Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Monday January 14th 2019

Family of 8 living on $500/month with no water, $5 Pay U and limited transport fare

Visited a needy family at Marine Terrace yesterday – I was fascinated by the beautiful sea view on top of the block though it houses three rental blocks for Singapore’s poorest. About 20 metres away are another two more rental units.

The five rental blocks for the poor are surrounded by our high-rise HDB flats with a 3-room unit selling easily at $380,000 minimum. But these poor families pay rent of between $50 to $300 each depending on the combined income of the family members.

There is a narrow common corridor leading to the unit and there is little hint of any poverty outside as its sparkling clean and like I mentioned earlier there is also the beautiful sea view.

A PayU meter – sign of a family in poverty – caught my attention as it hung on the left side of the main door leading into the cosy living room. A PayU meter is used by the needy so that they will control their electrical usage – it can only be topped up at the SingPost using a pre-set key.

The meter reads $5.90 so the family probably can use it to power their electrical household consumption till Saturday at the most as the daily usage is about $2 for the powering of lights, fan, fridge and other simple electrical appliances. I gave them about $50 to top up the Pay U before leaving.

They confided in me that there are periods whereby they live without any electricity as they simply have no cash to do the top-up – the longest they have to live with candlelight at night is close to a month!

Tears welled up when they say that as I remembered my own experience with darkness when my parents could not pay the SP bills on time when I was still in primary school. We light candles too to pass through the bleak nights and its no fun.

Furniture for the family of 8 is mostly hand-me-down and a nice cosy creamy sofa took up a main corner of the living room. A large plasma TV – another hand-me-down from the nearby FSC is the family’s regular entertainment time-buster. Canned food and parcels of rice filled up a large corner in the kitchen – donations from the FSC and some charity groups.

I met up with the wife whose four kids are at home with one taking the crucial PSLE this year. One other boy will join the schooling troll next year and the last one is a young toddler of four years old.

The husband later join us and says he has kidney pain after falling from a gondola cleaning job many years ago but strangely he refuses any medical treatment procedure even though many are keen to foot for the expenses.

He told me he fears knowing the truth if anything is wrong with his kidney though he cycles regularly to improve his health condition. He can only make do with a part-time cleaner job paying $500/month so naturally alot of the bills go unpaid for months…

They show me the reduced water flow tap which they have endure for close to almost 8 months since December last year. They could only rinse or wash their body after collecting water in big pails and it was tough seeing how they could live like this for so long.

These are really tough people I thought. Fancy living with a reduced water flow for the past 8 months!

You can’t bathe properly, brush your teeth nor clean the house…you have to handwash your clothes as there is not enough water for the washing machine to work.

But that’s not the worse of their problem. The wife is more concerned with the rental default of 2 months – each month the rent payable to HDB is $160 and they are fearing the worst that one day they have to live outside at the park or beach when their rental default accumulates over time.

The rental default is their biggest fear – much more than the reduced water flow or the blackout – not having a roof for the family will be devastating and the 2-month rental default is disturbing them.

They told me that once they received the GST $300 credit recently, the first thing they paid is the HDB rental default followed by repayment to some loans from friends.

The $300 GST credit each of them received was used up within a flash due to the huge amount of backlog bills they have to repay.

In fact, the meagre $500 monthly salary is usually used up within a week or sometimes less as truly its not alot of money for a family of eight to spend on.

The more shocking piece of news came when the family confided that sometimes the children have to walk to school at Tg Katong and they have to wake up at 5am to start the arduous one-hour  journey to school by foot in the dark due to a lack of transport fare. Sometimes, Mr Rosli the father would send them to school in his bicycle but the three just couldn’t fit in the small bicycle and he has to ferry them in two trips.

The school bus costs $85/month and sending the three kids via this channel is simply not an option. Fortunately, another school-going child studies in a nearby school within a short walking distance.

The worst nightmare came when they could not go to school sometimes due to the tiring long walking distance and they will simply skip school altogether for the day – this happens almost weekly.

The teacher and vice-principal of the school dropped by to investigate but strangely only one out of three children studying in the same primary school receives the school’s pocket fund of $50/month. The other two were rejected perhaps due to a 24-month limit imposed on the fund’s dispersal.

The kids often have to go through recess without any food and of course a Macdonald meal is something like a luxury for them.

Weekend is usually a family gathering at home watching a TV programme or walks at the East Coast Park nearby – also a regular feature for the family.

As we went through all the bills together – which amounted to more than $1500 in total – the family seems to be resilient and resigned to living in such dire straits. Many others may have simply broke down long time ago but yet I can see the worry and strain on their faces as they live from hand to mouth not for months but many years.

Another worrying point is how can our meritocratic system ensures that the kids do not stay trapped in such a porous poverty cycle and will they ever get out of it given the situation they are in right now?

We have advocated all along that only by having a good education can one forge ahead but yet this family seems to have miss the boat with regular absenteeism from classes and lessons. They have precious little to hang on to and their future does not look bright.

One puzzling fact out of the 2-hour visit is also the denial of basic human necessities eg water, electricity and housing if you don’t pay up on time for them.

After 3 to 5 months of continuous default, Singapore Power will come up to your home and reduce the water flow to a trickle till you pay at least half of the bill before they will open up the normal water flow.

If you can’t pay up the electrical bill, they will instal a Pay U power meter so your electricity will be curtailed once you have no money to top up.

If you don’t have money to pay your rent, HDB will send threatening letters to foreclose your house so you fear the day you will end up homeless and need to live in the park or beach with your family members.

Someone did a quote at a Hong Lim Park event years ago…it read “Our country is so rich but the people are very poor”.

Its so apt and as for Mr Rosli’s family my heart goes out to them and God knows how many of such families we have right now…they are simply living from hand to mouth.

Pity the kids…

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Editor’s note: If you wish to help the family, please let us know. No amount is too small if its given out of a heart of love…the immediate need is to sponsor the kids’ educational usage so they can have some cash to fall back on monthly. Its $50/month and for a year commitment. The Rosli family has four school-going kids.

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Reader Feedback

42 Responses to “Family of 8 living on $500/month with no water, $5 Pay U and limited transport fare”

  1. One Medaka says:

    Dunno the family has applied financial assistance from any VWO or Mendaki ? Do they qualify for MSF financial assistance or what Mendaki can do to assist them? It’s a sad case of a family that fall thru the cracks, there r others also go unnoticed without any assistance from the G..

  2. lyn says:

    hi pls email me for if i can do some donation for em

  3. Fik says:

    Please email me mom contact… Would like to pass some items for their children. May not be money.

  4. William says:

    Email me to how do help them

  5. LINDA says:

    Hi i wish to help this family, kindly email me

  6. Ain says:

    Hi pls email me. I would like to help.

  7. Hi, I’m the founder of Literacy Initiative For Equity (LIFE) SG. We offer free programmes on Saturdays for kids at risk and we do pick ups as well. You can check us out on FB, insta, youtube and our website. We would like to offer a place for the younger children (below 9). Please do contact us. Thank you.

  8. Ain says:

    Hi pls email me. I wld like to help.

  9. Syanis says:

    How can we help to contribute?

  10. Atiqah says:

    Hi.. The family would qualify as zakat recipients from muis and the mosques.. Have they tried this route? It would be more sustainable than one off donations from public

  11. Nursyah says:

    Hi i would like to contribute. May I Know how to go about it? You can email me @ the given email add.

  12. mark says:

    hi. i would like to help.
    Can email me at ?

  13. Nuraizan says:

    Let me knw how i can help. Email me. Tq

  14. Suzie says:

    Hi I would like to assist. Please contact me

  15. Mariah says:

    Please email me and leave me with any contacts. I wish to help them.

  16. Haslinda says:

    please email me. I wish to help

  17. Charmaine says:

    Hi, I would like to help. Please e-mail me. Thanks!

  18. Florence says:

    Hi please contact me ASAP. Would like to pay their monthly rental going forward and other expenses too. Thanks.

  19. Qamarina hanani says:

    Hi! Would love to help out this family. Do contact me please.

  20. Nuraini says:

    Hi.. how can i help with the educational sponsor of $50/mth? Please do let me know. Thanks.

  21. Nuraini says:

    Hi… i wld like to help. Appreciate if you could advise how. Thanks!

  22. Sam says:

    Hi, I’d like to help out. Appreciate if you could get in touch via the email I keyed in. Thanks.

  23. Tan says:

    Pls contact me

  24. wtf says:

    They cannot afford to use a plasma tv- it chews up a lot of electricity. Can someone donate a LCD/LED TV instead?

  25. Ross says:

    Pls email me their address…i would like to send groceries and clothings to them

  26. Cynthia Ng says:

    Hi.. I would love to help

    Please link me up

    Thank you

  27. Nurul says:

    Hi! I’m keen in helping. Please do contact me!

  28. Lyia says:

    i think I know the person in black, can you please send me his details in my PM or via my email address provided so I could contact them?
    thank you

  29. Sid says:

    Please contact. I’d like to pay the monthly rental fees for the family.

  30. Noris says:

    Hi pls email me on how i could help.
    May we all help each other when in need :)

  31. Nabilah says:

    Hi, do email me to let me know how i can help the family. Thank you

  32. Muhammad Rafiq says:


    Please email me on how I can help. Thank you

  33. Chia says:

    Let me have the add tks

  34. Richard Ng says:

    Would be glad to help them.
    Please contact me at

  35. Aida says:

    Hi there. Would like to help. Send me an email pls. Thanks

  36. Farah says:

    I would to know their address, as i can help to give some clothing for them

  37. Choo says:

    Dear Gilbert

    I would like to help with some financial assistance, and probably visit the family. Please email me and advise how I could help in a practical sustainable way.

    Thanks for your good work

  38. Raja Jibrail says:

    Please whatsapp me at 84332200 so i have a lead to help somehow

  39. Ash says:

    Hi there,

    Can you guys email me the contact number of the person. I wish to help directly. Thanks.

  40. Lynn_Bueno says:

    Can i know hw do i keep in touch with this family ??

  41. C k says:

    Hi. Pls email me i like to help them

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