Singapore Rejects Proposal to Define Poverty Line

Image from ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ Facebook page

Image from ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ Facebook page

Singapore may be the richest country in the world but the number of poor households living in the prosperous city-state has been rising in recent years. To highlight the extent of poverty in Singapore, the Catholic group Caritas has launched an initiative called ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’:

‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ is a campaign that aims to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. It springs from our concern for those in Singapore caught in the cycle of poverty despite our economic success.

The group has uploaded several articles, photos, and videos which reveal the growing gap between the rich and poor in Singapore. Below are two YouTube videos which remind Singaporeans to be more aware and sensitive about the rising poverty in the community:

Bertha Henson summarized the message of the campaign:

Just what sort of message is it? It is to alert people here that there are poor in our midst, who do not complain about the price of cars and homes because they’re wondering about their next meal.

Curiously, a former diplomat has proudly declared in 2001 that poverty has already been eradicated in Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani wrote:

There are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated, not through an entitlements program (there are virtually none) but through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives.

But an article by Roy P exposed that homelessness is still a problem in Singapore:

…it’s still hard to imagine how there are people who are homeless and sleeping on the streets even after we’ve attained first-world status, and for all the progress we’ve made over the years. As I mentioned, the irony of prosperity and economic success is that it only widens the divide between the rich and the poor, and the poor become poorer.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social and Family Development has rejected proposals to define poverty or set a poverty line:

A poverty line does not fully reflect the severity and complexity of the issues faced by poor families, which could include ill health, lack of housing or weak family relationships. If we use a single poverty line to assess the family, we also risk a ‘cliff effect’, where those below the poverty line receive all forms of assistance, while other genuinely needy citizens outside the poverty line are excluded.

But Kirsten Han argued why setting the poverty line is important:

The existence of a poverty line does not mean that all focus should be directed towards those who fall below it. An official poverty line shows that the poverty is an issue acknowledged by the government to exist as part of the structure of society. Once we see that poverty exists as a structural problem, more steps can be taken to address the distribution of resources and opportunities.

Refusing to define poverty doesn't mean that no one is poor; it just means that we don't get the full picture of what work needs to be done.

Blogging for Myself accused the government of advancing a wrong set of values and priorities:

It is not true helping the poor has no returns. It is about being and staying human and giving ourselves a future. Its value cannot be quantified…

This government has its values in the wrong place. They are all invested in economics and engineering but impoverished in anthropology and I haven't even begin to talk about spirituality and investing in our souls.

Nomad insisted that measuring the GDP is incomplete without defining poverty in the country:

Poverty line is a hand in hand assessment along with GDP to gauge how well a govt is running the country, you shouldnt have one without the other.

How does establishing a poverty line statistics deprive other genuine citizens outside the line? Hello? Social services are run by man, not robots. Human can be flexible. You mean you cant help genuine cases because they are above a yardstick estimate and you need to stick to the line?

Belmont Lay bemoaned the ‘poverty of Singapore’s poverty data’:

It may come as a shock to some people when you tell them that there is poverty in Singapore. But you know, and I know, poverty is universal and Singapore is definitely not immune to this problem.

But what’s truly shocking is the poverty of Singapore’s poverty data.

Singapore is a country that is known for defining everything.

But when the time comes to draw the line at who is poor, or rather, poor enough, we falter.


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