SINGAPORE: In a May 23 (Tuesday) Facebook post, Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) made the case again for establishing a poverty line. He said it would be a helpful tool in evaluating poverty in Singapore so that those in need of more support could receive it.
“How can we say we’re successful in targeting poverty or not if we don’t have the most basic of indicators for evaluating it?” he wrote.
In Parliament last month, the MP, an associate professor of economics at ESSEC Business School, called for the establishment of an official poverty line, arguing that it needs to “go beyond just crude basic needs of housing, food and clothing”.
In his post on May 23, he recalled working at the World Bank, which aims at a poverty-free world, where he spent much time considering how to help improve the lives of the poor not only in low-income countries but also in rich nations such as Singapore.
“Singapore has vaulted up in the league table of per capita incomes worldwide, and as of this year, is expected to come in between 3rd and 5th. For a small city-state with no discernible natural resources, this is an incredible achievement,” wrote Assoc Prof Lim.
He added that Singapore has yet to catch up when it comes to attitudes and mindsets about welfare, calling state support for the poor “remarkably limited”, although he added that the rationale behind the arguments is that curbing welfare prevents a dependency mindset and that day-to-day living in Singapore is essentially affordable.
“A key difference is asset ownership. Those with capital find life much more comfortable than those who don’t. While this is true everywhere, living here is significantly harder at the lower end. This struggle may also have become worse after the pandemic; high inflation has lowered the purchasing power of incomes, and unless you’ve money set aside in special savings accounts, CPF rates haven’t kept up, making you permanently poorer.”
Assoc Prof Lim added, “Perhaps the strongest argument one could make for helping the poor is that it is a moral imperative. Not everyone is blessed with the same gifts. In a meritocracy, those who are endowed with more naturally get more, but what sort of society would we become if we aren’t inclined to share?”
Hence the need for an official national poverty line, which would establish who would need more support. Assoc Prof Lim added, “I find it crazy that we don’t have one. Such a line is standard worldwide, in countries rich and poor.”
Some have observed that the poverty line should be set at $2,500 a month at least, but this figure could go as high as $6,400 to include “items that many would consider needs in an advanced economy”.
“As most folks will probably agree, what is necessary for living isn’t the minimum amount needed to grind it out. It’s the least needed to not just exist, but truly live; humans need a reason to flourish—otherwise, what’s the point of living in the world’s 3rd richest country?”
Assoc Prof Lim then went on to discuss the weaknesses in the Government’s key anti-poverty programmes, Comcare and Workfare, and ended his post by writing, “All this sounds like a rant—and in some ways it is—but these issues need attention, even if it only concerns (by definition) a small segment of society. Because in a rich, advanced economy, it is unconscionable that we haven’t fully eradicated poverty, and folks are still scrapping to make a hard living.”
Read his post in full here.