I’ve lived in the UK for a season and I kind of know what Roy Ngerng is talking about.
He’s been touring Europe of late and on a recent visit to London, he contrasted living expenses there against Singapore.
Here’s an example of what he said:
I would like to agree with him on this point. London, although one of the most expensive cities on the planet, one can still live a pretty comfortable life there.
I’d like to widen what Roy observed and add in a couple of thoughts of my own.
Although Roy holds that average income earned by Brits is £3000, I would rather argue it as £2000. Pretty much like how we say the average salary of Singaporeans is $3k, but it is more like $2+k.
Anyway, let’s see where British salary goes to:
Tax: About 20% of your income
National Insurance (something like CPF, but it doesn’t pay interest): About 10% of your income
The National Insurance is meant to fund pensions, unemployment benefits, sickness and disability allowances and also all your medical needs (healthcare is virtually free in the UK).
So if you’re an average working class Brit, you’ll take home about £1400. Which, don’t get me wrong, is actually quite healthy considering you don’t spend as much on these things:
Groceries are undoubtedly cheaper. This is a country/region that produces the the very foods they need: eggs, meat, milk, cheeses and vegetables. There is almost no import tax imposed and logistics costs are kept very low, because there is no need for expensive warehousing and long distance freighting.
Because of the size and position of Singapore, we are unable to produce enough food to feed the population and almost everything needs to be imported. This means expensive beef and ice cream :(
I could get by living on £30 a week for groceries in the UK.
(At this point, I must also point out that it is very expensive to eat Asian food in the UK. A good bowl of decent laksa or duck rice can set you back by £15 – but I understand that Roy is comparing staples to staples. Of course we don’t eat velvet cake and baguette everyday)
London properties are still expensive, by anyone’s standards. Even Singapore. But because of the ample land, they get to live in houses… not HDB property. However – if you’ve lived in English houses, you’ll find the sizes of the houses very, very much smaller than the HDBs here. Population density and restraint in town planning policies contribute to the little houses. That said however, if you’re willing to travel a little further, houses in the suburbs are of better size.
Public transport is reasonably priced. The elderly and disabled travel free on the trains, young adults get a discount of 30% on travel and those above 60 also travel for free. Otherwise, it’s usually about £20 for a weekly travel pass. Do you spend about $20 on trains in Singapore a week?
The system is disgusting though. Strikes are commonplace, disrupting commuter lives. It is the oldest train system in the world and malfunctions very, very often. Sometimes stations can be so crowded, the train cannot stop to let you off, or the station could be shut completely because it just cannot accommodate more people.
Cars are dirt cheap. I have ever bought a car for £300 – freehold, there’s no such thing as COE in that country (although driving in the city is prohibitively expensive). Again, the geographical size of the country matters. London alone is twice the size of Singapore, more land gives them more space to accommodate more cars.
There’s nothing to pay for healthcare. Everything from breaking your arm, to delivering a baby or getting your teeth fixed. Remember, the Brits pre-pay for these through National Insurance.
So what do you actually spend on?
Food, mortgage, a car, internet, a mobile phone. Utility bills are very cheap – there is little need for an air conditioner, so you probably pay only on your heating bills which costs about £30 if you’re careful.
There are also notable lifestyle differences – they don’t have the Asian practice of hosting lavish weddings. Because of state pensions, I haven’t really heard of anyone giving a monthly allowance to their parents.
The conclusion? I think it is mostly break even – if we’re just talking about bread and butter issues.
What Singapore could never have, is that in the UK you would have big open fields, blue skies, better weather, a different way of life and cheap beer.
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