A hotel staycation, an outing to Universal Studios Singapore (USS) may be just another holiday activity that many Singaporean families “make do with” since travel plans are thrown out the window this year. But to Ismail and his family, these activities are almost out of reach.
“Oh, can use the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers right?” I ask.
“No no, USS too expensive lah… Not enough,” Ismail sighed. I could have kicked myself for suggesting that. For a family of six, a trip to USS would have set them back by a few hundred dollars. It probably could pay a few weeks’ worth of groceries.
The father of four children tells me that in previous years, he would be looking forward to the Family Fun Fiesta (F3) at Downtown East (DTE). It’s when he could take his family out to have some fun.
Held several times a year over the school holidays, the F3 is an event organised and sponsored by NTUC Club in support of the Labour Movement’s U Care initiative which aims to strengthen family bonding, promote a greater work-life balance, and better well-being for the lower-income union members and their families.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has halted most, if not all major activities and events in Singapore.
“I’m not even sure what to do for my children during the school holidays now,” Ismail said, with a note of disappointment in his voice.
The impact of COVID-19 on Ismail goes beyond just that.
Getting retrenched at the age of 57
Losing his job amidst the Covid-19 pandemic meant losing a source of income for the family.
Fortunately, Ismail is a union member under the Attractions, Resorts & Entertainment Union (AREU), which makes him eligible for the NTUC Care Fund (e-Vouchers) to help him defray some of the cost for the daily necessities, as well as the cost of the school-going necessities for his children.
Ismail’s children who are in Secondary 3, Secondary 2, and his pair of twins in Primary 6, respectively are also beneficiaries of the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS).
“We just collected the children’s school textbooks and uniforms yesterday. It relieves a lot of the financial burden we face with 4 school-going children,” Ismail shared.
Under FAS, they are provided with textbook grant, free school attire, transport voucher, and school meal subsidies, among other things.
With NTUC resuming its Covid-19 assistance fund, Ismail will now receive another payout from the enhanced NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19) to further assist him with his family’s daily expenses. He has received his first payout earlier this year during the first exercise, which opened for applications from March 25 to Sept 30. It had supported about 30,000 union members with a total payout of around $8 million.
The enhanced NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19) will use the remaining $17 million of the initial $25 million set aside for it. About 65,000 union members are expected to benefit from these one-off payouts ranging from $50 to $300.
The days ahead
Despite the hurdles, Ismail is still counting his blessings as he reflects on the past year.
The family now depends on Ismail’s wife who is currently running her own humble home-based bakery. She has been holding the fort, supporting where she can since Ismail was laid off. Ismail, on the other hand, would also help her out wherever he can, by getting the ingredients and doing deliveries.
“She makes very good kueh-kuehs!” Ismail said proudly as he shares with us how their friends and relatives have been ordering from his wife for many years. The pride in his voice was obvious.
“Luckily I have my wife,” he said in a quiet voice.
Indeed, as the year draws to a close, amidst the challenges, let us remember that we all have things and people to be grateful for.