Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Words by Lim Boon Heng
This article was originally published on The Straits Times on 22nd December 2018
Go beyond asking why inequality takes place, to stepping up to help low-income families
During the year, there had been discussions in different forums on inequality in Singapore society. These discussions suggest that the Government has not done enough to uplift the poorer among us.
What has been done to uplift the poor?
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has published an occasional paper that sets out what the Government does to uplift the poor - wage top-ups for all workers earning less than $2,000 a month, the Silver Support Scheme for seniors, a wage ladder through the Progressive Wage Model, and government transfers (rebates for service and conservancy charges, rebates for rent, utility vouchers, goods and services tax vouchers, and Chas, the Community Health Assist Scheme).
A fair amount has been devoted to the children of poor families, to bring them as close to the starting line as other children. There are assistance programmes such as the Centre-based Financial Assistance Scheme for Child Care and the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme, as well as KidStart.
Thousands of children benefit every year. No doubt, there will be families that for various reasons are unable to fully benefit. We can do more, with community support. It will mean people stepping forward to lend a hand to families facing multiple challenges. It is not just money - it also means time, and adjusting our own schedules when help is needed.
One strand of discussion on inequality suggests that mixing the poor with those who are better off leads to the poor losing self-esteem. This set me thinking. How do we bridge the divide?
Segregate, or continue to integrate? Is segregation the answer? If we want those who are better off to be able to help the poor, proximity makes it easier to do so.
For children of pre-school age, NTUC First Campus has made a modest contribution. It has a policy of giving priority registration to children from low-income families.
Today, 15 per cent of its children are from low-income families. It provides further support through the Bright Horizons Fund. It found that it is not enough to get the children to pre-school - there is a need to help families solve other problems, working with government agencies. As for the children, they get the same quality of teaching and care as all other children.
In addition, the Bright Horizons Fund provides well-being and learning programmes to give these children equal opportunities in their pre-school years. And I am sure the better-off children get to learn that in society there are people less well off than they are, and this may help them to appreciate what they have.
So we did not segregate. We think children of diverse backgrounds should study and play together. I believe that the low-income should