Firuz Khan’s Rally Speech, Serangoon Stadium Rally, 8 Sep

Good evening, my fellow Singaporeans. Thank you for coming out in such large numbers to support us.

My name is Firuz Khan and I am your candidate for the Marine Parade GRC.

So many of you are here tonight, taking your precious time to hear us out. We are honoured. We are grateful. Grateful because you are keen to listen WP out, to see if we can stand for you, for your cause, and for your concerns in Parliament.

Yes, we want to be that voice. And we believe that we, the Workers’ Party, can be that voice. Why? Because we are like you — working, living, seeing and going through the same issues and challenges on the ground. We need to speak up. And we will speak up. Not for my sake, but for our sake, for the sake of a better Singapore!

Let’s just talk about the cost of living. Is it high? Has it gone higher? You BET!

Is the cost of living important? OF COURSE! It affects how much money you and I can have in our pockets. It affects our everyday living, how much we pay for our food, and even for the fruits that we eat. It affects how much we can save. So cost of living directly affects you and me. And Singapore’s cost of living is high, and it is still climbing!

A resident I met during the house visits told me, that the cost for a week’s supply of vegetables, for her family of eight, has doubled compared to 2-3 years ago. Another resident, a student, who studies at SIM, but pays adult fare, said her transport costs have gone up over the last nine months after the recent fare hikes this year. Sounds familiar?

Ask your neighbour. Ask your colleagues. Ask the one beside you now…whether things in Singapore are getting more expensive. Can you fill your stomach, with a S$2 hawker centre meal? Very difficult. Want to bring your family of four, to the cinema to catch a movie, during the weekend? Be prepared to fork out S$50. And every time, you have to “Pay-And-Pay”, and now “Pay-And-Pay-More” — everything from food, transport, medical, education and even entertainment.

What about salaries? Ask your neighbour or good friend what his salary increase was, over the last 2-3 years. Got 10%, 20%? Not unless you are promoted, or got a better job, or work in a better company. According to government’s statistics, our real wage increase — that means, after taking out inflation — averaged about 2% per year over 2009-2014. So do you feel you are 2% richer every year?

In 2013, a survey was conducted which showed that more than 40% of young Singaporeans had not saved for retirement. Out of this group, almost half said that they were unable to save due to the cost of living, while 38% said that they were unable to save after buying a property.

From 2004 to 2011 housing prices far outstripped inflation. Government policy played a large role in this. Before 2011, the government did not want to build public housing too quickly, and allowed demand to get too far ahead of supply, causing prices to rise unsustainably. This led to prices spiralling in the private housing market as well.

Don’t just tell us that everything is ok and rosy by citing statistics. Come sit with us. Come live with us, and see our daily challenge, of having to stretch every dollar. When I asked my fruit seller, how come fruits are so expensive in Singapore. Guess what he said — “Look at the COE. So high! Must buy van to transport fruits what! So I must charge more to survive!”

Is that why our cost of living is so high? Because of high COEs? Because of ERP and CBD? Because of high property and rental prices? We believe that these costs, which have climbed and stayed high over the last few years, have fed into the daily living of you and me.

Take for instance, the renovation of our wet markets. Did rents not rise after all the upgrades? So how? Hawkers charge more and we have to “Pay-And-Pay-More”.

These cost of living increases have had an unequal effect on Singaporeans. The Minister said in 2015 that real median income growth grew 18% from 2010 to last year, quicker than cost of living increases. But what he does not mention is that inflation disproportionately affects less well-off Singaporeans. For example, from 2011 to 2014 the annual increase in housing and utility costs for the bottom 20% of households by income was more than 2% higher than for the top 20% , even as their wages continued to fall behind. This has worsened inequality in our society.

The issue of cost of living is thus tied up with the problem of inequality. In these two years, the cost of food, public transport and tuition have been growing much faster than inflation. Going by recent trends, by the time of the next elections in five years time, tuition would be nearly 20% more expensive; public transport more than 11% more costly.

Why shouldn’t we expect the current rate of increase to continue?

Rapid cost increases in such vital items as public transport and tuition will make it more difficult for struggling Singaporean families to get their feet on the economic ladder, even as those above them climb ever more quickly upwards. Lower-income families will find it tougher to afford the after-school help they need for their children to excel in school. Retirees will find it ever more difficult to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

This calls for a holistic response for the issue of rising costs of living. There is no simple policy fix. It is a multi-dimensional problem that requires the integration of a variety of policies.

Not only should we have policies that tackle the causes of cost of living increases, such as WP’s call for a non-profit entity to operate the public transport system and for de-linking HDB prices from land costs, we also need policies that will help boost incomes so that Singaporeans can cope with costs increases. Such as WP’s call for a national minimum wage to provide workers with a living wage and for policies that will allow elderly workers to extend their work lives.

We will also need strong social protection to ensure that struggling families do not fall further behind and are better equipped to cope with unexpected emergencies in life. Whether it is equitable support for single parents, or for greater subsidies for primary healthcare.

The issue of high cost of living needs to be tackled. It needs to be re-examined, for Singapore to remain “liveable” for man-in-the-street like us. Singapore is home to us. We live here. We work here. We build our lives and families here. And we want to know that, we can do so, without always worrying about rising costs, or whether we would have enough in our CPF and savings to retire.

We may be from the Workers’ Party, but we are first and foremost, Singaporeans. I am a parent, like many of you here. So whatever issues we raise here, comes from the heart of a Singaporean, comes from the heart of a parent. Yes, let us rally in one spirit to have our voice and concerns heard.

Empower your future. Vote the Worker’s Party.