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.
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.
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 for the needs of all Singaporean citizens.
– Riya Kohli