Poverty and ideology

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Minister Chan Chun Sing’s stand against having an official poverty line in Singapore will come up for further scrutiny when a report is released tomorrow.
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The report by the Singapore Management University’s Lien Centre for Social Innovation argues that the time has come for Singapore to join “comparable developed nations to officially defining and measuring poverty”.

Aljazeera, which has got into trouble with the government for reporting on Singapore’s poor people, quotes from the report: “Rising inequality does not necessarily denote the existence of poverty. However, rising inequality combined with evidence of poverty indicates that the poor are being left further behind…”The government says a poverty line will not help because it might not include families that have to deal with members who are ill, don’t have proper housing and with weak family relationships. Also, a poverty line can leave out those families whose household incomes may exceed the declared dollar figure but still need help.

It is an ideological barrier the government has to cross. Resisting the arguments against an official poverty line will only give it an unnecessary headache at a time when it needs more, not less, public support.
The problems the government has identified for not having a poverty line can be overcome easily. With the kind of resources the government has, both the categories of people identified can be helped with targeted measures. It will take a bit of work, but it is worth it for everybody’s peace of mind.

With high-powered people like NMP Laurence Lien behind the poverty line campaign, the pressure is only going to grow. And sticking to its official stand will only negate some goodwill the government has bought on the welfare front.