There are more poor people in Singapore than the numbers seen in official figures, said speakers at a National University of Singapore forum on Tuesday.
To get to grips with the issue, more needs to be done to understand poverty here and tailor measures to the circumstances people face in their daily lives, they said at the forum on building an inclusive society.
To highlight the urgency of addressing the poverty issue, Nominated MP Laurence Lien and labour economist Hui Weng Tat cited sobering figures that show rising income inequality and stagnating wages of the bottom 20 per cent in the past decade. One problem, said Mr Lien, who heads the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, is the absence of an official definition of the poverty line in Singapore.
The closest measure, he said, is the Statistics Department's Absolute Household Expenditure on Basic Needs. It looks at average expenditure on essential needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
The Trade and Industry Ministry pegged this figure at $1,250 for a four-person household in 2011.
About 4,830 such working households - or about 2 per cent of all households - had income below this sum. But, Mr Lien said, this measure does not explicitly include transport, education and medical costs.
It also excludes what he called expenditure on "social inclusion", in which people spend on items or experiences to feel part of a group. "According to the State, we have about 4,800 poor households and that's about it. I don't think that's acceptable."
Associate Professor Hui, of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, highlighted the plight of the "working poor" who struggle to make ends meet, saying: "Having a job does not guarantee that a person is not poor."