Speakers at NUS forum urge more help for poor

Speakers at NUS forum urge more help for poor
An elderly rag and bone woman picking up a cardboard box outside Geylang Bahru food centre.

SINGAPORE - Speakers at a National University of Singapore (NUS) forum on Wednesday called for a better understanding of poverty here and more targeted measures to address the circumstances people face in their daily lives.

Nominated MP Laurence Lien and labour economist Hui Weng Tat cited sobering figures on rising income inequality and stagnating wages of the lowest income group to highlight the urgency of addressing the issue.

They were speaking at a forum on building an inclusive society.

Mr Lien, who is also chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, noted the lack of an official definition of the poverty line here. The closest measure is the Department of Statistics' figures on Absolute Household Expenditure on Basic Needs, which measures average expenditure on essential needs such as food, clothing and shelter. However, this does not explicitly include transport and medical costs, and also excludes what Mr Lien called expenditure on "social inclusion", where people spend on items or experiences to feel part of a group.

Associate Professor Hui, from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, highlighted the plight of the "working poor" in society. He pointed out that a graduate earning $4,000 a month could be poor if he were the sole breadwinner for a large family.

Existing schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement may not provide targeted help, said Prof Hui, as the WIS looks at individual income rather than the worker's family and household circumstances. Both Prof Hui and Mr Lien were in favour of the Government introducing some form of a minimum wage.

Social work don Irene Ng also announced findings from a new survey on attitudes towards poverty, which showed that most here empathise with the poor, believe they are not to blame for their plight and deserve more help.

The survey of 383 Singaporeans was led by Associate Professor Irene Ng of the National University of Singapore (NUS). Six in 10 polled felt the amount spent on assistance to poor people is too little.

But less than half - some 45 per cent - were willing to pay more taxes in return for greater government spending to help the poor.

Dr Ng also acknowledged that her sample was not representative, with poor households on monthly income of $2,000 and below and those working in the social and health services over-represented.


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