Roy Ngerng is writing from London, and I agree with him

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.

Income

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:

Food
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)

Housing
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.

Transport
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.

Healthcare

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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Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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5 Comments

  • Hi,

    While I cannot comment on most of the issues you agreed with Roy Ngerng since I have only made short trips to London, I would disagree that Singaporeans cannot have a decent breakfast for less than 5.50 pounds.

    The type of breakfast items shown in the picture are not the usual stuff that we locals have for breakfast in Singapore. They are very western and therefore cannot be representative. Anything food stuff that is foreign, (be it Thai, Japanese, Korean or western) would cost 2 – 3 times more. For example, a bowl of Japanese ramen with just an egg and a wafer thin slice of meat in a common food court will set one back easily $10 or more. I refuse to pay this sort of price for something of such low intrinsic value but simply because it is not local food and so have never succumbed to it.

    Most of us ordinary folks have fried beehoon / noodles with luncheon meat / egg / fish balls /etc., fishball / prawn noodles, nasi lemak or two boiled eggs, porride, toast and coffee and the like. These usually cost below S$4.00. And this when Singapore has to import most of our food materials.

    Unless of course someone wants something more fancy and western-like at McDonalds with their breakfast set, Delifrance or of similar hype.

    I find that the costs of cooked food in Singapore outside that of restaurants to be among the cheapest compared to many other countries. I don’t cook and therefore have all three good balanced meals (at least 3 dishes including meat like chicken and fish for lunch and dinner) outside and invariably they cost me less than S$12 in total daily. Not a bad deal. I did my own cooking for some years but it didn’t cost me any less and was too much a hassle so stopped preparing my own meals.

    So Roy Ngerng is not speaking accurately.

  • My econ rice lunch at my newly built hawker centre is $3.50. Two veggies and 1 meat. Tasty and lots of variety.

    Thats about pound fifty! I have no idea what roy is talking about!

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