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4 Reasons Singaporeans are So Reliant on Their Maids

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Joanne Poh

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The many maids silently living in their employers’ homes are what really keep this country going. If all the maids suddenly went back to their countries, who would feed us, clean our houses, or take care of our kids?

That’s why there’s been such a hoohah about the recent announcement that, starting from as early as next year, the Indonesian government intends to stop sending live-in maids abroad. Here are three reasons Singaporeans have become so reliant on maids and are going ballistic over the news.

 

Many lack the necessary skills to cook for themselves

People often blame Singaporeans’ reliance on maids on laziness, or being spoiled and pampered.

But for an increasing number of households, that isn’t the only reason. The sad fact is that many Singaporeans simply lack the skills to cook and clean for themselves. In a 2014 report, 65% of Singaporeans rated their cooking skills as disastrous.

While singles or couples without children can usually get away with just eating out every day, when children enter the picture it is usually necessary to employ a maid not just for the childcare but also so there’ll be someone cooking for the entire family.

Many young Singaporean millennials grew up being fed by maids and thus never had a parent or grandparent to show them the ropes in the kitchen. And thus the cycle repeats itself.

 

Long hours at work

It’s no secret that Singaporeans work some of the longest hours in the world. Sure, there are people who actually get to leave at 6pm, but it is also not uncommon to regularly be at the office until 9pm or 10pm, or to take work home and continue plugging away after the kids have gone to bed.

For those who work very long hours, that leaves little time to cook, clean and pick up the kids from childcare. For those who don’t have parents or in-laws who are willing to do all of the above, maids are the only affordable substitute.

The first time Singaporean couples employ a maid is usually after they have their first child. Considering the high cost of childcare and the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to pick your kid up at the end of the day if your boss expects you to stick around the office until long after it gets dark, and many couples simply don’t have any other choice.

 

Inadequate eldercare options

Many Singaporeans rely on their maids to look after their elderly parents, never mind the fact that they are not trained to look after people with disabilities or mobility issues. These people do not want to put their elderly parents in old age homes, yet are unable to afford the cost of hiring a eldercare specialist or nurse to help out in the home.

As a result, maids, being cheap, are the only option available. The government has always maintained that the elderly should be looked after by their children, but maybe it’s time to start asking whether this is a realistic demand given the high cost of proper eldercare. While this system results in most elderly people having a roof over their heads, it also means there are thousands of old people who are being looked after by maids who are not equipped to do so.

And you can’t blame the poor maids either. In other developed countries, care of the elderly is something that is done by experts who have undergone special training and are equipped to deal with medical emergencies.

Here, few people can afford such services, and nursing homes are woefully overcrowded and run in a third world manner. That means maids are often an undesirable but unavoidable way to deal with the problem.

 

Maids are cheaper than other paid options

Singaporeans have done their sums, and maids are by far the cheapest way to outsource household tasks. And we’re not just talking about saving $50 a month. Having a live-in maid at your beck and call every second of the day can cost even less than getting a cleaning lady to come in once a month. The cost of hiring an Indonesian helper starts from just $500 a month.

By contrast, if you were to outsource all the tasks your maid could do for you, you would be spending on the following:

  • Childcare
  • Weekly cleaning
  • Senior daycare, live-in nurse or nursing home
  • Eating out

Given the relative costs, it’s no wonder people are kicking up a big fuss about the supply of maids falling. The opportunity cost is just too great—households will have to increase their spending by a lot to maintain the same level of convenience. Not being able to hire a maid may also have a negative impact on the birth rate.

And to those who think Singaporeans are just big babies who should learn to cook, clean, raise their kids and look after the elderly all by themselves, well, it appears some radical changes are needed to the working environment and childcare and eldercare systems before dual income households are able to do so without keeling over.

Do you employ a live-in maid? Tell us why or why not in the comments!

Image Credits:
KC Wong

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.