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Addressing issues affecting the poor in Singapore

27 Sep 2013

Assoc Prof Tan delivering the opening remarks at the forum

(From left) Assoc Prof Ng, Mr Lien, Assoc Prof Hui and Mr Low during the panel discussion
The attitudes of Singaporeans towards poverty and the approaches to tackle it were some of the issues raised at a forum titled “Building an inclusive society: understanding and empowering the poor in Singapore” on 24 September 2013. Co-organised by the Singapore Research Nexus, the Social Science and Policy Research Cluster and the Center for Social Development Asia at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

“The problem is not so much relative poverty but absolute poverty. Whether we think of poverty as self-inflicted or have structural sources, we need to ensure that poverty is not entrenched for the sake of future generations. I believe we owe it to our children here in Singapore to have the resources (economic, social and cultural capital) to fulfil their potential,” said Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser of the Department of Sociology in his opening remarks.

Giving an insight into poverty attitudes in Singapore was Associate Professor Irene Ng of the Department of Social Work. In a perception study she conducted, the majority of the 383 respondents felt that poverty is a social problem which comes about from external factors rather than stemming from the individual. “The general view from the survey is that poor people are not to be blamed for their plight and more needs to be done. The question is how much more, to what means and where is the balance in terms of the current social dynamics of politics,” she said.

Currently, there is no official definition of the poverty line in Singapore, said Mr Laurence Lien, CEO of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and Nominated Member of Parliament. However, figures released by the Department of Statistics on Absolute Household Expenditure on Basic Needs, which measures average expenditure on essential needs such as food, clothing and shelter, can serve as a measure.

Offering an economics perspective, Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) raised the issue of the “working poor”, or those who work and live in poor households in Singapore. For instance, a graduate earning a monthly salary of S$4,000 is considered “poor” if he is the sole breadwinner for his family.

The forum rounded off with a Question and Answer session moderated by Mr Donald Low, Associate Dean (Executive Education and Research) and Senior Fellow at the LKY School. Questions from the audience included the role of politics in policy-making as well as the status and rights of low-wage workers over the years.