Household incomes up, with bottom 20 per cent seeing fastest rises

HOUSEHOLDS here enjoyed rising incomes across the board over the past five years, with the bottom 20 per cent experiencing the fastest pace of growth.

Residents here are also spending more every month compared with five years ago, with more money going into higher-quality and more expensive goods and services, such as eating in restaurants, spending on air travel and pay-TV.

These snapshots of the average resident household's income and spending patterns were captured in the latest Household Expenditure Survey, which polled more than 11,000 households.

The survey showed that average monthly incomes of resident households here rose 5.3 per cent a year between 2008 and last year, slightly slower than the 5.6 per cent annual rate in the previous five-year period.

But it was the lowest income group that had incomes rise the fastest over the period. Those at the bottom saw average monthly incomes rise by 6.6 per cent a year, growing from $1,466 to $2,022.

A big part of the reason that incomes at the bottom rose quickly was financial help from the Government, which includes aid such as the Workfare Income Supplement and GST Vouchers.

The Department of Statistics, which conducted the survey during October 2012 and September last year, said regular government transfers accounted for 9.3 per cent of this group's total income.

In all, government rebates, subsidies and financial aid came to nearly 90 per cent of the bottom group's average annual household income per household member before any transfers took place.

The data also gave a glimpse of the changing lifestyles of Singaporeans.

The resident family now spends $4,724 on average a month, up from $3,809 five years ago. About 30.1 per cent of the monthly expenses went to housing and related expenses. The next biggest item on the list was food, accounting for about 26.5 per cent of total expenses.

Residents here spent $1,188 a month on food.

Transport came next, with households here spending about $811 on average a month. But the bulk of this expenditure was on private road transport, which cost $574 a month on average. Households here spent just $167 a month on public transport.

Together, all three items accounted for nearly two-thirds of monthly expenses on average, noted the Statistics Department.

But while things did get more expensive, with inflation at 3.1 per cent a year on average over the past five years, the Statistics Department also noted that increases in household expenditure "partly reflect lifestyle changes and spending on better-quality products and services".

In all, growth in household income continued to outpace growth in expenditure, a trend which bodes well for households, said OCBC economist Selena Ling. She noted that the past five years had been a difficult period, starting with the recession as well as rising inflation.

"Given all that, it's encouraging that we see incomes outpacing expenditure growth. We are seeing the effects of fiscal help for some of the poorest households," she said.

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