'Each of us can do our part'

Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, shares his views on the poor in Singapore.

Q: Is there a need to define the poverty line and for the Government to make public the number of poor in Singapore?

I think it is not clear whether having a poverty line is effective in aiding poverty alleviation, from the experience of countries that have established such benchmarks.

Like many Singaporeans, I have been to the United States, Britain, Hong Kong and Japan and I can say that in many of these places, I do see more poor people on the streets and this is a less common sight in Singapore.

I think we should not classify people as 'poor' or 'needy' based on their income as this would oversimplify the complex issues they might face. For example, someone with an income level greater than the set poverty line might still require assistance - they may, for example, have a sick dependant. At the same time, we should not assume that everyone who falls below the poverty line requires or wants assistance, as they might have other avenues of support, such as assets, family or community support.

Thus far, in Singapore, we have been using a flexible needs-based approach to identify and help those who need assistance. Appropriate assistance is rendered based on their specific needs.

We should continue to target those who need help the most and reinforce individual effort and responsibility.

Q: Despite more programmes for the poor, do you believe some groups are falling through the cracks? If so, who and how can they be helped more?

I am sure there may be some cases that fall through the cracks. But these should be the rare exceptions and, when they come to our notice, we will certainly and very quickly act on them.

As the Prime Minister mentioned in his National Day Rally speech, Singapore is built on three pillars - the individual, the community and the government.

The Government must and will continue to review its policies and schemes to best assist the needy and poor in our society. But the Government cannot know everything, be everywhere and fill every gap. The community, being closer to the ground, is well-placed to assist the needy in its midst.

Social service agencies, community organisations and volunteer groups can do even more to help Singaporeans in need. Corporations can also collaborate on creative ways to help the needy.

Social enterprises and cooperatives too have important roles to play in helping the less advantaged. Individuals can also do more through watching out for neighbours, friends and family who need support.

Each of us can do our part.

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