Elderly Poverty In Singapore
In Singapore, elderly people from the age of 65 and up formed 15.5% of the country’s total population, ranking among the most rapidly aging communities in Asia besides Japan. This has been due to the improved healthcare system and living standards that have significantly decreased the mortality rates over time. Research shows that between 2012 and 2015, poverty in Singapore increased by 43.45%. Poverty levels among the old age population increased by 74.32% in the same period. The increase in the elderly population has increased dependency on the working-age population, with most having to return to work after retiring. Here are four reasons for the increase in elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Government Foresight

Singapore developed rapidly over the last few decades, however, studies indicate that only a proportion of the population enjoys wealth. In 2013, the government reported that 105,000 households experienced poverty, which was one in 10 families.

During its planning, the government lacked foresight resulting in it failing to consider some important factors. These factors include longer lifespans of the elderly, the fact that savings from their years of labor would depreciate annually and the fact that they have varying education levels due to not always being able to access formal education. Poor communication skills, high medical costs and inefficient government support programs are some of the reasons that contribute to increasing elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Efficacy

Government support is key to alleviating poverty in many countries. Singapore’s government has put in place programs to assist the poor, such as ComCare, a short to medium-term assistance scheme. However, the lack of education and confusion around the processes and criteria of this program frequently discourages the elderly from applying for the help they need. Citizens aged 55 and over included only 35% of applicants of ComCare in 2015, even though the elderly make up a large portion of Singapore’s impoverished. Moreover, high medical care costs due to age issues may also deplete the assistance provided—retirement income adequacy declines due to decreased social security benefits and less income from pension benefits.

Lack of Financial Planning

Financial planning among individuals is also to blame for the skyrocketing levels of elderly poverty. Insufficiency in funds to live a complete life due to poor personal decisions, such as engagement in drugs or refusing to relocate for employment, is a frequent cause of this. As such, inadequate financial resources and the poor management of these resources are the root cause of financial adversities.

Most older adults in Singapore are poor due to forced retirement. The statutory age of retirement is 62. Many employers also coerce elderly employees into early retirements to avoid higher taxes and expenses. This leaves little notice for a lot of elderly Singaporeans to save at an earlier stage. Additionally, financial education does not receive priority, leaving many in Singapore vulnerable to avoidable mistakes.

Changes in family structures and lifestyles coupled with the increased costs of living have also increased the levels of elderly poverty. Therefore, this has necessitated good financial planning, necessary at a younger age for better old age.

Lack of Training

The elderly lack the communication skills required for positions in the service industry. Singaporean language policy, which eliminates other Chinese dialects except for Mandarin, marginalizes the old since most of them can only communicate in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. Therefore, positions in customer service or as receptionists are consequently out of reach for many leaving only the option of manual labor.

A lack of communication skills can also affect an individual’s social mobility, as limited communication can make upgrading skills for the purpose of improving one’s job a tall order. The government provides language courses, but it does not tailor the courses to the illiterate, who would instead use their time to generate income. Overall elderly poverty further ties to other factors such as health, education and job opportunities, which also constitute the determinants of socio-economic state in old age.

The Tsao Foundation

During its developmental stages, Singapore did not adequately spend on welfare and social policies, spending more on its pursuit for economic development. However, NGOs exist that are providing long-term solutions to elderly poverty in Singapore. An example of this is the Tsao Foundation. For 28 years, it has developed training and financial education opportunities, as well as community-based elderly care to help transform the aging experience in Singapore. The Foundation was even able to continue its mission remotely through COVID-19 through its pre-existing online Expert Series, allowing people to continue their education throughout the pandemic. The Tsao Foundation aims to help shape an inclusive society that promotes intergenerational solidarity, benefiting everyone involved.

It is important to prioritize education and to create opportunities throughout every generation. Through the efforts of the Tsao Foundation, the intent is that elderly poverty in Singapore will not continue.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Singapore
Period poverty in Singapore is not only detrimental to the poor, but it is particularly detrimental for women in poverty. Unfortunately, many do not see period poverty as a substantial issue. Rather than appropriately encouraging and educating adolescent women about their menstrual cycles, many women receive shame for it. Mental health and physical issues are also apparent due to period poverty in Singapore. The lack of access to proper menstrual materials pushes Singaporean women into using unsafe materials for their cycles. As a result, women develop a number of health issues such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, green or white vaginal discharge and vaginal and skin irritation.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are also important to consider when discussing period poverty. It is a serious necessity to one’s overall well-being and when overlooked, it can have drastic consequences. Individuals who experience severe aversive conditions such as shame and guilt are more likely to experience negative mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Singapore specifically, it is taboo to discuss one’s menstruation cycle.

This resulting cultural attitude that egregiously directs shame toward Singaporean women and children can make women more likely to develop PTSD. Even in cases when PTSD is not present, findings have determined that the absence of proper menstrual products is due to higher rates of depression, anxiety and distress. Naturally, the issue with period poverty also has links to issues of other forms of poverty. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that this is especially arduous in areas where there is a lack of running water, plumbing and electricity. Another issue regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore involves women’s lack of access to the materials necessary to overcome period poverty.

Freedom Cups Helping Women

However, women in Singapore have found their own ways to address the period poverty crisis. One example includes a group of sisters, Joanne, Rebecca and Vanessa Paranjothy and their creation of Freedom Cups. These devices function as reusable tampons and pads, effectively containing menstrual blood. As long they receive proper washing, these devices are re-usable for a span of up to 10 years, without the high risk of infection as with reusing pads. Moreover, these items are able to gather menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours per individual use.

Due to the reusability of these Freedom Cups, women are able to better afford the product, without furthering their fall into period-related poverty. Additionally, the Paranjothy sisters supply one freedom cup to another woman in need for each cup sold. So far, the sisters have distributed Freedom Cups to more than 3,000 women. This, however, is not the end of the sisters’ efforts. They continue making efforts across the world to end period poverty, such as in the Philippines.

Further Initiatives

Widespread organizational efforts also address period poverty in Singapore. Groups such as The World Federation of United Nations Associations had marked success with its Mission Possible: Singapore or Pink Project. This project involved the mass donation of menstrual and other health products to the Star Shelter as well as the Tanglin Trust School and the advertisement of the issue of period poverty to the areas.

However, of all of the efforts done to alleviate period poverty, foreign aid and involvement are the most crucial. The issues that exist regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore are reflective of many of the issues across the world. Many women still experience feelings of shame and a lack of adequate care when it comes to their menstrual cycles. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that, despite their efforts to initially provide Freedom Cups to women in the Philippines, only married women received them.

Without the continued investment into education regarding how to perceive their bodies and access to suitable menstrual materials, women will continue to suffer the adverse effects of period poverty. However, actions involving donation and innovation of feminine hygiene products, such as those the Paranjothy sisters made, and a greater emphasis on sexual education can help alleviate period poverty in Singapore and other developing countries.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

testing and povertyDoing away with certain high-stakes exams could help alleviate poverty. The pandemic has forced many to consider alternatives to what was the status quo, including high-stakes exams used in education systems around the world. These popular exams have roots as far back as the selection of civil servants in ancient China. During the past two centuries, the number of educational systems that make use of high-stakes testing has grown. Exams may be useful as a means of helping students, parents and educators understand how the student is doing. However, they become high-stakes when decisions regarding admissions and advancement rely on exam results. Eliminating high-stakes exams could reduce both testing and poverty.

The Positive and Negative Consequences of Testing

Research has shown that there are positive and negative impacts of high-stakes testing. The benefits of high-stakes examinations include concrete educational standards and assistance for students who perform poorly. On the other hand, disadvantages include a narrowed curriculum, cheating and policies that disproportionately impact minority students.

According to the World Bank’s Public “Examinations Examined,” “[It] is difficult to make the case that examinations, whatever the motivation in their introduction, played a major role in the promotion of equity.” With an emphasis on testing and poverty in contemporary education, understanding how high-stakes exams reflect inequity may help educators better assist disadvantaged students.

Testing and Poverty

High-stakes testing puts pressure not just on students, but also on parents, educators, schools and  governments. These pressures affect those with low socioeconomic status the most. Students from low-income families often face cognitive, emotional and social developmental deficits induced by poverty and stunting. The effects of poverty and stunting turn into a 19.8% deficit in adult annual income.

Low-income families also often lack the financial resources to pay for their student’s academic success with tutors, textbooks and materials. Moreover, educators and schools may focus their efforts on more advantaged students. Studies in Zambia, for example, reveal that advantaged students tend to do better than poor students.

Furthermore, public spending on education is higher in wealthier communities. One reason may be because the government rewards schools that perform better in high-stakes exams with additional funding. Many of these schools, comprised of students from high socioeconomic statuses, tend to have more resources than their low-income counterparts.

This lack of spending directly connects testing and poverty, as using testing to measure success gives fewer resources to underprivileged students. A report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity reports that 330 million students are in school but are not learning the basics. This may be connected to poor quality teaching or poor resources, which can result from measuring success with tests. Ultimately, being poor has become closely connected to poorer exam performance. Indeed, “Large scale assessments in exam subjects and grades routinely show a steep ‘social gradient’ in performance,” according to the Center for Global Development.

Doing Away with High-Stakes Exams

Education is central to reducing poverty. For example, individual income increases by 8% for every year that one goes to school. More specifically, having a secondary education in Tanzania decreases by 60% the chance that a working adult will be poor.

Recognizing the benefits of education and the consequences of testing and poverty, schools could eliminate some high-stakes exams. Countries such as Kenya and Singapore, as well as most Caribbean countries, use tests to determine a student’s placement in secondary schools. Yet those who made it into secondary schools in Kenya obtained employment benefits, decreasing low-skill self-employment, compared to those who did not. According to the IMF,  “increasing [the] average years of schooling and [the] reducing [of] inequality of schooling” can significantly reduce economic inequality.

If primary and secondary education were universal, extreme poverty could lessen by half. To make this happen, developing countries dealing with the pandemic should consider doing away with certain high-stakes exams. This will allow poorer students to contribute to human capital.

The Good News

While it took 40 years for American girls’ enrollments in education to increase from 57% to 88%, it took Morocco 11 years. Yet, in 2013 there was a disparity in the net enrollment rate in lower secondary education. Though 79% for boys in urban areas were enrolled, the rate was only 26% for girls in rural areas.

Since 2007, Education for All (EFA) has provided girls in Morocco’s rural communities of the High Atlas mountains the opportunity of secondary education. The organization’s provision includes nutritious meals, hot showers, beds and access to computers. EFA has at least 50 girls who are enrolled at university.

While this work is laudable, governments may be able to provide similar results by doing away with high-stakes testing. When exams act as a gatekeeper to advanced education, they reproduce cycles of poverty. All students must have access to equal education in order to escape from poverty.

–  Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

Dengue Fever in Singapore Is on the RiseDengue fever is not an uncommon virus, The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 390 million cases of dengue fever annually. The majority of these cases were reported in Asia with only 30% of these cases occurring outside of the continent. In 2019, it is estimated that Asia had 273 million cases of dengue fever. Dengue fever in Singapore has been rising since 2018, however, there has been a sharp increase of reported cases throughout 2020.

Dengue fever is spread by female mosquitoes and is most prominent in tropical areas. The severity of dengue fever can differ largely. In mild cases of dengue fever, the infected person may experience severe flu-like symptoms such as joint pain, fever, vomiting and headaches. However, severe dengue fever is associated with internal bleeding, decreased organ function and the excretion of plasma. Severe dengue fever, if left untreated, has a mortality rate of up to 20%.

Dengue Fever in Singapore

Singapore has experienced many dengue fever epidemics. The most recent epidemic occurred in 2013. It was the largest outbreak in Singaporean history. However, in 2020, Singapore has exceeded the 22,170 dengue fever cases reported throughout the 2013 outbreak. As of July 2020, the number of dengue fever cases reported in Singapore was higher than 14,000. This exceeds the number of cases reported in July during the 2013 outbreak and is almost twice as many cases reported in July 2019.

The National Environment Agency of Singapore reports that the number of cases being reported continues to be on an upward trend, suggesting this may be the worst outbreak of dengue fever in Singapore’s history. Singapore has also reported that there are 610 active dengue fever clusters as of October 3, 2020. A dengue cluster is where there are two or more confirmed dengue fever cases reported in a localized area within 14 days. As of October 5, there were more than 30,800 cases of dengue fever in 2020.

Changes in Dengue Fever

The 2020 outbreak of dengue fever has been driven by the virus serotype DenV-3. There are four major serotypes of dengue fever with DenV-3 being one of the least common. The prevalence of the serotype DenV-3 increased from the beginning of 2019 where nearly 50% of cases were reported to be DenV-3. This means there is lower population immunity, causing higher rates of infection and an increased likelihood of severe dengue fever development.

The typical season for dengue fever in Singapore is from June to October. However, Singapore had a major rise in cases in mid-May 2020, increasing the season length by two to three weeks. The sudden rise in dengue fever in Singapore has been attributed to a decrease in preventative measures due to the lock-down caused by COVID-19. Singapore imposed a lockdown on April 7 to minimize the spread of COVID-19. As a result, more people have neglected taking preventative actions such as removing still bodies of water around their homes to decrease mosquito breeding.

How Singapore Can Stop the Spread

The spread of dengue fever in Singapore can be decreased by mobilizing the Singaporean population to take active measures in preventing mosquito breeding. Removing stagnant water from gardens and gutters will help remove the breeding ground for mosquitoes. Also loosening hard soil and spraying pesticides in dark corners of the home will stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in these areas. The Singaporean government is also urging people to use insect repellent throughout the peak dengue fever season to stop the infection.

The Singaporean government has highlighted that the dengue fever outbreak in Singapore is a major health concern that needs immediate attention. With two significant health concerns, COVID-19 and dengue fever outbreaks occurring simultaneously, preventative measures must be taken to ensure the healthcare system is not overrun. With compliance to the National Environment Agency’s guidelines, the Singaporean people will be able to reduce the number of dengue fever infections.

Laura Embry
Photo: Flickr

The Nipah Virus
The first documented outbreak of the Nipah virus (NiV) took place in a Malaysian village called Sungai Nipah in the year 1999. Since then, there have been outbreaks reported in Bangladesh, India and Singapore. Contact with infected animals such as pigs and fruit bats and consuming contaminated fruit lead to contracting the virus. Then, the virus is transmitted from person to person. It can also cause acute respiratory illness and encephalitis or be asymptomatic.

In Kozhikode city in the South Indian state of Kerala, an outbreak of the Nipah virus occurred in May 2018. The virus originated from infected fruit bats. In early May, an index patient was admitted to a local hospital. Within weeks, 18 cases were confirmed and 17 patients succumbed. By July 2018, the outbreak was contained.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine

Infected patients were confined and treated in isolation wards. Exhaustive contact tracing efforts helped identify over 2,000 individuals who may have come in contact with those who were infected. They were quarantined and periodically checked on throughout the maximum incubation period.

At the onset of the outbreak, the government issued health and travel advisories for the citizens and visitors to the affected areas. Members of the response team also visited houses to inform citizens about the required precautions. They encouraged people to wear masks since the virus was transmitted via droplets of body fluids. They were also advised to avoid consuming fruits due to the possibility of contamination.

Field Visits and Collaborative Efforts

Officials visited the homes and localities of the infected patients. They collected information from family members and inspected the surrounding areas to uncover the source of the virus. In a sealed well in the home of an infected patient, health officials discovered dead bats.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the early response to the outbreak as improvised. However, a centralized, efforts from top state government officials and health experts helped create an organized approach to managing and curbing the crisis. Their efforts collaborated with support and guidance from the Central Government as well. Furthermore, several heroes in the fight against the NiV outbreak were praised, including Lini Puthussery. Puthussery was a nurse to patients diagnosed with the virus, and she later caught the disease.

Quick Response Measures for Future Outbreaks

In anticipation of NiV outbreaks in the future, the Kerala government established a network that includes public and private hospitals to enable testing. These hospitals quickly identify index patients as well. In June 2019, this allowed a swift response to a possible outbreak, and there were no fatalities. There are plans to upgrade existing Virology Institutes in the State. Additionally, there are efforts toward overcoming challenges from previous outbreaks. One of the challenges is ensuring the sufficient stock of PPE equipment. These challenges also include proper management of bio-medical waste and decontamination of ambulances and treatment centers.

The experience garnered from the NiV outbreaks helped facilitate the Kerala Governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State has adopted a people-centric approach to the coronavirus pandemic. It has also implemented a vigorous, centralized effort for contact tracing and quarantine and the sustenance of vulnerable groups.

There is neither a known vaccine nor a cure for the Nipah virus. The disease has an estimated fatality rate of 40% to 75%. However, Kerala’s success in containing the NiV outbreak in 2018 and possible outbreaks in the following year has established an admirable model for a global response to combat it.

Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Singapore
Despite the enormous wealth present in Singapore, poverty is also a pressing issue within the nation. With the lack of a minimum wage, there is no guarantee that Singaporean citizens have the opportunity to make enough to live on. Leaders within the country, however, are bringing the issue to the forefront of the national conversation. Poverty in Singapore increased by 43.45% in just three years, from 2012 to 2015. Poverty affects the elderly the most, with their rates increasing 74.32% within the same time period. This rapid increase has spurred government officials to address the issue. Various government policies, such as the lack of a minimum wage and restrictions on the withdrawal of retirement money, often receive critiques as possible causes of the growing problem of poverty in Singapore.

PSP Talk

The Progress Singapore Party is a major national political group, that describes itself as the ‘party for the people.’ It supports increased attention toward rising poverty rates. The party’s rhetoric largely focuses on fighting for all Singaporeans, not just elite classes that possess money and power. The party hosted a talk series, PSP Talk, in September 2019 to highlight pressing issues and direct the national conversation. Poverty in Singapore was one of the major topics of discussion during the event. Yeoh Lam Keong, the former chief economist at GIC Private Limited, spoke at the talk series, notably proposing several poverty reforms based on the findings from his research. Keong took the opportunity to emphasize the severity of poverty in Singapore.

“To my shock and horror, I [realized] that the position of the poor in [Singapore] was much worse and much more awful than I [could] imagine,” said Keong about his research.

PSP Talk opened up an opportunity for education and reflection on Singapore’s relationship with poverty and welfare reform. Keong defined three classes of poverty in his presentation– the elderly poor, the working poor and the unemployed poor– to establish an academic understanding of the situation in Singapore. He went on to explain his research-based policy initiatives, which the government could enforce to support its impoverished citizens. Keong’s initiatives included raising funding for the Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme, programs that provide funds to those in need, by $500-$600 a month. He argued that this was a fiscally achievable action that would aid the suffering populations of the poor and elderly. Since Keong’s presentation on these policy reforms, the Singaporean government has set up expansions to the Silver Support Scheme. In January 2021, the program will expand its qualifying criteria and increase quarterly payouts by 20%.

Party member Secretary-General Tan Cheng Bok also spoke at the event. Dr. Tan made a public commitment to understanding the complexities of poverty in the nation and working to create solutions. He continued to support this assertion in July 2020 while campaigning for the General Election, pushing voters to elect representatives who ask the “right questions,” and value trust and transparency. After a narrow defeat, Dr. Tan vowed to continue to serve the people on these issues.

Looking Forward

PSP Talk represents a promising step toward addressing the growing rate of poverty in Singapore. The Progress Singapore Party’s decision to highlight poverty at this gathering of academics and national leaders suggests a new focus for Singapore’s government. The party continues to push for increased influence within the government while holding the current elected officials accountable to the needs of all Singaporean citizens.

– Riya Kohli
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Singapore
The healthcare system in Singapore is globally renowned for its compelling design, which satisfies both conservatives and liberals. The universal healthcare system provides economically efficient and high-quality medical care in both private and public facilities.

Objectives of Healthcare

According to the Affordable Healthcare passage from Singapore’s Ministry of Health, the five fundamental objectives of the healthcare system include:

  • To nurture a healthy nation by promoting good health;

  • To promote personal responsibility for one’s health and avoid over-reliance on state welfare and medical insurance;

  • To provide good and affordable basic medical services to all Singaporeans;

  • To rely on competition and market forces to improve service and raise efficiency; and

  • To intervene directly in the health care sector; when necessary, where the market fails to keep health care costs down.

To summarize, the government acknowledges the strengths and limitations of the public and private sectors in health. Overall, healthcare in Singapore has a multipayer financing structure, where a “single treatment episode might be covered by multiple schemes and payers, often overlapping.”

Specifics of Singapore’s Success

The system is known as the 3Ms, which consists of:

  • MediShield Life – a universal basic health care insurance that is mandatory for citizens and permanent residents and provides lifelong security against large hospital bills and specific costly outpatient treatments.

  • MediSave – a mandatory savings plan consumes between 7 and 9.5% of worker’s wages, helping cover out-of-pocket payments. These tax-exempt, interest-bearing accounts can be used to pay for family members’ health care expenses or routine care.

  • MediFund – the government’s safety net for Singaporeans who cannot cover their out-of-pocket costs, even with MediSave.

Healthcare in Singapore is ranked among the best healthcare systems in the world, according to the World Health Organization (ranked 6th in 2010) and Bloomberg’s list, “These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care.”

However, several factors beyond its structure contribute to Singapore’s successful healthcare system. Singapore is a small island city-state with a population of 5.6 million. Singapore’s physicians per 1,000 people ratio is 2.294, compared to the U.S’s, 1.565. Additionally, rates of smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse are relatively low, as well as the obesity rate. The healthier population predisposes “the country to … lower health spending.”

Limitations of Healthcare in Singapore

Although healthcare in Singapore receives acclaim for its ability to fund its systems through private markets, there are several limitations to consider, especially concerning Singapore’s underserved population. The lack of hospital beds in the emergency section of public hospitals causes patients with basic insurance plans to have limited financial protection. Since the spending on healthcare in Singapore is one of the lowest in the world (SGD 9.8 million out of SGD 400 billion), subsidies for patients are substantially limited.

Additionally, Singapore prides itself on its multipayer financial system; however, patients pay more than 60% of healthcare costs out-of-pocket. Thus, as Rachel Ngu, a writer for Mims Today (healthcare news across Asia), explains, “patients will need to pay an initial amount based on a subsidized class, as well as co-pay the rest of the bill. Aside from that, they will have to pay 10% of the rest of the bill for Integrated Plans.” Therefore, patients with basic coverage are not able to afford urgent medical attention because of the financial strain of medical bills, notably those without add-on integrated plans for more expensive hospital procedures.

Healthcare in Singapore is effective because of the efforts of the government and the people. Singapore has created a functioning healthcare system that regulates the supply and prices of healthcare services. Also, the system seeks to provide its citizen with security in the face of large medical bills. Though healthcare in Singapore is replicable on some levels, the system tailors to the specific needs of the economy and the demands of the people.

Mia Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in SingaporeOn one end of the spectrum, there are ultra-rich Singaporeans who live the luxurious lives one might see in the Hollywood hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” On the other end, there are many Singaporeans who are struggling to make ends meet. As a result, many have to resort to sleeping in the streets. It is too easy to forget that poverty and homelessness in Singapore are issues that still exist.

Homelessness in Singapore

In 2017, volunteers from the welfare organization Montfort Care and volunteer group SW101 conducted a survey focusing on issues that low-income individuals experienced. Within five hours of conducting the survey in 25 locations, the team found 180 people sleeping in public. Men comprised the majority of the homeless they found.

Later in 2019, Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy led the first landmark study on the homeless population. It unveiled the scale of homelessness in Singapore for the first time. The study found that there were “between 921 and 1,050 homeless people in Singapore,” most of whom were Chinese men. According to the study, homelessness is not typically a temporary condition but a chronic issue. About half of those interviewed had been homeless “for one to five years,” and a third for more than six years.

Non-Stereotypical Homeless Population

Homeless people in Singapore tend to stay vigilant and often try to avoid detection. It is not easy to tell them apart from other members of the public as they do not fit into the common stereotypical images of the destitute and vagrant homeless population. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy study that found nearly 30% of the homeless found ways to maintain their appearance and look presentable.

The 2017 report revealed that approximately 60% of the homeless interviewed were employed. Around 58% had full-time employment, and 38% had temporary or part-time employment. Despite being employed, the nature and low pay of these jobs often drive people to the streets. Most of the homeless are employed in “low-wage, irregular jobs.” The average wage for homeless employees is only $1,036. This is well below the national median wage in Singapore at $2,564. With that level of income, it is impossible for many to afford a place to stay.

Public Housing

Singapore often prides itself on having one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world. The Housing Developing Board (HDB) sold apartments to around 90% of its inhabitants in 2018. HDB housing houses about 80% of Singapore’s residents. Although the HDB flats provide affordable options for Singaporeans, the strict eligibility requirements sometimes add to the problem of homelessness.

Furthermore, under the joint tenancy requirement, two single people, often strangers, have to co-rent a small one-room flat. The lack of privacy and conflicts between tenants sometimes make sleeping outdoors a more attractive option than going home. In fact, about 15% of those sleeping on the street “had HDB rental flats in their names.” Ng believes that long-term solutions to homelessness in Singapore would depend on HDB. Furthermore, it is urgent for the joint tenancy requirement to be revised or removed.

Addressing The Issue

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), as well as many other nongovernmental organizations, is working closely to help people in need and alleviate the problem of homelessness in Singapore. Over the past two years, MSF has been partnering with different community groups and government agencies to reach out to and assist the homeless population in Singapore. In July 2019, MSF launched the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network, bringing together 26 agencies to help the homeless in Singapore.

The ministry also provides temporary accommodation and relief through funded overnight shelters, including their Crisis Shelters and Transitional Shelters. For individuals that are unable to support themselves and have limited or no assistance from family, there are 11 MSF-funded Welfare Homes in Singapore. MSF’s Welfare Homes provide long-term residential care and support from basic physical needs to programs that improve emotional well-being. Between 2016 and 2018, MSF assisted about 300 homeless people.

Homelessness in Singapore is easy to miss, but it is no doubt a chronic problem that has persisted for many years. Since homelessness is a complex issue that with no singular common cause, it requires multifaceted solutions to mitigate. The government has been working closely with different agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Commendable efforts have been made to address the issue by reaching out and providing both short and long-term support for the homeless in Singapore.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Singapore
With one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the world and a reputation for being a “Food Paradise,’” it is difficult to imagine that food security is an issue in Singapore. However, hunger persists despite Singapore’s reputation as an affluent and food-secure nation. This hidden hunger in Singapore is a result of food insecurity and has caused malnutrition throughout the country.

Hidden Hunger in Singapore

Singapore is ranked as the world’s most food-secure nation, yet many Singaporeans still struggle to access a sufficient and nutritious diet. This “hidden hunger,” or the high rate of malnutrition, has created a significant issue for the nation. According to the U.N., about 4.1% of Singaporeans experienced moderate to severe food insecurity between 2016 and 2018. Food security is more than having access to the amount of food needed to survive; it is having nutritionally adequate food that is vital for a person’s growth and development.

A large part of Singapore’s population experiences food insecurity first-hand. Researchers from the Lien Center for Social Innovation reported that only 2.5% of the survey respondents from four low-income neighborhoods had no food insecurity, while 80% of respondents experienced mild to moderate food insecurity. The researchers found that within the last 12 months, one in five low-income households in Singapore had to go a whole day without eating or could not eat when hungry due to a lack of resources.

However, food insecurity is not limited to low-income households. In fact, approximately 27% of the study participants had an average monthly income of $2,000 and above. This suggests that financial constraints are not the sole cause of food insecurity in Singapore.

Food Insecurity Leads to Malnutrition

This widespread hunger in Singapore leads to a high rate of malnutrition, especially in children and the elderly population. ONE (SINGAPORE) reported that one in 10 Singaporeans lack sufficient access to essentials, including healthy and nutritious food. This makes access to healthy food an unattainable reality for many.

Malnutrition as a consequence of an unhealthy or insufficient diet creates even more health-related issues for at-risk populations. ONE (SINGAPORE)’s website reports that upwards of 23,000 children in Singapore are malnourished as a result of food insecurity. This is a staggering number for such an affluent country. Around one in three elderly Singaporeans are at risk of being malnourished. In 2015, about half of the elderly population admitted to hospitals “were eating poorly,” making them more vulnerable to medical complications and other adverse outcomes.

Food Support Systems: Lacking Coordination

Despite the abundance and diversity of food assistance groups in Singapore, including nonprofit organizations, charities, soup kitchens, Meals-on-Wheels providers and informal volunteer groups, many people experiencing food insecurity remain hungry. According to the Lien Center for Social Innovation, more than half of the survey participants who experienced severe food insecurity received infrequent or no support at all.

In spite of the support systems in place (approximately 125 in 2018), the results of this report suggest they may be inefficient in addressing Singapore’s hidden hunger. Some attribute the inefficiency to the lack of coordination between systems. Many of these food support groups operated independently and there was no information-sharing network in place. This often created more problems: duplication of assistance, food waste and in some cases, little to no aid. In order to better coordinate efforts, stronger communication between different food aid organizations is needed.

Finding Common Ground

In 2018, officers from the Ministry of Social and Family Development started engaging several food aid organizations informally. This created the foundation for a multi-agency workgroup in 2019 which brings together food support organizations and agencies. The purpose of this workgroup is to provide a platform for collaboration to end food insecurity and food waste in Singapore.

While the workgroup is still in its infancy, it has made headway in coordinating efforts among the groups. The stakeholders have worked together to address food waste by compiling a list of sources that are willing to contribute unwanted food. In addition, they are working to map food groups and their needs in order to eliminate duplication of assistance and sourcing issues. These efforts make Singapore’s food assistance programs more efficient and effective.

 

Many helping hands devoted to alleviating hidden hunger in Singapore. However, the lack of coordination among these well-intentioned groups sometimes leads to mismatches between the providers and the beneficiaries. By recognizing the “hidden hunger” in Singapore and coordinating governmental efforts, the nation and its charities may be able to more efficiently address food insecurity in the nation.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation
One of the most extreme and dangerous forms of discrimination against women is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Some might not associate the practice with modern, cosmopolitan countries outside of Africa. However, the truth is that it is still quietly happening in a lot of communities in Southeast Asia. In fact, Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is more common than people previously thought.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

FGM comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs. FGM usually takes place on religious or cultural grounds and undertaken for non-medical reasons, leaving the girls with long-term health complications. International organizations, such as the U.N. and the WHO, universally consider FGM a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination against women. While it has no health benefits, the practice is prevalent and often performed for cultural and religious reasons. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million women and girls have experienced FGM and that more than 3 million girls are at risk of this painful practice annually.

Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia

While the procedure in many African countries commonly occurs as a ceremony when girls reach adolescence, FGM in Southeast Asia often occurs when the girls are in infancy, which makes it more hidden. Better known as Sunat Perempuan in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, people often quietly carry out the procedure on girls before they turn 2 years old and are aware of what others are deciding for their body. Muslims in Southeast Asia typically observe this practice and reside in countries such as Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore

Since FGM occurs quietly, the exact number of women who experienced it is hard to pinpoint. However, experts believe that it is highly prevalent within the Malay community. Based on some anecdotal evidence, some estimate that approximately 80 percent of the 200,000 Malay Muslims were victims of FGM in Singapore. There is no law banning the practice of FGM in Singapore, and the government remains overwhelmingly silent on the issue. Some clinics offer to perform the procedure for around $15 to $26.

Indonesia

Many in Indonesia consider Female Genital Mutilation a rite of passage and people have practiced it for generations in Indonesia, a country containing the largest Muslim population of all countries globally. The government estimates that about 50 percent of the girls aged 11 and under nationwide undergo FGM, while in some more conservative parts of the country such as Gorontalo, the number could be upwards of 80 percent. Local healers say that the practice would prevent the girls’ promiscuity in later life. There is also another widespread belief that God would not accept uncircumcised Muslim women’s prayers. Some hospitals in Indonesia even offered FGM as part of the “birthing packages,” which further legitimizes the procedure and makes it hard to eliminate.

The government has gone back and forth in its decision on the issue. In 2006, the government had banned the practice of FGM, but due to pressure from religious groups, it had moved away from the attempt four years later. Instead, to accommodate the religious and cultural considerations, the government issued regulations allowing for medical staff to carry out less intrusive methods to ensure more safety. In 2016, the women’s minister announced a renewed campaign to end FGM but again met with increased opposition from the religious leaders in the country.

Malaysia

A study in 2012 found that more than 93 percent of the Muslim women that it surveyed in Malaysia have undergone the procedure. In 2009, Malaysia’s Islamic Council issued a fatwa – a legal pronouncement in Islam, allowing FGM and making the practice mandatory unless considered harmful. The call for standardization of procedure by the health ministry in 2012 added more to the problem of FGM in Malaysia as many in the country consider it to be normal and part of the culture.

A New Generation

Despite international condemnation, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is still prevalent and entrenched in traditions in many communities. The practice exists mostly among the Muslim community but is not exclusive to it. It is only until recently that FGM in Southeast Asia has gained more international attention, and more evidence on the prevalence of the practice is necessary to raise awareness on the issue. Across Africa where the practice concentrates, some communities have started to question FGM and abandon the long-standing tradition. Hopefully, with the new awareness of FGM in Southeast Asia, the nations will soon put an end to the practice that has been putting the women in danger for generations.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr