Finance Minister Tharman gave a speech on the "Singapore Way" of helping the poor at NTU a few days ago. During the speech he again spoke about the big amounts the Singapore govt gives to the poor to show the rest of the world how 'generous' the PAP govt is to the poor:
"...substantial subsidies also make their way into the pockets. Taken over a lifetime, a typical low income family would receive from the state half their total earnings, he said. These subsides cover areas such as education, housing and Workfare..." - BT, 25 Sep 2010.
This is the 2nd time I hear Minister Tharman talking about 'substantial subsidies' given to the poor. I will tell you why this is an extremely unintelligent and flawed way to measure out how much real help the poor actually gets. Suppose the SMRT or Singapore Power or HDB decides to raise their prices tomorrow for whatever reasons (boost profits, increase margins, pay their CEO more, offset costs etc), the poor families whose wages are stagnant and have little buffer for such price hikes will get into trouble immediately. The govt will have to increase subsidies for these families e.g. give out utilities voucher and so on, but their quality of life won't improve one bit with the increased subsidy. The size of these subsidies (especially market subsidies) correlate with the gap between the rising cost of living and depressed wages. If this is the correct way to measure generosity and help for the poor, then those who employ maids in Singapore must be very generous. Maid who are paid about $270 to work full time in Singapore are given subsidies in the form of free housing and food worth more than 100% of their income so maid employers are even more generous than the govt is to the poor in Singapore! The truth is maids in Singapore get the lowest pay in the world[Link] and cannot afford to pay for their own necessities. If you think like the PAP and Minister Tharman, slave owners in ancient Egypt are also very generous because they subsidise the basic living of their slaves by an infinite multiple of their income given slaves are paid zero and get to eat 100% subsidized food and have free lodging.
The correct way to see if low income workers are receiving enough help is to look at their quality of life. Are they able to live a decent life - raise a family, retire at a proper age after a lifetime of work, are they able to get good medical care, eat healthy diets, live in decent size housing, receive reasonable work benefits such as medical leave, off days, decent work hours - and so on. A report by the ILO shows Singapore workers working the longest hours[Singapore Workers Clock Up Longest Hours: ILO] longer than those in S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, yet we have the biggest income gap in the developed world. What does this tell us?
"We have a philosophy of viewing employment as the main social safety net in Singapore and this must be so. This is how you keep families together." - Minister Tharman
If employment is the main social safety net, it is greatly damaged by the PAP govt when it opened the floodgates to cheap foreign labor and causing the income of poor families to be depressed in the past decade. Apparently, the more important philosophy that people working full time jobs should earn a decent income does not exist in the PAP. Talking about employment without reference to wages is meaningless. When you don't have a minimum wage and employers can choose to pay very low wages because they have access to cheap labor from 3rd world countries, you put your people at risk...and that is what the PAP has done. I want to show you this video again [from an earlier posting]to show what the insistence that poor unfortunate families find work does to families:
"I've applied with the govt before. It always comes to nothing."
"They keep telling you to work. Its okay if I can find a job. But I may not find one that allows me to look after my children. We go to them only because we need help. They shouldn't say 'Look for a job. Don't always expect help' "
"I kept quiet. Just weep. What else?"
Here is a poor family with 2 disabled kids. As it is not challenging enough for her look after her disabled kids with special needs, the govt agencies insists that she finds work and denies her the help she needs - that is the PAP govt way of helping the poor.
"FINANCE Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday gave policymakers and opinion-shapers from all over the world an insight into the 'Singapore way' of helping the poor"
- BT, 25 Sep 2010
Insight to helping the poor? It is more like insight to how 'boxed in' and ideological the PAP govt's approach to helping the poor is. Their approach lack logic, pragmatism and ultimately hurts the people they claim to help. If we continue on the same path, the income gap will keep growing, the number of poor and the ultra-underclass will keep growing. When Dr. Chee Soon Juan, warned about the rising income gap more than a decade ago, the PAP ministers and state controlled media accused him of engaging in the "politics of jealousy". Four years ago, during the 2006 elections, the Workers Party spoke about the "new poor". Today most Singaporeans understand what is going on and they also know that if nothing changes, it will definitely become worse. Change will not come from people sitting in ivory towers seeking to preserve the status quo because it benefits them most to keep things the same.