Tag Archives: Poverty

Singapore’s Budget: Towards an Inclusive Society?

By ShuQi Liu

Following a watershed election last year that signalled public resentment towards a paternalistic state, the AWARE roundtable discussion conducted on 24 March 2012 sustained the political momentum with an honest discussion about this year’s Singapore Budget.

“We have not witnessed inclusive growth in the Singapore budget for a very long time,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, an economic and social policy commentator affiliated with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Despite additional funding for a number of social programmes, panelists at the forum generally agreed that the government’s budget does not do enough to assist the most vulnerable elements of our society — children, elderly, the disabled and low-income families — particularly when it comes to education and health care.

8 Apr 2012 (1)

Health Care

The 2012 Budget signals an increase in healthcare spending from S$ 4 billion to S$ 8 billion over the next 5 years, an increase from 0.7 to 2.2 percent of GDP. But Yeoh notes that Singapore still lags behind other Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea — which commit approximately four percent of public spending to healthcare.

In fact, overall spending on social programmes is lower now than it was in the 1980s. While GDP has increased four times since the 1990s, public spending on social programmes has dropped from 20 to 16 percent of GDP.

These issues are particularly particularly pertinent as Singapore’s society ages. Medical expenses, especially for common long-term chronic ailments like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, can overwhelm individuals and families.

Increased spending on hospital beds alone will not produce better health outcomes adds Vivienne Wee, a founding member of AWARE. Singapore’s health care system needs to be reorganised, she argues, to better meet the needs of patients and the general population, rather than the demands of healthcare organisations.


Rising inequality meanwhile is giving children from wealthy families a leg up at school, as early as Primary 1. P1 students are expected to be able to read and write upon enrollment, but students from low-income families generally score worse than their classmates. The problem: these children lack access to pre-school education.

NTU sociology professor Teoh You Yenn argues that the government should level the playing field by providing more funding for low-income families to send their children to preschool.

A government’s budget reflects a society’s understanding and value systems, argues Teoh, adding that people’s actions have the power to shape imaginations of the present and future. “What is pragmatically possible is not fixed independently of our imaginations, but is itself shaped by our visions,” Teoh says, quoting from “The Real Utopias Project“.

8 Apr 2012 (2)


“Maximising Potential, Embracing Differences” – that’s the theme of Singapore’s four-year “Enabling Masterplan” for integrating people with disabilities into mainstream society. But until activist Judy Wee stepped forward, the recommendation committee didn’t have any disabled representatives.

Wee argues that if Singapore is to be a truly inclusive society, we need to do a better job of providing people with disabilities with full access to public facilities, starting with our nation’s schools. Currently, only a select few educational institutions are equipped to teach disabled students.

“This would be an important step towards helping Singaporeans with disabilities realise their potential, while respecting the differences of all persons with disabilities,” Wee says, who also notes that data on the number of people with disabilities needs to be better documented and made publicly available.

Contributing to the discussion, hearing-impaired attendees from the Singapore Association for the Deaf, with the help of sign language interpreters from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, called on the government to provide more ‘resource teachers’ for deaf students in mainstream schools.

“We – like any other healthy human beings – have dreams and aspirations to fulfill,” says one SADeaf member.  “It is very hard to tell our children that you cannot be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, because you are deaf.  Unlike Singapore, the United States has deaf societies filled with hearing impaired professionals. This is a strong limiting factor.  And it’s very stifling for the members of the Singapore Association for the Deaf.”

Welfare and Social Services

Better implementation and less duplication is needed in the provision of social services, according to another member of the public participating in the discussion. The “Many Helping Hands” programme can result in cases where several social workers approach the same person with the intention to help. But they end up overwhelming the person instead.


In my humble opinion, an inclusive society begins when the government has open dialogues with its citizens. When drafting the budget, our government should actively engage Singaporeans from all levels of society. It’s too late to make changes once the budget is announce in Parliament. A more consultative process, rather than the top-down approach, will be more effective in meeting the needs of all Singaporeans.

Related Links

How do we stop Human Trafficking?

How do we stop Human Trafficking?
Discussing “Child Prostitution, Human Trafficking and Poverty”
By ShuQi Liu

Across the globe, states appear to be giving a higher priority to drugs and wildlife smuggling, not to mention media piracy, than human trafficking. And did you know that, here in Singapore, trafficking victims – who often do not have access to their own passports, much less the freedom to leave their place of ‘work’ – are caned and jailed for overstaying their visas?

These are just two of the points raised in front of a congregation of white collared workers, tertiary students, academics and social activists on a recent Tuesday evening at Singapore Management University at an event organised by ONE (SINGAPORE) in association with SMU’s Wee Kim Wee Centre. Trafficking issues strike a chord in the hearts of many in our community, myself included, and this was clearly evident in the packed seminar room in SMU’s business school, where additional chairs had to be brought in to seat participants.

Complex Politics and Twice Persecuted

Professor Kirpal Singh, one of Singapore’s most prolific cultural critics, strides up to the front with a purposeful sense of insight. He observes that Singapore, as a country which both exports sex tourists and is a destination market for traffickers to send their victims, is in a curious position on the night’s topic.

“We are perhaps not doing anything concrete,” Kirpal notes. “The politics of the situation is complex, we are not aggressively firm, but have also shown unhappiness at the diplomatic level.”
27 Jan 2012 (1)

“How are we talking about the issue of human trafficking? When a woman shares a story of being duped by a promise of quick money in Singapore, only to be forced into the sex trade, do we ask ‘how could she have been so blind?” As individuals we need to suspend judgement of the victims.” ~ Braema Mathi

“There are no disparities in human trafficking – it affects men, women, boys and girls”, adds Braema Mathi, a former president of AWARE (the Association of Women for Action and Research) and ex-Nominated Member of Parliament.

And worse still, individuals who have been coerced or tricked into coming to Singapore – with the promise of a high-paying manufacturing or service-industry job, when in reality the work is in a brothel or pays significantly less than promised – are often treated as law-breakers here rather than victims.

“Victims of human trafficking often undergo double punishment when the state’s identity pushes individuals into another dimension. In Singapore, those trafficked are first charged with illegal immigration and then sentenced to jail and even caning.”

Braema notes though that changes in Singapore’s political scene mean that ministers and government agencies are more open to feedback, which provides concerned citizens with greater opportunity to voice out about injustices.

Indeed, Singaporeans need to be more proactive, vocal and aware on this issue. We need to stop questioning or blaming victims and work instead to protect their rights and confront the roots of the problem.

27 Jan 2012 (2)

Eliminating poverty and empowering women are key components in the campaign to end human trafficking.

Four, no Five, P’s

The second speaker, Pia Charlotte Bruce, Executive Director of UN Women Singapore, addressed the topic from a social perspective, noting that high mobility, international travel and economic growth contribute to Singapore’s susceptibility. Like other activists, Pia calls for a 4P strategy to overcome these vulnerabilities:

→ Prevention  –   raise awareness, reduce poverty and improve health & education

→ Protection   –   align local laws with international standards and better training for police and immigration officials

→ Prosecution –   stronger penalties and protection of whistle-blowers

→ Partnership  –   to effectively implement laws at the regional and international levels.

To this, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, adds a 5th “P”, an underlying cause: Poverty. Chhoa-Howard argues that poverty in the region is a key driver of trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Sex Tourism and Trafficking

But if there was no demand, there would be no industry for traffickers to exploit. And unfortunately, Singaporeans are among the most numerous sex tourists in Thailand and at least 3000 Singaporeans and Malaysians take a ferry to neighboring Batam for sex every week.

Singaporean law provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who exploit children in other countries. But this law goes unenforced. Rachel points out that Singapore has never prosecuted or convicted a citizen or PR for having sexual relations with a child outside the country.

Last but not least, Bridget Tan, founder and president of H.O.M.E., added a very personal perspective to the discussion.

“One of the girls we took in had escaped from a brothel in Geylang. She refused to talk for one month,” Bridget shared. “The only person she could relate to was a pet dog in the shelter. When she was finally ready to tell her story, we found out that she had been gang-raped every time. And she was old enough to be my daughter. Despite the experience of extreme violation and severe trauma, she was repatriated after six months without any compensation. Is this even justifiable?”

While I know that these things happen, stories like this shock me . . . particularly that something like this can happen in the heart of Singapore, my home.

Better Policies Needed

Bridget also highlighted several areas for change that H.O.M.E. is championing and which we can all work together to achieve, including

27 Jan 2012 (3)

Hani Mohamed produced the short film “Innocence” to move Asian leaders to put a stop to human trafficking and child prostitution.

→ a Victims Assistance Programme

→ drafting and advocating for a legal definition of trafficking, as none currently exists in Singapore

→ better training on the issue for police, lawyers and judges

→ equal partnerships between civil society advocates and government agencies

The presentations were followed by a short film produced by ONE (SINGAPORE) Secretary Hani Mohamed showcasing child sex and human trafficking in Geylang, the popular red-light district here. In the film, a man logs onto the internet, makes a booking on a pornographic website then proceeds to meet a locked-up girl, all within a few hours. In a choked voice, Hani recollects the inspiration behind the film, a segment on The May Lee Show that described how pimps and traffickers threatened unwilling sex workers by caging them and ‘stuffing chillies in their private parts’.

Clearly, no one should be subjected to the brutality of trafficking, much less because of poverty. And every child should be able to enjoy a carefree and joyful childhood. Together, we can work together to manifest a better world. As well-travelled and educated Singaporeans, we can engage ourselves . . . by volunteering at a shelter, boycotting services offered by illegal syndicates, raising awareness among our friends and family so that no one blames the victims and campaigning for policies that will put an end to these evils.

Related Articles

Every ONE Can – The Numbers Are In!

10 Nov 2011 (1)
The FoodXervices’ Team at Every ONE Can

Every ONE Can was a whopping success this year! More products, more purchases at wholesale prices and donations for Willing Hearts that filled a truckload! In a nutshell, products purchased have a wholesale value of more than S$17,000. However patrons actually spent about S$13,000, because of the discounts offered on the day of the event. This is actual savings as opposed to retail prices where they would have spent at least S$19- 20K!Willing Hearts

Among the items purchased for donation: cranberry juice, chilli garlic sauce, rice, noodles and much more. We filled up a truck and then some. Charles Liew of Willing Hearts says the donation would probably last two weeks if used all at once, but since the organisation has other ingredients in stock as well, it “will use some items now and others later.”

Willing Hearts prepares and delivers meals to some 2500 people everyday. Unfortunately the number of people needing assistance keeps growing. When ONE (SINGAPORE) first met Willing Hearts at the beginning of the year, it was serving about 1500 people a day.

Several partner organisations — Gift & Take, Hummingfish Foundation (Ai-Funan), Mother and Child Project, TWC2 and Willing Hearts — set up booths at Every ONE Can to raise awareness of their causes and funds for disadvantaged groups. So in addition to grocery shopping, customers also had the chance to look for that”one of a kind” item during the event and show their support for these awesome boutiques. Among the items for sale by the social enterprises, there were organic soaps made by East Timorese women, candles, children’s books, t-shirts, unique eco-friendly gifts and handicrafts.

10 Nov 2011 (2)

We would like to express our heartfelt THANKS to FoodXervices, as well as the partners and patrons who made Every ONE Can a fun and eventful day for all!

Every ONE Can feeds a hungry person. Every ONE Can Stand Up and Make a Difference. Every ONE Can Make Poverty History!

Additional Resources

  • Every ONE Can 2011
  • Check out the photos on our Flickr page and let us know which is your favorite!

“We’re Youth. We’re the upcoming Generation.”~ ACJC Stands Up

Students at Anglo Chinese Junior College have once again joined the global movement to Make Poverty History!

9 Nov 2011 (1)

ACJC’s Arts Council organised a two-day event to Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty and the collective response from their classmates was:
“We feel it’s particularly important to Stand Up because we are Youths. We’re the upcoming generation and it’s important for us to instill the aim of eradicating poverty and of Stand Up in our generation.”

On 24-25 October, Arts Council members went around the school asking students why they felt it was necessary for them and others to stand up against poverty.  Students also set up a booth, which was prominently displayed at the school’s void deck, to raise awareness of the global poverty crisis.

Over 800 students participated. Many took photos with placards announcing why they are Standing Up.  Support for this movement has become a yearly tradition at the school since ACJC students first joined Stand Up in 2009.  This year, students were once again eager to show their support as they felt that the movement against poverty encapsulates many worthy causes.

“It’s great to know that so many of my fellow students are enthusiastic and supportive of the Stand Up movement,” says student organiser Yustynn Panicker, who adds that he was overwhelmed by the support of his peers.

A number of students requested that the the two-day event be extended so that even more of their classmates could speak out against poverty.  This is the third year running that ACJC students have joined the international Stand Up Take Action Against Poverty campaign.

“I love that our school is taking up such an important cause and I’m proud to Stand Up,” says Saira Roop, a student participant.

The ACJC Arts Council also sold ONE (SINGAPORE) Make Poverty History t-shirts and whitebands to raise funds for Care + Share, an organisation that provides milk to primary school students in Indian slums. The students raised S$ 424. ONE (SINGAPORE) is topping up the amount to S$800, which should purchase more than 4500 glasses of milk for the students.

ACJC Stand Ups for LOVE, the impoverished and more. . . . check out their photos!

ONE (S) urgent call to Commonwealth leaders to address health related MDGs

Tell the Commonwealth it’s time to take urgent actions to meet the MDGs!
5 Nov 2011

ONE (SINGAPORE) has joined some 400 civil society organisations and anti-poverty campaigners from across the globe in calling on leaders of the Commonwealth to take urgent actions to ensure that the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals are met for all two billion Commonwealth citizens by 2015.

While increased funding and attention to health issues have led to progress — including a significant reduction in child mortality, fewer deaths from malaria and greater access to life-saving drugs for people with HIV — much more work needs to be done in order to meet the MDGs.

Specifically, the Open Letter to the Commonwealth leaders calls on each country to take the following actions:

  1. Meet the minimum W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) standards, including providing at least 2.3 professional health workers for every 1000 people.
  2. Provide universal access to family planning services and ensure that all women are able to give birth with a skilled attendant.
  3. Scale up responses to tuberculosis and HIV
  4. Fully fund the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is working to eradicate the second disease in human history
  5. Ensure that all citizens have access to safe drinking water and effective hygiene by 2015.
  6. Improve food security and nutrition by increasing support to small scale agricultural producers, particularly women.

The open letter was organised by Make Poverty History Australia and signed by Oxfam, ONE (SINGAPORE) and Save the Children, among other organisations. MPH Australia planned to present it to the Australian government prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth at the end of October. Unfortunately, the Australian Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined requests for a face-to-face meeting. The Open Letter and an online petition will now be submitted to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

You can add your voice to the online petition through Friday 11 November.

The Commonwealth includes 54 nations, largely former British colonies in Africa and Asia. Singapore joined the Commonwealth in 1965 and the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles provided the association with a set of ideals and shared values in 1971.


“Don’t Cut Aid,” ONE (S) and int’l civil society tell Japan

As Japan prepared to host an international meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, ONE (SINGAPORE) joined with civil society groups in Japan and from across the world to call on the Japanese government to honour its international aid and development commitments.

Following the March earthquake and tsunami, Tokyo announced that it would cut overseas aid in order to concentrate on relief and reconstruction at home. These cuts – including a 100% reduction in funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – will cost lives and reverse gains made towards the achievement of the MDGs.

“The Japanese government must not abandon its commitments to eradicate poverty and disease in impoverished countries,” says Masaki Inaba of GCAP Japan. “My colleagues and I were shocked to see our government cut assistance to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Global poverty is a ‘silent tsunami’ which Japanese aid has been fighting. Pitting domestic reconstruction against overseas aid is the wrong approach. Japan must be do both.”

“Much as we understand the rationale behind these cuts, we urge the Japanese government not to abandon its commitments to eradicate poverty and disease in impoverished countries,” adds ONE (SINGAPORE) President Vernetta Lopez and co-founder Michael Switow in a letter to Japan’s Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Yoichi Suzuki. “By taking action now, Japan can save lives and set a prime example of commitment and solidarity for the protection of people’s lives and the elimination of disease, poverty and conflict.”

Read the full text of ONE (SINGAPORE)’s letter as well as a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan signed by the co-chairs of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.


“Yet Another Case of Illegal Deductions”

Should we care how foreign workers are treated in Singapore?

By Alex Au, TWC2 Treasurer

For months, Hafeez suffered in silence. His employer had deducted S$500 a month from his already pathetic wage of $22 a day working as a forklift driver and general labourer at a glass supply firm. Do a simple calculation: If he worked 30 days a month at $22 a day, he would have made only $660 a month. Deduct $500 from that and what’s left?

Yes, he had some overtime, for which he was paid $4 an hour, but it did not add up to much.

Knowing few others except some other labourers from Bangladesh and with only a rudimentary grasp of English, Hafeez did not know who or where to turn to for help. He didn’t even know what the law said about deductions.

And then his contract ended and his Work Permit was cancelled. The employer arranged for an air ticket home and told him to make his way to the airport on the assigned evening.

With 24 hours left in Singapore, he had one last chance to ask a question: Was it within his employer’s right to deduct that?

Did he have to go back to Bangladesh with nothing to show for his time in Singapore, nothing to feed his family with, nothing to help him pay off the debts he incurred to get the job in the first place? Like virtually all migrant workers in Singapore, he had to pay his recruiter upfront to get the job; about S$3,000 in his case.

How was he going to face his mother, wife, four daughters and a baby son who depended on him to survive? Wouldn’t unscrupulous debt collectors come after him once they hear he was back in the village?

* * * * *

And so on his penultimate evening in Singapore, with increasing desperation, he walked around Little India asking, of total strangers even, where he might get a little help. By sheer luck, someone pointed him to a restaurant that the Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) was using as a soup kitchen to feed migrants who were out of work, out of money, abandoned or abused by their employers. Hafeez was one of about 250 men streaming in that evening. All of them with similar stories. Hafeez’s was not the most unusual.

10 June 2011

But his was unusually urgent and so TWC2 volunteers swung into action, tired though they were from the endless flow of cases.

“We almost had to pull him off the plane,” a TWC2 volunteer told me. “He was that close to being sent home without getting what was due to him.”

The phrasing might have been a tad dramatic, but indeed, part of the action took place at the airport the next evening. But let’s not run ahead of the story.

Immediately the following day, a volunteer accompanied him to the Ministry of Manpower where they consulted an officer. Hafeez informed them that the employer had been deducting from his salary to make up these amounts, totalling $4,200:

  • $3,500 for medical expenses,
  • $340 for the airfare back to Bangladesh
  • $360 being $30 deducted per month x 12 months.

(I couldn’t understand from Hafeez’s very basic English exactly what the last item — $30 a month — was for.)

The ministry official agreed that these would be illegal deductions. So, at the airport that evening, when the company representative attempted to pay him only $158.55 in wages, being the purported final amount net of these deductions, Hafeez refused to take the money. He even tore up the receipt that he was asked to sign. If he had signed it, it would have been acknowledgment that the $158.55 was all he was owed and nothing more . . . READ ON


Read what other people have to say about this article

Background on The Cuff Road Project

Coordinator Named ‘Woman of the Year’

Poverty No More’ – Episodes 5 & 6 – The Cuff Road Project

Migrant workers and The Cuff Road Project: Dialogue session

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

The G8’s Aid Report Card

Condemnation and commendation: G8 countries show mixed results in efforts to meet aid targets

20 May 2011 (1)

In 2005, the G8 and EU made a set of historic commitments to help sub-Saharan Africa meet the Millennium Development Goals.  As the G8 prepares to meet in Deauville, France on 26-27 May, we would like to share a report with you from ONE in the United States about how the G8 countries are doing on their commitments.

Here are the main findings of the 2011 DATA Report:

  1. Collectively the G7 delivered 61% of the increased aid they promised in 2005 to sub-Saharan Africa by 2010. The increases were largely a result of the UK making commendable progress towards its very ambitious target and the US, Japan and Canada surpassing their relatively modest targets. Italy’s performance is condemnable, falling far short of its promises to the world’s poorest people. France and Germany have also failed to meet their ambitious targets.
  2. The failure of the G8 to keep their promises deprived the world’s poorest people of $7bn in financing for effective and life-changing programmes in 2010 alone.
  3. Despite the overall shortfall, there have been historic increases in aid to sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, and especially since 2005 and the promises of the Gleneagles G8 Summit which was a response to the global Make Poverty History campaign.
  4. Much of this smart aid went towards programmes that are delivering real results in sub-Saharan Africa. Together with African efforts, aid has helped to avert the deaths of 750,000 children from malaria; allowed 46.5 million children to enroll in school for the first time; provided 4 million Africans with anti-AIDS drugs; and helped boost agricultural productivity by 50% in 17 African countries.
  5. Emerging economies such as Brazil, India, China and Russia have been steadily increasing their aid to sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, along with increased trade and investment with African countries.

20 May 2011 (2)

France, Germany and Italy “must urgently get back on track by setting out clear timetables to meet the promises they made to give 0.7% of their national incomes as overseas aid by 2015,” says ONE Executive Director Jamie Drummond. “At the same time, non-European G8 countries like the US, Canada and Japan should set new, ambitious commitments for aid to sub-Saharan Africa.”

However even if G8 donors meet all their existing and future promises on aid, much more money needs to be invested in developing countries if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals and pull millions of people out of poverty.  Innovative financing measures — like a Robin Hood Tax and African diaspora bonds — need to be adopted.

“We welcome the momentum on innovative finance for development at the G20,” adds Mr. Drummond, “even though there are some questions over whether President Sarkozy’s new focus on this area is in part an attempt to divert attention away from France’s failure to meet its fair share of Europe’s aid targets. That is why we are calling for real and measurable progress to be made before the end of 2011.”


Every ONE Can – March Proceeds and Photos

7 May 2010

Glenn Ong, Jean Danker, Vernetta Lopez and Lavinia Tan were just a few of the good folks who joined the team at FoodXervices for ONE (SINGAPORE)’s second Every ONE Can charity warehouse sale in March 2010 . . . this time in benefit of displaced Singaporeans.

The event generated food donations with a retail value of approximately S$8500. New Hope Community Services, which provides shelter and other services to homeless families and individuals, distributed the proceeds. NHCS also assisted Project Kyrie, which delivers food to people in need (among other projects). This was our second Every ONE Can warehouse sale and was held this time on a Sunday. Proceeds were not as great as the first time. Next time we’ll return the event to a Saturday afternoon, when there’s more foot traffic. Speaking of which, we’re targeting Saturday 16 October for the third installment.

Much thanks to FoodXervices and their great staff who came in to work extra hours to make this happen.
Thanks as well to our partners – the social enterprise Gift and Take as well as the Evercare Welfare Centre – who joined us. Gift and Take sells merchandise made by abused women in Singapore, landmine victims in Cambodia and low-income families across southeast Asia. The Evercare Welfare Centre is a dynamic grassroots organisation that provides crucial services to its community.

Take a look at some of the pictures on ONE (SINGAPORE)’s Flickr site and more pix here on Facebook.
Every ONE Can feeds a hungry person. Every ONE Can Stand Up and Make a Difference. Every ONE Can Make Poverty History!

Related articles: