SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) called for the establishment of an official poverty line in Parliament on Monday (Apr 17), arguing that it needs to “go beyond just crude basic needs of housing, food and clothing”.
As a country gets richer, what is perceived as a basic need changes, giving the example of a smartphone, which people need to access many government services, said Assoc Prof Lim.
“Part of the problem is a disconnect between what the government has claimed to be basic, versus what Singaporeans themselves perceive as necessary for human flourishing. Life is not just about making it day to day, but about thriving.”
And while he acknowledged that Singapore is indeed one of the wealthiest nations in the world, many of the poor are still struggling with difficulties, especially after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thus the need for a poverty line.
“This line should be established based on components that go beyond just crude ‘basic’ needs of housing, food, and clothing.
Set up a committee, with representatives from not just the MSF but also leaders from civil society and experts from academia, to figure out what this should be. Then peg all thresholds for government assistance—especially ComCare—to this line, or higher (but never lower). The Local Qualifying Salary 25 —effectively our minimum wage for Singaporeans—should likewise be tied to this line.”
He urged Members of Parliament to “Think back on the last time was when you had a tight budget before your next paycheck came in, and how you had to worry about whether you could make the rent or mortgage, pay for your meals next week, or clear bills that would keep the lights on. Play out that exercise every single day and week, and you sense how it’s like to be poor.”
He ended his speech by saying that Singapore can do much more for the poor “if we want to call ourselves a First-World nation.”