Beyond the spread of the disease itself, COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences on economies around the world. In this unprecedented situation, it is often the low-income families that are most adversely affected as they struggle with new norms.

Moderated by Professor Loy Hui Chieh, NUS Arts and Social Sciences Vice Dean of External Relations and Student Life, the NUS Giving Webinar Series titled “Understanding and Supporting Low-Income Families during COVID-19 and its Aftermath” provided insights into the challenges that low-income families face and the impact of the pandemic.

“During the Circuit Breaker period, one of the main challenges that low-income families faced was the great income uncertainty,” related Dr Ong Qiyan, Deputy Director (Research) at the Social Service Research Centre (SSR) at NUS Arts and Social Sciences.

“They also faced anxieties about COVID-related risk because for some of them, especially essential workers, it was a choice between not having food on the table or to risk exposing themselves to the virus by going to work.”

Prof Jean Yeung, Founding Director of the Centre for Family and Population Research at NUS Arts and Social Sciences, and Provost Chair Professor at the NUS Department of Sociology, also provided a bigger picture of the pandemic’s impact on families in Singapore.

“What COVID-19 has done is to magnify the pre-existing inequalities among different families. On one side, we have families who experience major income loss or the loss of jobs. On the other side, there are those who are saving or perhaps, even earning more. We need to be concerned about the aftermath of these impacts.”

Bridging the digital divide

Going forward, the emphasis will be on bridging the digital divide so as to empower low-income families.

“Now that we know that digital access is no longer a choice or luxury but a need, the question is how to ensure continued access?” asked Associate Professor Irene Ng, Associate Professor from the NUS Department of Social Work, and Director of SSR.

Issues of digital literacy, information gaps and the stigma of seeking help were also emphasised during the dialogue.

Ms Ang Bee Lian, Director-General of Social Welfare from the Ministry of Social and Family Development pointed out that developing a strong social support network is vital. Low-income families can tap on these networks for assistance and support in their journey during this difficult time.

“Having people on the ground is extremely important. They help to build relationships, provide moral support and even form friendships. People who are struggling are looking for such connections.”

Source: National University of Singapore(Press Releases)