If you mention ‘Singapore’ to almost anyone the country’s rapid economic growth, towering skyscrapers, rule of (by) law, and general orderliness are likely among the topics most often raised. However, Singapore has a dark, dirty little secret; Poverty, and the way its rapidly enlarging aged community is being increasingly marginalised.
Taking to social media to get its message across, opposition political party the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) late last year released a video highlighting the rising poverty and inequality in the city-state, particularly among its elderly.
The video mocks calls made at last year’s People’s Action Party (PAP) conference by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — whose annual salary exceeds that of the leaders of the USA, UK, Japan, China, Germany, France, and Canada combined — for the people to support and trust the PAP, which has ruled Singapore for the past 50 years.
With life expectancy in Singapore having increased from about 70 years in 1990 to some 83 years now, the country is home to the regions most aged population; some 20 per cent of Singaporeans are aged over 60.
Land of The Aged
By 2030, according to the UN’s 2017 World Population Ageing report, some 1.8 million Singaporeans will be aged 65 years or more.
The video above highlights the lack of social safety nets in place for those who get ill in a country that mandates national service obligations up to the age of 50 for commissioned officers and 40 years for non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
Established in 1980, but with no parliamentary representation since the 1997 Singapore general election, the SDPs video is just the latest to highlight the not so pretty under-belly of Asean’s ‘prized jewel’.
Marginalisation of the elderly in Singapore has become such a problem that in the lead up to Christmas last year telecommunications giant Singtel went to great trouble to remind people to remember the elderly in their life with a pointed, but heart warming sadvertisement (See: Singtel Jumps on Phubbing To Preserve Ah Ma’s Christmas Joy).
Similarly, prior to Chinese New Year 2018 StarHub, Apple, and Singtel each produced their own conscious-pricking sadvertisement on the importance of families and togetherness, with each taking a different approach.
While Singapore median household income grew by 3.4 per cent between 2006 and 2016 and Singapore’s Gini coefficient — a statistical measure representing the wealth distribution of a nation’s residents from zero to one, with zero being most equal — sits at 0.36, the inequality gap is huge.
Last month Singapore Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament that a household in the top ten per cent income bracket in Singapore earns on average 5.8 times more than one in the bottom 10 per cent, almost double the ratio in South Korea, Britain, and Finland.
It’s not just the Singapore’s elderly who are experiencing financial strain. According to the SDF the number of young Singaporeans receiving ComCare between 2012 and 2015 climbed 40 per cent, a figure that Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Affairs (MSF) confirmed in April this year.
Singapore Poverty Jump The Worst on Record
Supporting claims made in SDFs 2017 video, the MSF said those aged over 60 were being hit the hardest, recording a 74.32 per cent increase in welfare recipients over the period, with the total increase across all age groups coming in at 43.45 per cent: the worst poverty increase result ever officially reported in Singapore.
According to the MSF as of June 2016 some 41,500 Singaporeans aged between 15 and 34 were earning below S$1,000 (about US$743) per month, while unemployment among Singaporeans aged under 30 stood at 5.5 per cent. In its 2017 video the SDF said 23 per cent of the elderly in the Singapore workforce also earn less than S$1,000 a month.
While the MSF says there were 29,511 Singapore families living in poverty in 2015, the SDF claims up to 12 per cent of Singaporean households live below the basic living expense requirement of S$1,250 per month.
Adding weight to claims by the SDF that economic pain is also being felt through the middle-class, recent figures published by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) showed a 16 per cent jump in the amount of ‘written off’ bad credit card debt in March over that in February, rising from S$24.1 million (US$17.915 mln) to S$27.9 (US$20,741 mln) million.
How good a job the PPP has done in improving the lives of Singaporeans people as claimed by Mr Lee above will be reflected at the next Singapore general election, which must be held before January 21, 2021, by which time there will a higher percentage of elderly Singaporeans.
Feature video Singapore Democratic Party
- Inequality threatens Singapore Dream (The Straits Times)
- Ploughing on: The faces and insecurities of Singapore’s elderly working poor (Channel NewsAsia)
- Growing number of young Singaporeans in need, relying on Government handouts (The Straits Times)