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Inequalities & Income – Global Opportunity

Good progress has been made to tackle global poverty and inequality in the past several decades. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic however has reversed that effort dramatically. In April 2020, the United Nations (UN) issued a framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19 and created the Secretary-General’s UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. In keeping with its promise to leave no one behind, the UN will be moving forward to develop a quick but comprehensive mapping of those most at risk of being left behind is critical. This measure is important to ensure the immediate development response reaches all those in need. In addition, they will also be assessing the multiple forms of inequalities and discrimination that people are disadvantaged by. The information will be country-specific and will depend on a range of contextual factors, including existing socio-economic, institutional and geographic realities that predate the crisis and the reach of current responses. 

The World Bank group, in an attempt to make strides in tackling extreme poverty caused by violence and conflict, launched the Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV) 2020-2025. The purpose of the FCV Strategy is to enhance the World Bank Group’s effectiveness to support countries in addressing the drivers and impacts of conflict and violence. In addition, they would also work with countries in strengthening their resilience, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. 

Inequalities & Income – Global Challenge

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, and an average of 9.2% of the global population still lives below the international poverty line (IPL). This figure represents the typical poverty line of some of the world’s poorest economies. To make matters worse, the global pandemic has gradually reversed the steady progress made towards eliminating global poverty over the past 20 years. It is estimated that the global recession brought upon by the pandemic may cause over 1.4% of the world’s population to fall into extreme poverty. Out of that, it is projected that an increasing number of urban dwellers are expected to fall into extreme poverty, with 82% originating from middle-income countries. 

In addition to the pandemic, various undercutting factors have exacerbated the issue of global poverty over the years. Lack of inclusive economic growth, job insecurity, low wages, limited livelihoods and opportunities have all resulted in poverty and the inability to break away from it. High levels of inequality also impedes poverty reduction by undermining the sustainability of economic growth. Therefore, discrimination, historical and current exclusion from resources, people experiencing gender, ethnic, and racial and other inequalities often experience poverty.

Climate change and rising conflicts and wars are also factors that continue to deepen the levels of extreme poverty worldwide. It is projected that up to 132 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty brought on by climate change by 2030. Poverty by climate change largely affects developing nations, with the most urgent issues varying across regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, reduced agricultural yield causes an increase in food prices. This not only throws them into deeper poverty it also exacerbates the issue of food insecurity. While in South Asia, there are three key drivers of poverty: food price, health concerns from the prevalence of diarrheal diseases, and natural disasters due to large exposure to cyclones, floods, and other extreme weather events. 

Globally, the prevalence of fragile and conflict-affected situations continues to rise. It is reported that more than 40% of the global poor live in economies affected by fragility, conflict and violence. That number is expected to rise to 67% in the next decade. Conflict causes serious disruption to people’s lives and impedes countries’ growth. People living in areas with conflict are more likely to suffer monetary, education and infrastructure deprivations simultaneously. This inadvertently creates a vicious cycle that deteriorates human capital, incomes and socioeconomic mobility. 

Inequalities & Income – Singapore Challenge

Though Singapore has put in place various policies and financial assistance, the current schemes still lack clear benchmarks and targeted outcomes for low-income households. Moreover, evidence suggests that the financial assistance put forward by the government is still insufficient. As of 2018, the bottom 20 percent of households witnessed an income shortfall of S$335 each month. Even with the regular government transfer (Workfare etc.), households with a monthly income of S$2,235 were spending S$2,570 a month. Although the rise in inequality can be traced to globalisation and the largely open nature of the Singapore economy, the meritocratic based education system, new adaptations to the tax structure, and the government’s wage and manpower policies have all played a major role in exacerbating the issue. 

It is common knowledge that the Singaporean education system is meritocratic. What started as a mechanism that values skills, knowledge and merit has now become an unfair system that privileges those from higher socio-economic backgrounds. 

As a stand alone, the tax policies in Singapore are relatively progressive. Many employed Singaporeans who earn S$22,000 or less per annum do not pay anything in personal income tax. However, when personal income tax is considered alongside indirect taxation, the net result is a regressive tax system. Indirect taxation—most notably, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), disproportionately affects lower income earners, as the same rate applies for all groups. This results in a larger percentage being taken from people at the bottom of the income spectrum. Conversely, the taxation system works differently for the rich in Singapore. In order to set itself up as a tax haven and to attract major investments, Singapore has never subjected taxes on capital gains, and as of 2008, it abolished inheritance tax (estate duty). Given that the rich derive a significantly larger share of their income from capital, the absence of wealth tax means the rich are able to maintain and grow their investments, gains and overall wealth over many years. Whereas, the tax imposed on labour income and consumption significantly affects those from the working and lower class, thus making the overall tax system less equitable than it should be.

Instead of the minimum wage and unemployment benefits, the Singapore government introduced a wage ladder scheme in the form of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM). First introduced in 2012, the PWM currently only covers three sectors within the community — cleaning, security and landscaping. This model was aimed at improving the wage levels of low-income earners, and although it had had some successful outcomes, criticism of its sluggish implementation and limited efficacy remain. Among the reasons cited for this slow and incomplete implementation was its complex structure, requiring tripartite consultation and negotiation. While salaries of workers in low income sectors have risen in the last few years, their absolute and relative wages continue to be significantly lower here than in other developed countries. 

These challenges were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Key findings demonstrated the devastating financial impact this pandemic has had on low-income families. Drops in reported household incomes from work prior and post COVID-19 were stark. Median household income pre Covid-19 was at S$1,600 and fell to S$500 post pandemic. While the figures for the median per capita income (PCI), [calculated by taking total household income from work and dividing it by the number of persons in the household] which was at S$425, saw a decline of 74% to S$113 post pandemic.

Inequalities & Income – Singapore Opportunity

For the first time in years Singapore’s rate on the Gini coefficient [a measure of income inequality – a Gini coefficient above 0.4 usually signals a large income gap] fell to 0.398 in 2019. This is significant as Singapore’s Gini coefficient in 2018 measured at 0.458. This drop came after the government’s pledge to make tackling social inequality a key priority. Steps to boost low-wage workers’ incomes have picked up speed, with the National Wages Council recommending higher wage thresholds for a broader range of workers. 

ComCare assistance, established in 2005, aimed at providing social assistance for low-income individuals and families. In 2019, it was reported that the disbursement of ComCare rose by 19%, up to S$151 million. In 2020, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) automatically extended the ComCare assistance for about 6,000 existing beneficiaries. This decision was made in response to the economic and health impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic had had on the lower-income and vulnerable members of society. A latest initiative launched in 2019, ComLink, was set up to provide a centralised hub for support and resources for low-income households. The initiative has been projected to expand its reach to 21 new towns and 14,000 families in the next two years. These actions not only show an increase in financial commitment and support from the government, but a greater effort in building the infrastructure to directly provide more comprehensive assistance to low-income households.  

Although the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) has come under some criticism over its slow implementation, it is undeniable that this programme has helped to grow the annual median income of low-income earners. Since its introduction in 2012, the average annual increase in salaries of the three lowest-paid occupational categories (service and sales workers, plant and machine operators, cleaners, labourers and related workers) was 3.4%. Therefore, the announcement of an extension of the PWM to include two more sectors in the advent of the pandemic has become more of an overdue necessity, given the continued wage lag in other low-skilled sectors.

2021 Annual General Meeting

ONE (SINGAPORE) will hold its 2021 Annual General Meeting on Friday 26 February from 12:00 - 13:30 pm.

We will be conducting the meeting by Zoom.

Please see below for the login details.

The Agenda for the meeting is:

1. Presentation of ONE (SINGAPORE)’s financial accounts for the year ending 31 December 2020

2. Election of ONE (SINGAPORE)’s 2021 Officers and Executive Committee

3.  Election of 2021 Honorary Auditors

This is also your chance to become involved and play a leadership role, either by standing as a candidate or participating in the process to choose the 2021 leadership.

If you are interested in joining the Executive Committee, please email us at by Monday 15 February and take a look at the Terms of Reference for Exco Members and Officers. The Exco sets the direction for ONE (SINGAPORE) and our local participation in the movement to raise public awareness and take concrete steps to Make Poverty History.

RSVP here.

We hope you can make it, but if you can’t be there, you can also name a proxy to vote for you on all matters arising from the above agenda. Just follow these simple steps to nominate a Proxy:

Download the ONE(S) - Proxy Letter - AGM 2021

Fill in all the fields, including your nominee. (If you do not know whom to name, you could select a member from our current Executive Committee).

Email the completed form to ONE (SINGAPORE)’s Secretary, Mrinalini, c/o the organisation's general account, at info AT onesingapore DOT org.  Please write "AGM 2021 - Proxy Nomination" in the subject heading.

We would also like to remind you to renew your annual membership by the AGM.

Here are the details of the AGM:

Date: Friday 26 February 2021
Venue:  Zoom
Time: 12:00 - 13:30

Zoom Meeting ID: 974 1624 9303
Passcode: 872507

Talking Trash: 123kg!

Some twenty ONE (SINGAPORE) volunteers cleared more than 120kg of rubbish from Punggol Beach on a rainy Saturday morning, as part of an International Coastal Cleanup that was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In addition to plastic bottles, grocery bags, plastic takeaway containers, cigarette butts and packaging materials, volunteers found discarded handbags, plastic toys and even something buried in the sand that appeared to be part of a foam mattress or bed.

Every item collected was logged and the data shared with Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group.  Below is a glance at what was found; you can check out the full list here.

Debris Summary

Millions of tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing sea birds, whales, seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life. Not only that, plastic production requires millions of barrels of petroleum, contributing to climate change, which in turn disproportionately affects impoverished countries.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the nations of the world have pledged to significantly reduce marine pollution - particularly from land-based activities - by 2025.

Related Links

Not just another day at the beach! ONE (SG)'s Beach Cleanup Coordinator talks trash.

Dikirim oleh ONE(SINGAPORE) pada 22 September 2017

Talking Trash: Register for Beach Cleanup

Join us at ONE (SINGAPORE)'s Beach Cleanup and Data Collection.  Register Now!

Millions of tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing sea birds, whales, seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life. Not only that, plastic production requires millions of barrels of petroleum, contributing to climate change, which in turn disproportionately affects impoverished countries.

Join the fight for a sustainable planet!   Join ONE (SINGAPORE) as we clean up Punggol Beach on Saturday 23 Sept.    RSVP now!  This action is part of International Coastal Cleanup Day, which is conducted in more than seventy countries every year.  Help us take a stand in support of the Sustainable Development Goals!

Talking Trash

Trash is affecting our marine ecosystems at an alarming rate. The largest contributing factor is plastics.  Why? Plastic lasts forever and is designed to be thrown away.

How bad is it?

  • Approx. 15 to 51 trillion plastic pieces float in the oceans at any given time.
  • 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year
  • In Singapore last year alone, 3179 volunteers cleaned 18.6 Kilometres of coastline and collected 12773Kg of trash (approx.. 149,892 items) in 90 minutes!

Why it matters
Plastic can affect marine life by entanglement and ingestion.

From last year’s clean-ups alone, 250 horseshoe crabs were found dead at various sites around the island, from fishing net entanglement. Coastal horseshoe crabs are endangered marine animals.

Many marine animals cannot differentiate plastic from their food, especially turtles because plastic bags floating in the ocean look like their favourite food- jellyfish!

But large visible plastics are not the only problem. Microbeads from beauty products have been found accumulating in fish and oysters that eventually make their way back on our tables!

Why clean up?

  • Trash washes onto the shores from the oceans.
  • By clearing the trash, we reduce the stress it has on the marine environment.
  • By recording and sharing what we collect, we act as citizen scientists to inform researchers and policymakers on how to better tackle this problem locally and globally.
  • At clean-ups, we realize just how far our trash can travel and how it affects our surroundings.
  • It provides the perfect opportunity to educate and reach out to people who want to make a difference.

Join us at ONE (SINGAPORE)'s Beach Cleanup and Data Collection.  Register Now!

9am: Assemble at meeting Point
9:10-9:30am: Briefing on safety and how to conduct clean up
9:30-11am: Pick Trash, record data
11-11:15am: Move trash bags to collection point
11:15-11:30: Debrief
11:30: End

CAP Partner Sponsors Early Education Programme

Children from low-income and at-risk families have received top-quality pre-school education, thanks to a generous donation made by a ONE (SINGAPORE) partner, which funded the salaries of two educators for 18 months.

Through a matching grant system, Edrington and its employees participated in ONE (SINGAPORE)’s Concrete Actions Programme (CAP) and contributed nearly S$90,000 to Child at Street 11, a charity that helps families break the poverty cycle in one generation.

A portion of Edrington’s donation also supported ONE (SINGAPORE)’s campaign to Make Poverty History and groceries for struggling families in Bedok earlier this year.

At Child at Street 11, well-trained preschool teachers like Jacqueline Fletcher and Rabiah Hassan - whose salaries were sponsored by Edrington - not only educate children, they also work with parents to better help them better address child behavioral issues.  The charity engages the community — working with external agencies, social workers, counselors, education psychologists, doctors and other professionals — to support meaningful change in the lives of children who might be left behind in traditional classrooms.

Rabiah Hassan, a mid-career professional trained in early childhood education, consistently integrates new experiences with traditional knowledge to help children aged as young as 18 months settle into childcare settings.  Her knowledge of the arts, cooking and creative self-expression has helped foster meaningful change in the lives of Child at Street 11’s pre-schoolers from the very beginning of their educational journeys.

Jacqueline Fletcher is a pre-school teacher trained in the Montessori method with over 30 years’ experience.  At Child at Street 11, she has looked after the educational and emotional needs of a small group of six-year olds, a particularly important year for Singapore students as they start formal education at age seven.  Many of Jacqueline’s students struggle with dyslexia, autism and the residual effects of traumatic life experiences.  Her contributions to early childhood education have resulted in the publication of three books that show cased the power of young children's learning.

Investments in early education are particularly important because first learning experiences deeply affect children’s emotional, social and physical development.

Students who attended preschool and other tuition classes also have a competitive edge when it’s time for exams that shape their educational and professional careers.  While Singapore’s education system is structured around the concept of meritocracy, meritocracy is only truly possible if all children are equipped with the same resources.  Low-income and at-risk families generally cannot afford pre-school programmes, without external assistance.  Many centres also lack integrated programmes to help children with emotional support needs.

During the 2017 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted investments that the government has made in pre-school education over the past five years and pledged to double annual spending on pre-school education within the next five years.

ONE (SINGAPORE) thanks Child at Street 11 for the fantastic work that it does to foster early education and Edrington Singapore for its contribution to the campaign to Make Poverty History.

If you would like to participate in the Concrete Actions Programme - and take actions in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals - please contact us!

Two years in, how are we doing on the #SDGs?

Nearly two years after adopting the Sustainable Development Goals amidst much fanfare, governments returned to the United Nations in July for a 'high level political forum' to review their implementation efforts and assess progress.  Forty-three countries, including ten from Asia-Pacific, presented 'Voluntary National Reviews' (VNRs), which more than 2500 civil society advocates critiqued their work.

The civil society coalition, Action for Sustainable Development, has noted five key trends:
    • The commitment to 'Leave No One Behind' - a centrepiece of the SDGs - received little emphasis from the countries presenting voluntary reports.
    • Civil society rights are being violated in a majority of UN member states, limiting the capacity of citizens and community organisations to assist with the implementation of the goals;
    • The relationship between the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement needs to be further incorporated into the reporting framework of the High Level Political Forum;
    • The United Nations needs to do more to compare national progress reports between member states and related independent assessments from civil society;
    • Civil society should have, but often lacks, a formal role in goal implementation and monitoring.
You can read the full statement, as well as find links to government VNRs and civil society shadow reports on the SDG progress, on the Action4SD website.
(Parts of the article above originally appeared in correspondence from the secretariat of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty to its constituents and supporters.)