PM Lee sounds warning on growing social divide

Society will fracture, country will wither if widening income inequalities create rigid and stratified social system, he says


By Ng Jun Sen

Singapore’s politics will turn vicious, its society will fracture and the country will wither if it allows widening income inequalities to create “a rigid and stratified social system”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The issues of mitigating income inequality, ensuring social mobility and enhancing social integration are critical,” he wrote in a reply to a parliamentary question from Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

“This is why this Government will strive to keep all Singaporeans – regardless of race, language, religion or social background – together.”

Mr Gan asked Mr Lee about the current state of income inequality and whether the Government has plans to prevent this income gap from creating divisions along class lines. He also queried if an inter-ministerial committee can be set up to look into better integration of all social classes in Singapore.

To the last, Mr Lee said a specific committee is not necessary as government ministries already seek to tackle these challenges in “a concerted and coordinated effort”.

“As globalisation and technological disruption have widened income inequality, the Government has over the years intervened more aggressively to support the less well-off,” he said, citing both long-term policies such as education, home ownership and affordable healthcare, as well as targeted, means-tested programmes such as the Workfare Income Supplement scheme.

Mr Gan’s questions come after an Institute of Policy Studies report last December, which concluded that Singapore’s sharpest divides now are along class lines, rather than race or religion. It found that people were more likely to share ties with others of a similar educational background or housing type – common indicators of socio-economic level here.

“If what the study is saying is true, then it is timely that it is detected and we should (strive) to resolve the gaps before they widen too far,” Mr Gan told The Straits Times.

In recent weeks, the issue gained renewed attention. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam named slowing social mobility, and an ageing population, as the two big challenges that Singapore faces. Last week, a new book, This Is What Inequality Looks Like by sociologist Teo You Yenn, was launched, generating debate about how Singapore’s competitive education system could perpetuate class differences.

In his reply to Mr Gan, Mr Lee said income inequality in Singapore has declined slightly over the past decade. The Gini coefficient fell from 0.470 in 2006 to 0.458 in 2016 – and the figure was 0.402, after accounting for government taxes and transfers. A value of zero indicates perfect equality, while a value of one suggests maximum inequality.

To fund increased social spending, “significant changes” have been made, from introducing GST in 1994 to increasing the reliance on Net Investment Return Contributions as a source of revenue, he noted.

In terms of social mobility, every citizen in a fair and just society must have the opportunity to do better and move up in society based on his efforts and talent, said Mr Lee.

“Some degree of income inequality is natural in any economy,” he said. “But in a fair and just society, this inequality must be tempered and complemented by social mobility. Nobody should feel that his social position is fixed based on his parents’ income level or position in life.”

Education is a critical plank of the Government’s efforts, he stressed, whether in building up pre-schools and having schemes like KidStart for children from poor families or giving out bursaries and getting people to go for training via SkillsFuture.

Meanwhile, the Government takes a “deliberate and proactive approach” to measures that encourage mixing among classes, such as in planning where facilities like hawker centres and playgrounds should be sited.

In a reply to a question by Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) on such measures, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said her ministry has been working to nurture social cohesion by creating more opportunities for positive interactions, such as through sports, arts and volunteering activities.

Said Mr Lee: “Only by living, working, studying, serving, playing, mourning and celebrating together do we become one people, one nation.”



  1. Who created it? Isn’t the G driving the agenda that had led to this or leading to this so-called social divide? Why not provide an appropriate signal in your due efforts to curb this by revising and lowering you and your ministers’ salaries? And also by scrapping those false “mayors” positions you created that the country is paying millions to as well – we do not need these “mayors” because they are NOT and we have MPs and Town Councils and Government Agencies! Stop wasting OUR MONEY!

  2. Isn’t the incumbent’s incompetence a primary source and cause of the divide: between their diehard/hapless supporters and those who are in favour of change? A 60/40 divide IS SIGNIFICANT, no?

  3. Yes! He is the modern Robinh..! Giving out short term gst vouchers with increase in gst rate forever! Laughing his way to the banks while people must feel grateful to his generosity!

  4. Fix the oppo, fix the oppo ward citizens, ensure a dynastic succession, protecting own people, Ownself clear Ownself. It will be a disgrace and an insult to be united with these people.

  5. Isn’t this a joke. A man who has never known what it is like to make ends meet. A man who doess not know what it is like to put food on the table. A man who has never been on the street to toil. A man who has been in the million dollar club for sometime now. Having had all the luxuries, is he in the capacity to talk about income inequalities?

  6. Haha..just look at the ministers & civil servants pay packages and those common ppl still struggling with 2K + per month …even a blind man know there are gaps….

  7. Actually with the markets crashing, u might have been a little late because that 1% of mega rich has just lost billions overnight and the markets knows best, not u

  8. There is a saying that when 2 tigers fight, a 3rd will stand to gain. This is how PAP has been the sole dominant all these years. Without the social divide, PAP will have been booted long ago. Crying crocodile tears, enough of this superficial acts from PAP.

  9. The red indians, indigenous people of USA, said of the white men who exploited them, “These white men speaks with forked tongues”. We, true blue Singaporeans, also feel the same – “These men in white speak with forked tongues!”

  10. LHL said “Only by living, working, studying, serving, playing, mourning and celebrating together do we become one people, one nation“! How does he define Together? The country is already divided by his deliberate EP issue, his treatment of the late LKY estate, his relentless push for foreigners into Singapore. Very easy to identify problems not so to fix the problem and LHL is no where near the latter

    • He is the center of all these problems but as always he’ll just say “let’s move on”. But I’ll bet he himself won’t move on when he passes the reins over to the next person and will stay on with some made up title just to continue collecting obscene sums of money as salary.

  11. I have to agree to Brendan Chong, but then again Singaporean are just CHICKEN and worry that such change will have GREAT Impact….BUT nevertheless it does not matter to me after all being here for 50 year I’ve seen too much and that even when our Late PM calls Malaysia & Indonesia as Cronism/Corrupted/Nepolism or even China as Corruption…..Just tell me TODAY 2018 what the different between Singapore Government or ruling party, isn’t they too got corrupted “LEGALLY” and “Greedy” Legally.

    It took Late LKY 50 damn years to built Singapore from a Fishing Village to what it is today and he flatted the island to make it what it is today and damn it it told his group of team to clean Ah Long, Pirate Taxi and Casino.

    But it take the son (Pinky) to legalise Casino and bring in 2 Large Casino and legalised MoneyLending to license Money Lending in just 5 years and amendment of our CPF core vaalue to Indirect Cheating making-up HDB which also lost its core value which ALL these monies are “Channel” to the Ministers and MP’s Pay-Package.

    BUT it took his Grand-children from PINKY children 5 months to bring in the Grab & Uber to bring back “Pirated-Taxi” and thus SUPPRESSING the taking of Taxi-Driver which then boils down to 2 common FACTORS.

    1. Bring in Foreign Talents and Giving out PR & Citizenship to foreigner in order to have wages for Singaporean = Suppression in Monthly Wages/Pay Increases

    2. Bring in Uber & Grab thus causing Singaporean older or uneducated lost of income or suppression of taking as Taxi Driver = Suppression Taking of Taxi Driver

    With this Suppression …didn’t Singaporean realise our Ministers and MPS are using our excuses to justified their purposes examples:

    When we complaint about Not enough Taxi then they choose to leverage on the Uber & Grab as an alternative and thus pushing more cars out making money from their COE and thus suppression on issuing COE to Singaporean on Cars and ultimately driving Price up.

    SO For GOD sake you all Singaporean have to band up and make change for your future generation, I’m ashame of each and everyone of you ALL Singaporean especially those Civil Servants who are Singapore playing OUT their very Relatives & Friends …SELFISH

  12. Divide us with race
    Divide us with income level
    Divide us with religion
    Divide us with nationality
    Divide us with gender
    Divide us with education level

    Problems created by him,It’s all him and his cronies

  13. Once a upon a time, there were Malays, Chinese, Indians and minorities of other races. Then came the PRC, India Indians, Filipinos and Caucasians.

    Who had caused the social divide?

  14. You sure you want him to do somthing about it ? Everytime he try to do something, the problem get worst, or there will be more problem. And at the end of the day, the main problem is not solved.

  15. Said someone whose siblings don’t want to talk to him and whose nephew had been under the scrutiny of a state agency (very persuasive):

    “Only by living, working, studying, serving, playing, mourning and celebrating together do we become one people, one nation.”

  16. Pinky Loon is The problem and as long as he is at the top of PAP party, nothing will ever change. The crony system created by his Old Fart is destroying Singapore slowly but surely. Cronyism is disguised as Meritocracy and 70% Sinkies do not see it as a social divide.

  17. Talk talk and talk. Everyone just do that. I am sure it is PM job to deal with the issue. But can this website, TRS, TSR, STR, SDP, WP, xxx, etc come out with workable solution. Other than spending more on social side. It is a global problem, where the older generation become unskilled because the world has changed. So if you are a bookkeeper and fail to study further to become an accountant. Or if you are a stenographer but fail to see the onslaught of friendly word processing software. Or if you are a forex agent but fail to see AI coming to automate transactions. We have generation of Singaporeans wanting to become employee. So you will get outskilled. But if you take risk, you might lose money or become rich. Got the point. So don’t just talk. I have been thinking about the problem too ! But other than spending more socially, pushing people to upgrade or change vocation, can you make them entrepreneur to run startups, so that they become rich. Tell me ! Which full time employee has become rich ?

  18. Wasn’t this system of have and have nots created by the men in white so what is he so surprised about? Salaries can never outpace the cost of living but the government has only exacerbated the problem by imposing or jacking up fees and taxes while hoarding the reserves at the same time. Real wages will continue to stagnant or decline with the impending increase in taxes. Talk is cheap but is the G doing anything tangible rather than pay lip service stating the obvious. Even a more straightforward issue like transitioning of leadership seems like rocket science or more likely ‘wayang’, it makes you wonder whether they can put money where their mouth is.

  19. Your policies suppress local Singaporean income with an open gate foreign talent with incomes that’s exponential in their own country. The rich business owners gets richer and the local workers gets suppressed income for decades. What logic did you not see this coming?

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