“Thus, the basic approach must be to maximise opportunities for all Singaporeans – the opportunities to get a good education, to work or to start a business, to retrain and upgrade, and the opportunity to own a home and raise a family in a community they feel they belong in” (Grow Economy, Cut Inequality, Miss Esther Au Yong).
With reference to Miss Esther Au Yong’s Parliament report, “Grow Economy, Cut Inequality” (March 5, 2010), I applaud the excellent comments made by NCMP Miss Sylvia Lim with regard to income inequality in Singapore. She has brought to the fore a pertinent issue that has been considerably neglected throughout the past years; and a concern with potential ramifications for the future.
Right from Singapore’s independence, the administration has stupendously and steadily adhered to a “growth at all costs” mantra so as to provide positive benefits for all Singaporeans. This is perfectly understandable, given the many inherent disadvantages and continual threats and competition from abroad – exacerbated by the forces of globalisation. Nonetheless, this economic growth has not been spread equally throughout the deciles. There is a multitude of rationales possibly explaining the household income disparity, ranging from the commitment to meritocracy to the country’s dependence on international trade; but, more importantly, it has been established that prolonged and pronounced income inequality can bring about undesired consequences in the long run.
In April, the Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS) expressed that Singapore’s Gini coefficient – which measures income inequality – dropped from 0.481 to 0.478. While it might be the second consecutive year the figure has declined, the number remains unhealthily high for an advanced and developed country such as Singapore. The administration has introduced initiatives such as the Workforce Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme and the CPF Life Scheme, coupled with the implementation of subsidies to help individuals in the lower income brackets. Yet, NCMP Miss Lim is spot-on that much more can be done to halt the gap between the rich and the poor.
On Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced in his annual policy speech that his government was pledging to close the country’s nagging poverty gap. He said, “we will not only make the pie of social wealth bigger by developing the economy, but also distribute it well”. Singapore must take explicit actions in the future to openly address such an issue, instead of assuming that stop-gap measures would be sufficient. Social organisations must continue the dedicated efforts to raise awareness of people living below the relative poverty line, and allow citizens to render assistance whenever possible.
There seems to be the unspoken perception that it is a shame to admit that there are poor and struggling citizens in our country. I beg to differ. The greatest shame for all Singaporeans would be to have the awareness of such a socio-economic problem; but lack the will and power to address this challenge of income inequality.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.