PM: We don't need poverty line to help the poor

PM: We don't need poverty line to help the poor
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) shakes hands with Mr Lalith Weeratunga, secretary to Sri Lanka's President, as he arrives at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) opening ceremony in Colombo on Nov 15, 2013. Singapore is past the point where a poverty line is useful, PM Lee indicated on Saturday, as its groups of needy now take shifting and multi-faceted form.

Singapore is past the point where a poverty line is useful, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated on Saturday, as its groups of needy now take shifting and multi-faceted form.

Hence, the Government's "kueh lapis" approach to social assistance, he said, summoning a metaphor that Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing used to describe the multi-layered help it provides to those in need.

Speaking to reporters after a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, Mr Lee weighed in for the first time on recent calls to establish a poverty line in Singapore, after Hong Kong did so in September.

He said that a poverty line like the World Bank's measure of $1.50 a day was irrelevant in Singapore as there are no "dead poor" here, by which he means those who are starving and unsheltered.

Rather, the poor here range from those going through temporary setbacks to families suddenly felled by illness, to the needy elderly and low-skilled workers.

Each of these groups needs a different sort and scale of help, and often, "men and women of good sense" are required to assess what assistance is desirable and necessary in each case.

This cannot be accomplished by a rigid poverty line, he said, which might be polarising and leave some outside the definition of poor.

"To say as an ideological matter that 'I must have a proper definition, and I want to reduce this group to zero' - I think we have moved beyond that point and I don't think that a definition will help us to improve our schemes," he said.

Mr Lee also dismissed suggestions that a poverty line would help "focus minds" on the issue of the poor in Singapore.

"What is important to us is not about whether we can find a definition with which we can focus minds on the problem, because our minds are focused on the problem," he said.

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