Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Homeless in Singapore - the real story

So while our dear mainstream newspapers went on about how much people have to pay for welfare housing last Sunday, they conveniently skirted about the bigger more pertinent question of why the hell there's been more homeless people in this country when the government's been boasting about fabulous growth rates.

The truth is, Singapore is one of the most unequal countries in the world! Our gini coefficient (the measure of inequality in the country) is even worse than China (reported in The Economist some months back)!!!

Anyway, The Temasek Review wrote a way more perceptive piece on the homeless situation in Singapore (attached below). Hopefully we will all be more informed about what's really happening in our society and not be so easily taken in by all the talk of "increasing productivity" and "securing healthy growth rates".

The Temasek Review, Singapore - 31 Jan 10

MCYS: Increase in number of homeless people in Singapore not linked to financial crisis

Written by Our Correspondent

More and more Singaporeans are becoming homeless, but there is no direct evidence to link this with the financial crisis, said the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

As of last year, 253 homeless people were picked up by MCYS officers, up from 123 in 2007 with more than half of them found sleeping in the void decks of HDB blocks. Most of them were sent to destitute homes where they get free shelter, food and clothes with curbs to their freedoms.

The actual number may be higher. Homeless Singaporeans, especially the elderly are ubiquitous throughout the HDB flats in Singapore.One need only take a tour at night to find them sleeping at the void decks, parks and even in the open:
The increase in the number of homeless people in Singaporeans coincided surprisingly with its high growth rate of between 5 to 8 per cent over the last decade which is fueled largely by the relentless influx of cheap foreign labor.

At the same time, the median wages of ordinary Singaporeans have remained stagnant at $2,600 monthly and the income gap between the rich and poor have widened. Singapore now has the highest income gap among the thirty most developed nations in the world.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, the ruling party’s liberal immigration policies have depressed the wages of ordinary Singaporeans, increased the cost of living, especially that of public housing, lowered labor productivity and led to an overall decline in the standard of living. (read article here )

While the poor has become poorer in Singapore, Singapore’s ministers have given themselves a big pay rise for their managing of the Singapore’s economy. A significant proportion of their multi-million dollar salary package is pegged to Singapore’s GDP growth – the higher the growth, the more money they take home.

When asked about the widening income gap in Singapore during a ministerial forum last year, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew dismissed it as an “inevitable” consequence of globalization and that it “matters little” so long the government continues to create jobs for Singaporeans.

Though Singapore is the second richest country in Asia after Japan and its two sovereign wealth funds Temasek Holdings and GIC can afford to lose millions of dollars overseaas, its citizens enjoy few social welfare benefits from the government.

Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy wrote famously in 2001:

“There are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated, not through an entitlements program (there are virtually none) but through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives. The state acts as the catalyst-matching financial support, sponsoring preventive and social care, and ensuring that basic needs are provided for.” (read here )

It is about time he retracts his statements and re-orientate himself to a new reality in Singapore.


MM SZ said...

Linked under, 'Housing'. Cheers:)

Carpediem said...

Thanks MM SZ :) Hopefully more will read this and start asking the right questions.

yuni said...

I agree with you. Its all so true and i do hope more people will realise this.

Manfriday said...

Solving the homeless equation is not so cut and dry, people have personalized feelings and needs. I feel so, have seen certain and heard of many efforts that have been made here but the apprach I feel seems "Textbookish". Perhaps before advocating "help groups" should get a "boot camp in context?"...hehe!Instead of judging and having preconceived notions of what is good for the destitute. I'm not saying that support campains should be overly flexible, like giving money freely but one should exercise more help on a case to case basis. many sides to many stories. I just started a blog that involves areas such as social help etc...come have a read for ground level insights. My perspectives come from Ground level experiences too!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a family with no home in Singapore for more than 6 years and counting. My parents, siblings and I rent a home in Malaysia and we have to travel back and forth to Singapore for school and work.

I'm sure many others are doing so too.

Why is Singapore so heartless to the poors and the dumbs?