a community of singaporeans

Lending the Poor a Helping Hand

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 11, 2011

By Dr Wong Wee Nam

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan disappoints me. In a recent debate in Parliament withDr Lily Neo he could have done much better. But he didn’t.

The MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Dr Lily Neo, had urged the minister to providea permanent and constructive safety net so as to improve the plight of thechildren from the lowest income families. The request was not unreasonable.She was not asking for much, just help for the neediest of families; thechildren of those in the bottom 5 percent of earners.

Such a plea has always been close to my heart. It is becoming even morenecessary now. In Singapore, the policy of profits and gains has made therich richer and the poor poorer. Amongst the developed countries, Singaporehas the highest level of inequality. With inflation, increased cost of living and depression of wages, the people in the lowest income sector of population are finding it harder and harder to cope. This means that the people who will ultimately suffer will be the children of those on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder.

We know income inequality is related to crime, poor physical health, suicide,mental illness, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, violence, social mobility,poor education and lack of trust in the community. If we do not take affirmative action to help these children, many will be condemned to live out their lives insuch undesirable social milieu.

For this reason, this is something to be concerned about and some concreteplans need to be in place to address this.

Yet in his reply to Dr Neo, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, instead of saying he would give the problem a thought, chose to highlight the various existing schemes that are already in place which the MP for Jalan Besar GRC rightly pointed out had not worked.

He then when on to reiterate the government’s position on helping the needyand that is to “avoid a permanent, unconditional, needs-based social safety net.” In simple English, it means there is no need for any kind of permanent,unconditional social safety net for the needy. The problem of helping theneedy, as he explained, is first and foremost, the job of the social workers and not the politicians.

In other words, Dr Lily Neo should have brought up the problem of the needyto the social workers and not to the minister. Is the minister trying to say apolitician should not be bothered with such problems and just leave suchsocial concerns to the social workers?

Come on, minister, politicians’ job is to solve problems that affects a sector of population and leave the social workers to handle only individual cases. That’s what we elect and pay politicians to do.

When asked to reconsider giving resources to the vulnerable group that arereally in need, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s reply was, “I just want to reaffirm that we do allocate more resources for people who need more help.”

What kind of vague answer is that? What are the resources allocated? Whoare the people who needed more help who had benefitted? Surely not theneedy people in the lowest 5% that Dr Lily Neo was talking about, otherwise she wouldn’t be complaining, would she? Or is the minister trying to tell usthere is a stratum that is even lower than the lowest 5% that the ministry is allocating resources to?

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is in charge of Community Development. He shouldrealize the importance of leveling up when we are faced with an increasinglyunequal society. It is not only good for the individual concerned; it is also goodfor the country.

Research has shown that greater equality makes societies stronger. Closerequality promotes trust that bond the community together. It makes a countrymore cohesive, more united and more resilient.

The money spent on helping the poorest of poor would certainly be more beneficial for the soul of society than hundreds of millions of dollars so generously lavished on a now-forgotten Youth Olympic Games.
In the 19th Century, Alexis Tocqueville, the French political and historian had observed that difference in living standards is a formidable barrier to empathy.

It is heartening to note that there are still people like Dr Lily Neo whoseempathy had refused to be barred.


One Response to “Lending the Poor a Helping Hand”

  1. Paul de Silva said

    We, That’s what a million bucks a year buys you-Pathetic & Evasive answers and shoving the responsibilty to low waged social workers. Meanwhile the bank account continues to grow fat for the Minister, courtesy of the tax paying public. Bollocks!

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