Poverty has been eradicated in Singapore? Think again!

You go down New York, Broadway. You will see the beggars, people of the streets…Where are the beggars in Singapore? Show me.” – Lee Kuan Yew


There are no homeless, destitute or starving people [in Singapore]…Poverty has been eradicated.– Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s permanent representative to the UN


These political elites must be living in a different world from the rest of us: There is no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore, they are being picked up up by MCYS to be housed and loose their freedom forever. See MCYS picks up more homeless individuals (2011, alternate url link). Some poor old folks who treasure their freedom resort to selling tissues and collecting cardboards and aluminium cans, anything but begging to avoid being pick up by MCYS officers.

[Updated 19 Nov 2011] The Straits Times report today has an excellent special report titled “Running On Empty” detailing many of the plights faced by the lower class citizens struggling for survival, people who have very low wages to families laden with mental patients. I suggest Mr Lee and Kishore to have a read of the special report. Poverty eradicated? Our poors are probably faced the worst and disadvantage situation amongst the first world nations with no welfare and tiny social safety net to fall back on!

[Updated 25 Sep 2013: Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “We do have a problem because we do have a large number of households, who are earning income in the lower end, not having enough to cover their household expenditure, especially at the lower 20 per cent.” Source]

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Article 1: Wanted: More safety nets and bridges

When it comes to the elderly poor, has the message of self-reliance been overstretched?

by Kalyani K Mehta
Source: Todayonline  May 25, 2011



For policy-makers, the economic challenge is the greatest when a nation begins the demographic transformation from youthful to ageing.

Developed countries today became rich before their populations grew old; but for developing countries, the ageing process has preceded the growth of wealth. This phenomenon, coupled with the rapidity of population-ageing in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, has posed immense challenges for the sustainability of the economic growth.

Short-term solutions such as an open-door immigration policy and recruitment of specialised labour (or foreign talent) delay the challenges for a short period, but the final onslaught cannot be postponed for long. Eventually, the ageing workforce would slow down economic growth, unless other creative solutions such as extending the economy’s external wing produce positive results.

The economic impact can be viewed at the national and at the family levels. At the national level, apart from the performance of the economy, concerns also abound over the unemployment of older workers – arising from their outdated skills – or the downsizing of firms.

Families also find themselves economically squeezed when they have to support the older generations through late-life health crises, losses and end-of-life issues. For older people who have no families, poverty is the stark reality. Poverty, poor health and loneliness – these are often the vulnerabilities experienced unless there are good income maintenance programmes that act like a “safety net”.

It is ironic that even though Singapore is the most affluent nation in Southeast Asia, Philippines and Thailand have a much better “safety net” for the elders in the lower income class. It is time to ask ourselves, has the message of self-reliance been over-stretched? 

When factors such as increasing age and rising inflation erode our resources, how can people continue to be self-reliant?

The Singapore Government has been very generous in transferring payments such as Economic Restructuring Shares, Growth Dividends, Medisave Top-up, and Workfare Bonus (now known as Workfare Income Supplement). Nevertheless, it is not targeted for the elderly poor (except for the Medisave Top Up) so the amount is negligible.

The issue is that if we as a nation pride ourselves on the act of filial piety, does it not start with the state? Of course, those who are wealthy or have social support from their family are not the focus of discussion here. We are addressing the needs of the pockets of elderly poor who live below the minimum living standards.

Tourists who come to Singapore are appalled that elderly have to clean toilets, sweep and mop the floor of restaurants, wipe the discarded food from hawker tables to get a small income to survive. Is this the image we can be proud of when our GDP is one of the highest in the world?


The challenges of inter-generational strife and friction at the communal and family levels cannot be understated.

While it may not seem obvious to the lay person, social workers and counsellors come across such incidents frequently in the course of their work.

Common scenarios are when adult children challenge what they have received as their inheritance from a deceased rich parent, or a grandparent realises that she has been robbed by her adult child or grandchild either through forged signatures or use of ATM cards without permission, or day-to-day verbal and mental/physical abuse of the elders.

The rights of older people are categorically stated in the UN Principles for Older persons but if we look around us in Singapore, we may have to admit that we do not uphold many of them.

The key to moulding the attitudes of the younger generations towards appreciating the contributions of our seniors is through the education system.

It should start from pre-school experiences as that is the most impressionable growing period.

It would be wonderful if we could start a Grandparents Club which consists of ordinary older people who wish to share their life experiences with young children. They could be single, married, divorced or widowed. As long as they get a small token of appreciation that covers their transport and a delicious meal, it would be sustainable.

Guest speakers could be invited at primary and Secondary school under, say, a “Generation-to-generation” programme as part of the social studies subject. If we wish to raise the next generation to be caring and mature, such a programme would work wonders.

To conclude, multi-generational relationships have to be the focus of National Policies on Ageing Populations as this is the key to a peaceful ageing society.

Kalyani K Mehta is Associate Professor and Head of Gerontology Programme at UniSIM. The views expressed are her own.


Article 2: Figures should serve as an alarm

Source: Todayonline  19Aug2011

If more require financial aid despite economic growth, job creation and wage increases

I REFER to the article “CDCs gear up for uncertain economic climate” (Aug 11), which stated that the five Community Development Councils saw 14,179 people seeking help in the second quarter, a 34-per-cent jump from the same period last year.

That more Singaporeans are seeking financial aid – despite good economic growth, job creation and wage increases – should serve as an alarm.

At this rate, the number seeking assistance this year would be more than the 55,600 last year and maybe the 62,300 in the 2009 recession year.

If we add those who apply for financial aid to the families already getting assistance, how many in total are receiving help now?

Last year, the CDCs approved 71 per cent of applications for financial aid, up from 67 per cent in 2009. How many families have ever applied, including the unsuccessful ones, since Comcare was introduced six years ago?

As it stands, 200,000 people have been helped by Comcare so far – it was said at the National Day Rally – which I feel is a fairly large proportion of the population to have ever been in financial difficulty.

So we should not be complacent as we attribute the pick-up in the second quarter to the enhanced income eligibility criteria of the two subsidy schemes for kindergarten and childcare fees.

Families do approach and apply for these schemes directly through the childcare centres, without going to the CDC. If they also go to the CDCs, it may mean they need other financial assistance as well.

Finally, I am puzzled that Central CDC is seeing more sign-ups for Cash Up (Cultivate a Savings Habit), which was launched in April and gives needy families up to S$1,000 in matched savings if they apply money-saving tips learnt in financial literacy workshops.

I have been doing volunteer financial counselling for the needy for about a decade, and families who seek assistance do not generally have enough money to make ends meet.

For instance, SALT magazine (June 15) featured a couple with seven children who signed up for Cash Up. The husband earns about S$800 monthly.

How many of such very low-income families who sign up will be able to save more in order to get the matched savings at the end of the nine-month programme?


Article 3 :The Homeless Deserve Better Treatment

Letter from Joshua Chiang as published in the Sunday Times on 8 Feb 2010

As a private citizen who is working with other concerned individuals to aid and raise awareness for the homeless in Singapore, I am heartened by last Sunday’s article, “Number of homeless people doubles”, which gave the issue a much-needed public airing.

Among several shortcomings is the treatment of the homeless by some agencies which purport to help them.

For instance, some of the homeless people tell us they are treated rudely by National Parks Board (Npakrs) officials.

Also, a pregnant mother of two told that when she went to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to seek help, she was advised to rent a room at a backpacker’s hotel for $20 per night.

One of us managed to find her a place at a homeless shelter.

We also learnt that two of the families who were taken to and stayed overnight at the Angsana Home, a home for the destitute mentioned in another article (Govt help turned his life around) were not informed of the involuntary confinement there.

Even though two of the family members had jobs, they were not allowed to report for work the next day.

It is also relevant to consider whether the Angsana Home, with its high fences and heavy police presence, and which has patients who may be prone to violent behavior is a good place to house people who apart from a lack of shelter, can care for themselves.

The writer also failed to note why HDB flats are suddenly available to be leased as shelters to the homeless when the authorities must have known about their increasing numbers for a long time?

Also, if there’s a reasonable explanation for the shortage of shelters, why then is Nparks chasing campers away from the beaches knowing full well the homeless had nowhere else to go?

Another article, “Strict housing policies, illness and divorce leave some stuck,” suggests that the homeless are irresponsible and cannot plan for their future, by stating that they do not save for crises like unemployment or illness.

In fact some of the homeless people spend their entire income on the bare necessities, so it would be impossible to have enough money to service a housing loan.

Finally, if the financial crisis is not to be blamed for the increase in number of homeless, is it possible that there are many people who could not afford public housing any more?

Joshua Chiang

Squatting in parks not the same as camping

Joint reply from MCYS, NParks and HDB as published in The Straits Times on 11 Feb 2010

WE REFER to Mr Joshua Chiang’s letter on Sunday, ‘The homeless deserve better treatment‘.

Camping in our parks is for recreational purposes only. Squatting in parks is illegal and not a viable option for people with housing difficulties.

When officers from the National Parks Board encounter squatters, they will refer them to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports for assistance.

Pursuant to the Destitute Persons Act, anyone found in a public place with no means of subsistence or accommodation will be admitted to a welfare home for evaluation and rehabilitation.

In addition, people who need short-term accommodation may apply for transitional shelters run by voluntary welfare organisations. Social workers will help them resolve their social and financial problems. The aim is to help them return to proper accommodation by renting or buying or sharing a flat with relatives.

The HDB flats Mr Chiang referred to are the interim rental housing (IRH) flats. These flats are to help those in financial difficulty with temporary accommodation, while they work out their longer-term housing solutions. IRH is not intended to be used as a permanent shelter for the homeless.

Singaporeans facing social and financial problems should seek help early from family service centres and community development councils so appropriate and timely measures can be taken.

We also urge members of the public to call the ComCare hotline on 1800- 222-0000 if they are aware of any individuals with housing difficulties.

Jason Wong
Director, Rehabilitation, Protection & Residential Services
Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports

Kong Yit San
Director (Parks)
National Parks Board

Mike Chan
Deputy Director (Rental Housing)
Housing and Development Board

Askmelah’s Note: pls see the subsequent video interviiew to clear the”misunderstanding” in this incident.

Three wishes for the New Year (Tommy Koh)

Singapore is, however, not perfect. There are areas in which we can and should do better. I am disturbed by the inequality in Singapore. We have one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. I am unhappy that many of our children are growing up in poverty. About a third of our students go to school with no pocket money to buy lunch.

As a trustee of two education trusts, I am reminded each year of the large number of needy students in our schools and tertiary institutions. I was shocked when the president of one of our universities told us recently that 60 per cent of his students need financial assistance.

At the other end of the spectrum, I am worried about the growing number of the elderly poor. Many of them are in poor health and have inadequate savings. Many of them live in loneliness, having no family or been abandoned by family and relatives.

I would like to see Singapore grow in cultural and political maturity. A culturally mature people accept diversity and welcome different points of view. A politically mature society is one in which the vanquished are gracious in their defeat and the victors are magnanimous in their victory.

I hope that Singaporeans would be less obsessed with money and less materialistic.

My mentor, Mr S. Rajaratnam, once said that Singaporeans were in danger of becoming a people who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We did not heed his warning. As a result, I fear that Singapore is in very grave danger of becoming a market society. (full text here)

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