Singapore, a city-state located in Southeast Asia, has skyrocketed economically and is home to the world’s largest percentage of millionaires – with one of every six households having at least 1 million USD. Since its independence from the United Kingdom’s rule, Singapore has become one of the largest exporters and importers in the world. Because of the country’s low tax rate, it has also become a haven for the wealthy, including those such as Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin. Despite Singapore’s economic improvement, the number of individuals living in poverty has also been increasing in recent years.
To address the rising poverty, Caritas, an international Catholic confederation, has established a campaign called Singaporeans Against Poverty (SAP). The campaign aims to reveal the socioeconomic gap between Singapore’s renowned millionaires and the natives living in poverty. Bertha Henson of SAP identified the message of the organization as an effort “to alert people here that there are poor in our midst.”
The Singaporean government has denied the presence of poor and homeless individuals in Singapore. In 2001, Kishore Mahbubani, a former diplomat, declared, “there are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated…through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives.”
Even though homeless individuals can be seen on the streets of Singapore, the Singaporean government refuses to acknowledge them or establish a poverty line. A poverty line is a method of measurement used to gauge poverty in terms of the minimum level on income. Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Social and Family Development in Singapore, explained that the Singaporean government does not want to implement a poverty threshold because “[it] does not fully reflect the severity and complexity of the issues faced by poor families.” Sing also compared Singapore to other developed and wealthy nations, such as Canada and New Zealand, that also do not have poverty lines.
Singapore’s response to the rising number of poor nationals has upset many Singaporeans. Belmont Lay, a writer and Singaporean, reprimanded Singapore as a “country that is known for defining everything but when the time comes to draw the line at who is poor, or rather, poor enough, we falter.”
– Lienna Feleke-Eshete