• Focus Areas

What does poverty mean?

“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.”

— United Nations, 1998


Singapore does not have an official poverty line. However researchers estimate that some 387,000 Singaporeans are unable to meet basic needs in the form of food, shelter, clothing and other essential expenditures. That means that more than 1 in 10 Singaporeans is living in poverty.

At the same time, Singapore has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Inequality is a major issue.

Low-income workers account for approximately 60% of all Singaporeans living in poverty. They simply do not earn enough to make ends meet. The unemployed/underemployed and the elderly, particularly older women, also face higher rates of poverty.

The above figures do not include migrant workers, who make up about 30% of the population. Foreign workers are more likely to be in poverty as a result of debts incurred to work here, low wages and exploitation.


While you may not see it in the headlines, there is currently a global poverty crisis. “Almost half the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day, yet even this statistic fails to capture the humiliation, powerlessness and brutal hardship that is the daily lot of [people living in poverty]," notes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

With little or no income, those living in poverty are denied access to basic rights including education, health, water, sanitation, food and a safe clean environment. At the same time, inequality - both within and between countries - is on the rise. The world's 85 richest people are worth as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. That's half the world's population! Global leaders increasingly acknowledge that extreme inequality harms everyone in society and must be addressed.

The resources and knowledge needed to eradicate poverty and inequalities exist, and with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders have committed to 'end poverty in all its forms everywhere'. Now, governments and the private sector must be held accountable to ensure a just world for all.