Confronting growing inequality: What the PAP is doing  


Recently, there was a debate in Parliament over what constitutes a basic need. As a sign of the high living standards we have grown accustomed to, perfume, argued the Opposition, should be deemed an essential good in this humid weather. We are not sure where Maslow would place an aftershave in his hierarchy of needs, but what we do know, is that perfume is rarely on the agenda of families struggling to make ends meet. 

Since making the leap from third world to first, Singapore’s economic success has also triggered a wave of upward mobility. Fuelled by a vision to improve the lives of all Singaporeans, the PAP Government has designed policies to uplift the masses, promote social mobility and usher the nation towards the middle classes. From providing high-quality public housing to an education system built on meritocracy, they are all part of a strategy to nip inequality in the bud early on in our nation-building.   

But despite our best efforts, we can see early signs that social stratification is becoming more entrenched, shared Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong during the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Social Service Office (SSO).

“Nowadays, we see more families with young children staying in rental flats, and they are there for longer durations,” noted DPM Wong. Therefore, how can we help these lower-income families from being trapped as a permanent underclass? What can we do to help them provide more opportunities for their children? Here is an issue that Singapore must confront, and also one of the biggest challenges for our leaders. 

A holistic approach to tackle inequality 

Besides redistributive taxes in a Robin Hood-esque Budget, Singapore has developed a progressive wage model to uplift wages and close the income gap. Unfortunately, inequality is not driven purely by differences in wealth.  

As much as financial assistance can help in the short term, it does not solve many complex and multi-faceted challenges lower-income families face. Be it employment difficulties, poor health, or a lack of social capital, all of which are obstacles towards building a better life.  

It is with this understanding that the PAP intends to take a holistic approach to uplift disadvantaged families, not only through social assistance but social empowerment. For a start, ComLink officers will start playing a more active role, which will see them coach and motivate families towards achieving their goals. There are also plans to involve the community and businesses through befriender programmes and mentorship opportunities, announced DPM Wong. 

In addition, the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), a charitable foundation of the PAP, will donate $4 million to uplift children from lower-income families. The funds will go towards helping children in meaningful ways, improving their access to enrichment activities and improving their home environment, said DPM Wong during the PCF Family Day.  

Stalling social mobility is often the prequel to extreme income gaps, with those at the bottom unable to break through the poverty ceiling their circumstances have trapped them in. As we look to see a fairer and more inclusive society through the Forward Singapore exercise, we must develop specific interventions to address such inequalities. And it is not done solely through tax cuts or benefit payments to the present, but a commitment to build a future where all children, regardless of their socio-economic background, are given the opportunities to thrive and succeed. 

Photo Source: MSF/ Lawrence Wong via Facebook