How some countries measure poverty

How some countries measure poverty
NTU students Benny Lim and Candice Neo met residents in Jalan Kukoh rental flats, like Mr Mathieu Gordon Anthony, 68, for a university project on poverty in Singapore. Mr Anthony is an ex-convict with no living family members, and shares his one-room flat with two other elderly men. He is receiving $400 in monthly public assistance.

Unlike many developed countries, Singapore - along with Canada, New Zealand and South Korea - does not have an official poverty line.

Singapore does have some estimates on numbers of the working poor, but there is no publicly available government data on how many non-working households there are who can be considered poor.

Still, data on how many people fall below a certain level of income is useful as it is a simple yet effective gauge to track numbers of people who might need financial help - and whether their ranks are growing. This is why even countries that do not have official poverty lines, have unofficial ones.

Take Canada. Rather than a single line - which has obvious flaws - it has a more complex and comprehensive method of tracking numbers of the poor. A spokesman for the Canadian government's statistics agency told The Straits Times that it has three different benchmarks to measure how many "low-income" people there are at any given time.

The first is the Low-income Cut-offs. These are income thresholds below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on basic necessities, such as food and clothes. The country keeps meticulous data on how many working and non-working poor fall below these thresholds.

It is not a single income level, but is fine-tuned depending on a host of factors such as whether the person lives in an urban or rural area.

The second, the Low-Income Measure, is 50 per cent of the country's median family income, adjusted for family size.

The third, known as the Market Basket of Measures, measures disposable income.

These are treated as "de facto poverty lines", the spokesman said.

At last count, in 2011, there were between three million and 4.2 million Canadians - or between 10 and 12 per cent of the population - who were considered "low-income".


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