In October last year, many experts argued that Singapore should define poverty, and that it is time Singapore joined other nations in officially defining and measuring poverty. But is the line of poverty the same as what other developed nations are facing? Is poverty unique?
There are various categories of being poor in Singapore. First, we have 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 will not be mobile and hence are dependent on others. Second, we have the 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. Of course we can always get to the core reason of poverty – be it bad personal choices or victims of circumstances but I think that is an entirely new topic altogether that we can save for another time.
Now, we know that helping the elderly and disabled is more straightforward. 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.
It should be noted also that during closed-door wage talks with employers in April and May, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) lobbied for the current $1,000 threshold for low-wage workers to be raised, so that more could enjoy a minimum pay increase.
But firms could not be persuaded, said labour chief Lim Swee Say yesterday, in an uncharacteristic disclosure of the tensions that had gone on during the meetings.
His comments came on the heels of the National Wages Council (NWC) recommendations last Friday of a pay hike of at least $60 for workers earning below $1,000 each month.
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, 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 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.
One must not forget this country’s Budget also includes contributions by the Government Investment Corporation (GIC). Each year, the Constitution allows for the country to draw up to 50% of the “Net Returns Investment Contribution”. To simplify this, it just means that GIC contributes about $8b a year to the nation’s Budget.
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.