More Singaporeans are turning to ‘poverty simulation’ exercises.
Yes, you read it right! Singaporeans are signing up for exercises where they can experience what it is to live in poverty.
According to a report on Channel NewsAsia, schools and corporate organisations have been signing up.
Participants who sign up take on the role of a person with specific constraints.
The exercise, which is conducted by non-profit organisation Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) sees participants completing various activities in their poverty simulated roles.
The purpose of signing up for such exercises is to understand first-hand the stress and constraints faced by the less fortunate.
Another non-profit organisation Etch Empathy, which runs the programme hopes that by working with secondary schools, the young would be inculcated with empathy as early as possible.
The activities include looking for a job, seeking medical attention and getting their children to school.
Perhaps one other activity that should be included is living the life of a low-wage worker working in an outsourced company, doing his or her work and looking for opportunities to upgrade and deepen their skills.
If the purpose of this poverty experience is to inculcate empathy in the young as early as possible, then one way to empathise with the poor and the low-wage workers is to understand their job and wage concerns. After all, most of them work under outsourced contracts which sees wages being depressed because of cheap sourcing.
Recently, in his debate speech on the President’s address, NTUC Assistant Secretary General Zainal Sapari highlighted that his deepest concerns are on the widening income gaps which affect workers in the lowest percentile.
He made a few suggestions, including calling on the government to help low-wage workers and the poor.
One way, he said was for some of the National Wages Council’s recommendations to be legislated. He said the dollar quantum wage increment should be made mandatory for employees in the lowest percentiles.
He also suggested for the government to play a bigger role in encouraging their service providers with many low-wage workers to give Annual Increments and Annual Wage Supplement.
Thirdly, he asked government-linked companies to take the lead in implementing the Progressive Wage Model to better the livelihoods of more low-wage workers.
Finally, he asked companies to “venture further into employing a Public Private Partnership model as another tool to address our widening income gaps, with greater emphasis on the human resource practices of the partners from the private sectors”.
In short, Mr Zainal called for more “affirmative action” to help lower-wage workers in light of the economic slowdown which is believed to happen this year.
Of course, empathising with a low-wage individual includes understanding the concerns of the worker at the workplace, even with regard to training and upgrading of skills.
As the economic slowdown happens, companies will eventually have to restructure. This would bring about a need for new skills to facilitate operations. Hence, companies and workers need to invest in continual training and skills upgrading.
But some workers are rather resistant and afraid of such training, which is why the need to empathise with workers with regard to training and skills upgrading.
Indeed, empathy needs to be inculcated at a young age. But there is a need for a holistic understanding of people who live in poverty, including their daily needs and stress.