Helping the needy: 5 fresh fixes

A disabled elderly man sorting out cardboard to sell to recycling firms.
A disabled elderly man sorting out cardboard to sell to recycling firms.PHOTO: ST FILE

A report released this week highlights the continuing problem of poverty in Singapore and suggests some ways to deal with it. Insight takes a closer look at the recommendations.

AT FIRST glance, a gleaming city-state like Singapore may not look like it has many people who are starving, without a roof over their heads - that is, those in abject poverty.

After all, help for low-income households has been the overwhelming focus of recent policies like the Workfare scheme supplementing low-wage workers' incomes, and Silver Support payouts for the poorest elderly.

But despite these schemes, the issue of poverty and inequality is still a problem - just hidden, say some academics and experts.

A handbook on poverty issues released this week by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation has gathered suggestions from these experts on how to tackle the problem.

In the book, titled A Handbook On Inequality, Poverty And Unmet Social Needs In Singapore, they collate calls for policy changes in the Central Provident Fund savings scheme, education, taxes and wages.

The debate over the exact level and landscape of poverty here has been a long-running one, as Singapore - unlike Hong Kong, for instance - does not have a defined poverty line.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that a rigid poverty line might be polarising, and leave some outside the definition of poor.

Instead, Singapore needs several layers of assistance, as its groups of needy are shifting and multi-faceted, he said.

But social welfare groups argue that the true face of poverty is, ironically, hidden by some of Singapore's successes, such as widespread public housing.

The former chief economist of the GIC sovereign wealth fund, Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, estimates that there are about 110,000 to 140,000 Singaporeans who fall into the categories of working poor, elderly poor and unemployed poor.

Regardless of their positions in the debate, all recognise there are the needy and vulnerable who need help.

Whether Singapore can afford such policy moves to boost assistance-scheme payouts is a debate that society must have, say the experts.

Insight looks at five left-of-field measures proposed in the new book.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe