Governance of a City-State
Commentary: Size of cost-of-living relief in Budget 2024 suggests long-term focus on economic resilience

SINGAPORE: Rising costs of transportation, utilities and other expenses have placed considerable financial burdens on Singaporeans.

Further enhancements to the Assurance Package were recently announced in Budget 2024, which will go towards helping Singaporeans with cost-of-living concerns and prevailing economic uncertainties, especially for low- and middle-income households.

Augmenting near-term financial relief, the SkillsFuture top-up and unemployment support will help to enhance employability and build economic resilience, albeit in the longer term.


Structured as a tiered and targeted measure, lower-income families will receive more cash payments and rebates, while middle-income households can still expect reasonably sized support to provide them with greater liquidity to cope with immediate financial pressures.

For example, a lower-income household of four with two young children will receive about S$5,500 in benefits, while a middle-income household of the same size can expect about S$3,000 in benefits.

Adding to the provision of S$500 worth of Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers in January, households will receive an additional S$600 to help defray their living expenses.

The high utilisation rate among households and the significant increase in merchant participation since the vouchers’ inception indicate the popularity and success of the scheme. Unlike cash payments and rebates, CDC vouchers not only ease the growing expenditure of households but also support hawkers and heartland businesses who are likewise struggling with rising costs.

Despite these efforts, the middle-income bracket may continue to experience cost-of-living concerns, especially if they are squeezed by financial obligations such as caregiving and loan repayments.

Though significant in providing much-needed relief, the S$1.9 billion enhancement to the Assurance Package, even when considering additional measures like the Personal Income Tax rebate and the LifeSG credits, appears relatively modest compared to the S$3 billion boost in Budget 2023.

Following the sizeable financial assistance offered in recent Budgets to cushion the economic impact of the global pandemic, policymakers are likely eager to strike a balance between supporting citizens in view of persistently high inflation rates alongside sluggish growth, and avoiding entrenching expectations for perpetual government intervention.

In his Budget speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong also expressed cautious optimism about the anticipated improvements in economic outlook this year. Barring another major crisis, this may signal a potential shift from the extensive financial assistance that peaked during the pandemic years.

Fiscal prudence has always been the priority of policymakers when it comes to managing the nation’s finances, aiming to steward the finite resources responsibly and sustainably without shortchanging future generations.

While the government is expected to remain firmly supportive of the least fortunate, the middle class will have to moderate their expectations and reliance on the government for financial assistance moving forward.

It is not going to be easy, but the social compact that undergirds a more inclusive and equitable society involves embracing our individual responsibilities while actively supporting those in greater need.


Besides the pressing concerns of rising living costs, anxieties surrounding job security and the ensuing financial ramifications of unemployment also weigh heavily on the minds of citizens.

Retrenchments more than doubled in 2023, and middle-income workers such as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are particularly vulnerable in business restructurings. Budget 2024 responded with deliberate and significant efforts to assist mid-career middle-aged workers.

The new SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme and subsidies to pursue a full-time diploma are available to Singaporeans aged 40 and above. Younger Singaporeans will receive the same benefit when they turn 40, demonstrating policymakers’ commitment not only to address near-term economic and job market challenges but also to support the long-term career aspirations of workers.

The active promotion of lifelong learning and skills upgrading has been part of Singapore’s national strategy to strengthen the resilience of its workforce, but mid-career workers confront unique challenges.

Their susceptibility to job displacement is heightened as they are often perceived as less adaptable or less acquainted with current trends. The weight of financial commitments at this life stage further complicates their career transitions.

The SkillsFuture top-up and training allowances represent meaningful steps aimed at addressing existing hesitancy and fostering uptake, but the partial income loss and the lack of awareness, time and support from employers may remain a significant barrier to many.


A financial support scheme is also in the works for the involuntarily unemployed while they undergo training or actively search for more suitable employment opportunities.

The government has always been averse to unemployment benefits, believing such policies would diminish the motivation of individuals to actively seek employment.

In the absence of any financial help, individuals often face a difficult decision between accepting a job offer immediately to pay the bills and taking time to search for a better job that aligns more with their skills and experience.

This urgency is more pronounced in an inflationary environment, where rising living costs magnify anxieties and place workers at an increased risk of underemployment and lower wages.

Many would be keen to learn what this policy entails, but with Singapore wanting to avoid the “pitfalls” experienced in other economies and promote personal responsibility and a robust work ethic, relatively stringent conditions for unemployment support are expected.


Budget 2024 complemented near-term financial support with investments in the long-term economic well-being and resilience of Singaporeans. The impact of cost-of-living pressures has been profound, not only for the low-income who already struggle to make ends meet but also for the middle class whose aspirations for a better life have been derailed.

Beyond the numerical details and policy intricacies, the Budget fundamentally endeavours to uplift and instill hope and confidence, empowering citizens to build a brighter future shared by all amidst ongoing challenges.


Clara Lee is Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies Social Lab, National University of Singapore.

This piece was first published in CNA on 20 February 2024.

Top photo from Freepik.

  • Tags:

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to our mailing list to get updated with our latest articles!