Senior cleaner at Lau Pa Sat (TOC stock photo)

Singapore’s inability to help citizens meet basic needs is a such shame

Below is the response made by former GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong towards the report by Channel News Asia on the plight of the elderly working poor in Singapore. 

In spite of the growing documentation of the plight of our working, elderly and unemployed poor by academics, social workers, NGOs and even our normally docile mainstream media over many years, government schemes to help them continue to be miserly, inadequate, fragmented and undignified.

As a result, some 300-400,000 Singapore citizens continue to live in such absolute poverty, not being able to regularly afford decent food, shelter, utilities, basic transport and medical attention.

Reference – A handbook on inequality, poverty and unmet social needs in Singapore by Lien Centre for Social Innovation

At the risk of nagging, the government urgently needs to :

1. Raise cash payouts on Workfare Income Supplement ( WIS ) and Silver Support Scheme (SSS) by $500-600 a month. This would immediately relieve the worst pressure to meet basic needs like nutrition, utilities, housing and necessary transport. Such help would be automatic and obviate the expensive, cumbersome, inefficient and undignified discretionary case by case distribution of even basic assistance we use today.

2. Introduce a basic unemployment insurance and protection system and minimum wage guidelines via NTUCs tripartite collective bargaining process

3. Introduce truly affordable chronic primary care /medication and long term care for ageing low and middle income seniors. Today it’s neither available nor affordable.

4. Provide sufficient subsidized decent rental flats for low income families via HDB. Today many are squeezed into small flats on unsustainable sharing arrangements because we insist on unrealistically encouraging home ownership even among the poor.

Measures 1. and 2. can be implemented in a matter of months and would cost less than 1% of GDP.

Measures 3. and 4. are also well within our long term fiscal budget resources which are among the highest in the world.

Absolute poverty or not being able to meet basic needs is a shame for a country with such resources and as rich as we are with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world

We can easily make such unacceptable poverty history in Singapore. We have the means, the schemes and one the best policy capacities.

What on earth are we waiting for !?

This response was first posted on Mr Yeoh’s Facebook page