Poverty in Singapore


There are various categories of being poor in Singapore. (No official line yet, but some are calling for an official poverty line to be defined [t1])

Some could be the old and frail – these are the elderly living on their own, either with no children or children who have abandoned them. They have no means to work and more so if they are sick, they may not be mobile and hence are dependent on others.

We could also have parents not earning enough to make ends meet – partly because they have quite a number of children, in addition to elderly parents so they are the sandwiched generation.

Then there are some who, perhaps through unfortunate circumstance, poor decisions in earlier life or were unfortunate enough not to have access to education, are in a less than optimal financial situation today.

As a general observation, we can see a lot of emphasis on self-reliance. The CDC and the e2i are there to help the needy get back on their feet. As for the employment landscape, the NTUC has been pushing for increased protection and fairness for elderly workers, such as the recent increase of employer’s CPF contribution and lifting of low-wages via the Progressive Wage Model.

Helping the elderly and disabled is relatively straightforward. Either give direct financial and medical support, or assist them in getting a job. But what about the sandwiched generation?

Well, to say that Singapore should become a welfare state would be unwise since there are many bad examples of unaffordable welfare states that make up for their spending through high taxes or government borrowings.

However, if we accuse Singapore of having little help for the poor – then that would be incorrect.

It is not the number of welfare schemes we slap in their faces that makes the difference, but rather the quality of each welfare scheme and the real need it addresses that will go a long way for families in need.

There are at least over a hundred schemes from both the Government and private entities that are catered to the families who are overstretched financially due to the number of mouths to feed or the lack of increment in their jobs. Help for them is crucial as the children would need to be given an opportunity to study and learn. Under the employment and training assistance schemes compiled by the National Council of Social Service[t2] , there are nine schemes that they can tap into to help them gain useful skills to bring about better jobs, which in turn, higher pay.

To help with the rising living costs of raising children in Singapore, under the family care assistance schemes that are a total of eleven schemes that can help coming from various associations and the Government.

Before you start to feel that the Government is just slapping schemes in people’s faces to prove a point, let us look at an example:

In reference to a recent BBC article, a Singaporean woman was cited [t3] for having difficulties making ends meet in one of the wealthiest nations, Singapore. Having six children, from five to 13 years old, and on top of receiving S$600 from charities for groceries, what else can her motherland do for her?

Let me list some solid examples of schemes that she can actually tap into for more help:

1)     Temporary Assistance Package ( which allows her to find a job and ensures that the children’s education is not affected by the lack of income)

2)     Compassion fund (assistance for needy students from low income families to help pay for any miscellaneous fees that occur due to the pursuit of education)

3)     Adopt a Family and Youth (she can receive educational assistance, she can also receive computers and skills upgrading course)

4)     Comcare Student Subsidy (before and after school care subsidies to help the mother return to work)

5)     Various MOE Bursary Schemes

It is important at this juncture to note that the help that she can obtain is not limited to these schemes, depending on the situation and her needs, there are several more avenues she can reach out to for help, the Employment and Employability Institute for example, can help her obtain gainful employment.

These schemes offered can be utilised throughout the children’s lives; their tertiary education could also be paid for if they are keen on furthering their studies. All these would serve to support her children throughout their learning and also, at the same time, free her to look for work and upgrade herself if she is willing.

Furthermore, to say that there is little available help for the poor would be utterly unfair to what has been put out to assist those in need – coupled with the fact that the work each family service centre and social worker put in is discounted simply by throwing our hands up and say ‘oh that’s it – we live in a terrible place, we have no help, we are doomed”.

Contrary to popular belief, Singapore has not left her poor in a ditch, with the S$8 billion Pioneer Generation Package introduced this year, the leaders in Singapore has showed that they are serious about the money going where it counts the most. Similarly for Ms Nurhaida, Singapore spared no hesitations in social development spending with it increasing steadily over the years – from a $1.9b in 2010 to a $2.1b in 2012.

The question we should ponder about is: are we able to eradicate poverty completely? After all, we are one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Of course, that would be the ideal but we do not live in an ideal world. We are not able to control the choices of individuals that might lead up to the circumstances they are eventually in. We are only able to meet them at their point of need to make a difference.

And that is, moving forward, what we should keep our eyes fixed on.


  1. Here’s a personal story of mine regarding poverty in Singapore. I used to own a sofa set which was well taken care of over the 7-8 years at my old place. When we were preparing to move over to my new place, we wanted to give the sofa set away, hopefully to a family that needs it. I called a couple of social welfare agencies, emailed them pictures of the old sofa and waited and waited. Then I called them, and they said the families which they were looking after didn’t want it because the sofa looked out-dated. They wanted something newer. I was flabbergasted to say the least. So, whenever someone mention we got poor people in Singapore and they need help and so on and so forth, I will always remember my old sofa.

    (Incidentally, one of the social welfare agencies wanted a sofa in their office, and as far as I am aware, it’s sitting nicely there, entertaining guests)

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