Singapore has the widest gap between the rich and poor in the world, second only to Hong Kong. Singapore still has a Gini coefficient of 0.458 in 2016, but how do we prove that Singapore really needs reform?
'What's life like for the poor in Singapore? Many Singaporean netizens and foreign netizens who know Singapore have given out their answers. "We don't know who they are -- Singapore refuses to set an official poverty line, so the Numbers are unknown. They cannot beg, which is illegal under the poor people's act. They have to secretly sell tissues and collect cardboard boxes and soft drink bottles, so people don't see them."
A recent book, "This Is What Inequality Looks Like," by Zhang Youyuan, a local sociologist, notes that because the country does not set a poverty line, it is difficult to specify how many poor Singaporeans are. According to the 2016 statistics, the per capita income of the top 10 percent of households is 23 times that of the bottom 10 percent, which is s $12,773 and s $543.
There are undoubtedly some neglected groups in Singapore, and with the economic environment unstable, more and more people feel insecure. But given Singapore's habitual view that poverty is a matter of individual productivity, not how society works, it is hard to call for national reform.
Talking about the low-income families he visited, professor Zhang Youyuan said in the book that sometimes he could not help thinking of his childhood holidays when he went to live with his relatives in Malaysia. Although the place was small, he had to make beds and boil water in the shower, but he was also willing to slow down the pace of life to chat, which was a kind of human kindness.
In the general concept of Singapore, "survival of the fittest" is the absolute truth of the society, and poor people mean poor ambition. Whether the wages are too low, whether they are "exploited", and whether the poor family will limit the future of the younger generation, not all people are used to discussing openly. The plight of "non-mainstream" groups, such as single mothers, is often ignored.
According to a survey released in December, Singapore's social networks show more class divisions than race or religion. According to the policy institute of the Lee Kuan Yew school at the national university of Singapore, both elite and non-elite students tend to associate with similar groups, while those living in private homes are less likely to associate with HDB residents.
Does this also mean that the elite in Singapore cannot understand the plight of the lower and middle class, while the lower and middle class cannot break through the barriers of family and educational background and find a place in the competitive society? The current employment situation in Singapore also appears to reflect growing concerns.
Recent data show that the employment rate of private school graduates is generally lower than that of those who attend public universities, with only 60 percent finding full-time jobs within six months. The proportion of polytechnics and technology graduates who found full-time jobs in six months also fell from 77 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2016, senior education minister Pujeli said in response to a question from opposition MPS.
Unemployment concerns are associated with the accumulation of provident fund. People find it difficult in having their own houses and getting their pension. However, as professor Zhang points out in his book, the Singapore government has never taken public housing, retirement security, health care and other benefits for granted. The concept here is similar to the British and American thinking. The word "welfare" is only used to provide assistance to those low-income families who are eligible, while the rest lose social security as long as they do not have formal jobs.
Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking on the issue of the wealth gap last Monday, said Singapore's Gini coefficient was about the same as that of metropolitan areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, London, and New York. The latest figure is down from 0.470 in 2006, and only 0.402 when government tax revenues and fiscal transfers are taken into account.
If income inequality continues to rise, he said, creating structural rigidities and insensitivity among classes, he feared that "politics will deteriorate, society will split and the country will decline." But he concluded that the government had already taken various measures to help low-income groups, and there was no need to set up special inter-departmental committees to discuss these issues.