Inequality inevitable but we can take steps to close gap

An old man sleeps in a shaded area of an HDB block at a Chin Swee HDB estate.
An old man sleeps in a shaded area of an HDB block at a Chin Swee HDB estate.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The debate on inequality seems to have turned into one premised on the assumption that addressing inequality equates to eliminating it (Inequality essential for progress, June 17; and The fight is with poverty, not inequality, June 14).

Inequality is inevitable, even in the most egalitarian societies. The pertinent issue is tackling inequality that has widened to the point where it affects a society's well-being, disrupts social order, reduces social mobility and entrenches poverty.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Singapore has the world's highest Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) among developed nations. The 2018 Oxfam CRI report ranks Singapore in the bottom 10 countries for tackling inequality. It is in this context that we should discuss Singapore's inequality: reducing it to a viable level, not eliminating it.

It is a task that will not be easy in the face of the neoliberal ideology that has taken root in the world's economic and financial systems, but one that is achievable nevertheless, given time and effort.

The remedies for tackling inequality are already in place: reforming the more elitist aspects of the education system, enacting anti-discriminatory legislation, implementing comprehensive social safety nets, and providing long-term social transfers financed by progressive taxation.

All it takes is political will and commitment, based on the conviction that social justice and sharing are key to strengthening a nation's social cohesion and its people's sense of shared destiny.

Leong Yan Hoi (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2019, with the headline 'Inequality inevitable but we can take steps to close gap'. Print Edition | Subscribe