a healthy diet.

“It is also harder to address rising food costs when many do not have access to a microwave or fridge at work, which makes it more difficult to bring healthier meals from home,” she said.

She suggested more consideration and priority to stalls and restaurants that offer quantitatively healthier food under HDB’s Price-Quality Method Tenders framework.

Great Budget Meal Hunt

In response, Sim said that the government has rolled out the Budget Meal initiative in 2023 to increase the availability of affordable food options in HDB estates.

These budget meal options are typically lunch or dinner meal options that are priced affordably and are comparable with meals sold at lower price points at nearby eating establishments, including HDB coffee shops or hawker centres, she said.

"We have observed that rental coffee shops leased under the Price-Quality Method (PQM) tenders typically provide budget food options with prices at around $3 to $3.50, across the estates," she said.

Additionally, the government soft-launched an effort in October this year to crowdsource the public’s recommendations and verification of budget meals in coffee shops across the island.

Called the Great Budget Meal Hunt, the public can use the CrowdTaskSG portal to submit information on affordable meals they would recommend to others or verify the details of a budget meal listed on the BudgetMealGoWhere site.

"Over the past week and a half, we have received 245 recommendations of affordable meals and 319 verifications across 91 coffee shops. We welcome Singaporeans to contribute actively to this initiative," she said.

HDB is also studying regulatory options to require budget meals to be provided in privately owned eating houses, she shared.

Top image via MCI