She's sick but hasn't seen doctor in 10 years

People like housewife Tan Miu Muay could well be who Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had in mind when he spoke about the Government's emphasis on a fair and inclusive society.

She's poor. She's sick. She has five school-going children.

And because she hasn't seen a doctor in 10 years - she fears she cannot pay her medical bills - she has only a vague idea of what ails her.

The 41-year-old is a needy Singaporean who hasn't been forgotten in this year's Budget, which was announced yesterday.

She will benefit from a new GST voucher scheme, a permanent system of offsets to help lower-income Singaporean households.

Her children will also benefit indirectly from top-ups to various funds which help with education and social support.

Madam Tan has been living in a two-room rental flat on Lorong Lew Lian for the last 10 years.

She has five sons, aged seven to 17. Her husband, Mr Chua Chue Po, 40, is a Malaysian who is a permanent resident here. He earns $1,200 a month moulding cornices.

Their monthly rent is under $200.

Madam Tan, who left school after Primary 6 and can't read or write, has been having trouble with her liver since she was 28.

She said: "The last time I went to see a doctor 10 years ago he said that there were some levels in my liver which were very high."

Liver operation

She said she had an operation on her liver in 1998, and was in and out of hospital for three years after that.

She eventually discharged herself even though she needed further treatment because she was afraid of incurring further medical costs.

"I had help from a medical social worker. But I was afraid that I could not pay if I continued to seek treatment.

"So now I just tong ('endure' in Hokkien)."

Since then, Madam Tan has foregone medication. She often breaks into cold sweat and feels cold even when the room temperature is normal.

She suspects she also has low blood pressure because she often feels weak and tired, and cannot stand for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

"I thought of getting a job, but all the jobs I qualify for are strenuous and I cannot do them."

Her days are spent doing household chores - mostly while she is seated - and looking after her children.

Yesterday, the new measures brought some relief. She was especially pleased with the Government's moves to make health care more affordable.

"I hope health care will be cheaper, so I can find out what is wrong with me.

"Right now, the thought of hospitals and clinics scares me. I don't know who can help me."

This article was first published in The New Paper.