Collate, share more data on poverty in S'pore

Tuesday's special report ("McRefugees illustrate plight of HK's homeless") states that - except for 565 individuals and 404 families helped by the Ministry of Social and Family Development between 2011 and 2013 - there are no official statistics on the number of homeless people in Singapore.

With detailed data across not just income groups and housing types (including those who lack housing) but that of districts and age groups, and the amount of subsidies disbursed on an annual basis, Hong Kong has a measurable poverty rate. Such openly available figures encourage constructive public discussions that, in turn, help produce more focused public policies and more effective planning for welfare groups.

Unfortunately, the same level of discussion does not occur here.

I do not think the Government is in denial of the existence of poverty in Singapore. It may, however, be apprehensive about using an official measure of poverty, which may deny it flexibility in engaging with the complicated issues facing poor families here.

There may also be sensitivities to consider if certain social groups were to be highlighted by the data.

While it may be bureaucratically tedious to collate data on poverty from a multitude of agencies, the lack of such information could lead to poorly informed public perceptions and discussions.

The sooner the Government shares such information openly with the public, the sooner the issue of poverty here will be understood more clearly, and more meaningful steps can be taken.

Liew Kai Khiun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Collate, share more data on poverty in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe