Here’s Why NS Allowances Haven’t Increased Although Cost of Living Has Risen

National Service (NS) is not known for providing a…life of luxury, to put it nicely.

If you have ever had the misfortune of going out with an NSF (or you have once been an NSF), you’d be privy to the fact that NSFs constantly complain about their meagre allowance, maybe as an excuse to get you to foot the bill (No, Jun Wei, your company isn’t worth paying $50 for a steak).

This issue was actually brought up in Parliament by Workers’ Party (WP) MP Gerald Giam, who asked if the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) had considered increasing allowances for NSFs.

Unsurprisingly, the answer was no- but surprisingly, the answer was also reasonable.

Gerald Giam’s Remarks

Source: MCI Singapore

In the Parliament session on 22 February, Workers’ Party’s Aljunied MP Gerald Giam raised the question that every NSF thinks about but doesn’t dare to ask—specifically, a query to MINDEF about whether they’ve considered increasing NSF allowance in order to take into account inflation and rising living costs.

His reasoning was that people were currently subject to “inflationary pressures” and a higher cost of living. Increasing the allowance, in his view, would help to remedy this.

He suggested that NSF allowances be pegged to the Consumer Price Index in order to reduce lag time between increases in living costs and NSF allowance adjustments.

Heng Chee How’s Response

Source: MCI Singapore

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How responded to his question. He said that the allowance given to NSFs was to support their basic personal upkeep. Because most of them stayed in camp, their housing, food, clothing and medical care would be covered as well.

Since these items make up the bulk of living costs, having them covered would provide NSFs with a sort of “immunity” to inflation locally.

Mr Giam followed this up by pointing out that costs of basic upkeep have increased and asked when allowances would be reviewed again.

Mr Heng responded by highlighting NSFs’ exemption from the bulk of living costs again, and informing Mr Giam that their allowances were reviewed periodically.

He added that MINDEF monitors overall price levels in the country while reviewing NSF allowance, and pointed out that this allowance was actually regularly reviewed—in fact, three changes to it have been made in the past decade alone.

Mr Heng himself had announced an increase in NSF allowance in 2020.

His multiple reminders that NSFs are not, in fact, subject to general living costs effectively shuts down all our complaints (sigh).

Everyone Else’s Responses

Calvin Cheng, a former nominated MP, weighed in on the issue in a Facebook post on 22 February.

He said NS should be cashlessoh, he’s not talking about cashless society?

@goodyfeed Calvin Cheng is going on a war with physical cash #goodyfeed #goodynewsreel ♬ original sound – Goody Feed

In his post, he expressed that he “fully supported” NSF allowances being raised because food and lodging, in his opinion, could not be counted, since “nobody would choose to stay in barracks and eat in a cookhouse”.

To be fair, NSFs often complain that cookhouse food does suck, to the point of experiencing diarrhoea from consuming it sometimes.

Calvin Cheng, however, proposed something stranger—that people who did not need to serve NS, like female residents of Singapore or males with exemptions, should be taxed instead of general taxpayers in order to fund the increase.

According to him, residents here who did not serve NS are “free riding” on people who do, so this special tax should be imposed.

Whether this extremely unlikely scenario will happen remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure—the NSF allowances aren’t increasing just yet.