Halimah urges all to help the poor move up

Maintaining social mobility in a mature economy will be tough, but Singapore has to stay the course in helping low-income families move up, said Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob.

Otherwise, she sees the country racked by social segregation and instability.

"We must... help those who, due to personal circumstances or through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves," Madam Halimah said on Sunday in her English speech.

But people's dignity must also be respected, and those who do not want support should not be forced, she added.

She also pledged that the Government is committed to pumping in more resources to strengthen the social services sector and help, for instance, families that need dedicated support and intervention tailor-made to their needs.

Singapore's income inequality is among the highest in the developed world. Its Gini coefficient - a measure of inequality - was 0.473 last year.

But the widening income gap should not keep the able and poor from rising, said Madam Halimah, who was the second of three office-holders to speak ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"Every talent, not just the purely academic, must be nurtured," she said.

The state, however, cannot tackle the problem alone. Madam Halimah, who left the labour movement after last year's General Election to join MCYS, said the Government has to partner social service agencies to better understand the needs of poor families and develop relevant services.

The community can also help by looking out for one another. She cited Foodbank Singapore, a not-for-profit organisation started by siblings Nicholas, 33, and Nichol Ng, 34, that links people in need with companies and individuals with excess food.

Everyone has a part to play. "None of us is a passive bystander; none of us can be a mere spectator. We are all co-creators of our common future," she said.

Her call resonated with Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, 34, who co-founded and runs social enterprise The Thought Collective, whose programmes include giving financial aid to needy students.

"My experience has been enriching, I hope more Singaporeans step up to help the community."

limze@sph.com.sg