The Poor & Homeless in Singapore

Update 11 Nov 2019: In wealthy Singapore, about 1,000 people sleep rough every night
A rough sleeper in Singapore. Photo: Yusuf Abdol Hamid

A landmark study on homelessness in Singapore has found that on any given night, between 921 and 1,050 people sleep in public spaces such as parks and unenclosed lobbies.

Most are older men who sleep rough because they cannot afford housing, want to be near their workplace or have issues with family members or housemates, among other reasons.

The study was led by assistant professor Ng Kok Hoe at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, with the help of 480 volunteers, social workers mobilised by the government, and NGOs conducting fieldwork over three months.

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Housing the homeless in Singapore

Since May last year, government officers have been walking the streets with community groups to reach out to the homeless in Toa Payoh and Kreta Ayer. This team effort has so far engaged at least 65 rough sleepers and moved about 30 off the streets. Lee Li Ying with this exclusive report.

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True Story: The Surprising Truth About The Homeless In Singapore

As I was walking through Chinatown last week, I passed a man. His shirt was dirty. He smelled bad. He looked sick and was maybe developmentally challenged. He seemingly carried all his possessions in two plastic bags.

Yes, there are homeless people even in prosperous Singapore.

As he passed I thought about the $50 bill I had in my wallet that I was saving for milk, lunch or a taxi. After a few seconds, I turned around to go give it to him but he was gone.

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This Singaporean Woman Has Been Living At Changi Airport For EIGHT Years

Homelessness is a real problem in Singapore, and surprisingly enough, you'll see it in a place as polished as Changi Airport.

This woman in her 50s, who preferred to remain anonymous, has been living in Changi Airport for eight years. She is among more than 10 "regulars" at the airport. She was hit by the 2008 financial crisis, and had cash flow problems. She was desperate, she said, and so rented out her three-room flat in Tampines and "moved" to the airport.

At first, she was just going to stay for a few nights, but it became eight years. Now, she has a trolley full of clothes, toiletries, food and other daily necessities. She eats at the airport food court and finds living there quite convenient as there is a supermarket, showers, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi.

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Poor in the Land of Crazy Rich Asians

An old woman with a cart sits in front of a Buddhist temple Chinatown, Singapore. Mapa Melvin / Shutterstock.com

Park Royal Hotel along Pickering Street in Singapore is nothing short of spectacular. Lush greenery lines the undulating planes of its facade, mimicking the vibrant green of paddy fields that are common sights in the country’s Southeast Asian neighbours. The building has won numerous architectural and design accolades, and been featured as a location in the Hollywood film Hitman: Agent 47.

But walk a few paces past this impressive glass facade, deeper into the heart of Chinatown, and the surroundings start looking a little different.

Pieces of paper are strewn carelessly on the ground; there’s a seemingly impenetrable layer of grime. Here, the buildings are older, tinted yellow from long exposure to the elements. Come nightfall, men and women, carrying their possessions in backpacks or plastic bags, will discreetly unfurl blankets and newspapers on street corners or stone benches to get some rest for the night.

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More than 900 displaced individuals, families identified between 2013-2015

Between 2013 & 2015, the Social and Family Development Ministry has helped 543 individuals & 374 families. Around 80 per cent had low income and weak social support

The Social & Family Development Ministry (MSF) has identified more than 900 displaced individuals and families between 2013 & 2015.

While East Coast Park is where many Singaporeans go to unwind after work, it is also a temporary home for a small group of people.

Some occupants have made homes out of the makeshift tents dotting the park. Some Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they are waiting to be allocated housing, like HDB rental flats, and have no place to stay.

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MSF: Clarifications On Shelter Placement

MSF works closely with government and community agencies, such as HDB and social service agencies to assist homeless families and individuals in need. Some of them may seek help from Family Service Centres to identify temporary housing options and address their other needs. Those who have exhausted all means of accommodation and are in need of immediate shelter would be admitted into Transitional Shelters. Caseworkers at the shelters and social workers at the Family Service Centres will work with these families to improve their family situation, coordinate relevant assistance, and secure long-term housing options.

In some cases, persons seeking admission into Transitional Shelters have alternative accommodation options with family and friends and are therefore not admitted to the shelter. There are also individuals who are not suitable to be admitted into Transitional Shelters due to their physical or mental health conditions. The social service agencies will refer them to the appropriate care facilities.

The waiting time for admission to the transitional shelters is typically about 3 days to a week. The time needed depends on factors such as whether the social worker is able to contact the client to undertake the assessment. For needy persons who need immediate shelter, the shelter operators will facilitate same-day admissions as far as possible.  When same-day admission is not possible, such as during weekends and after office hours, the social worker will work with the person to source for interim accommodation, such as staying with relatives or friends.  The women and children of families who cannot find interim accommodation can be admitted temporarily to the crisis shelters.

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Homeless – the ‘invisible’ people in Singapore

“I have lived in several different countries in my life. However, living in Singapore is the closest thing to paradise that I have ever experienced”, exclaims an expatriate in a blog post and adds “I thought it was interesting that I did not see a single homeless person during my entire stay in the country. I am sure there are homeless people in Singapore”.

The expatriate is surely not alone in ‘not seeing a single homeless person here’. The homeless among us are ‘invisible’ to many Singaporeans as well. So where do they live?

The Ministry of Social & Family Development said in Parliament last year that they “regularly patrols beaches and public areas to identify and provide assistance to persons who may be homeless”. Yes, some homeless individuals and families live along our coastal shores.

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Homeless families who camp by the beach

MSF regularly patrols beaches and public areas to identify and provide assistance to persons who may be homeless. MSF also responds to calls to the ComCare hotline from members of the public who come into contact with Singaporeans who may be homeless.

Between 2011 to 2013, MSF provided support and shelter to 565 individuals and 404 families. About 80% are of low income and have weak social support. Three out of four were previous flat owners who had sold their flats for a variety of reasons, such as settling financial or debt problems, divorces, cashing out to make a profit, etc. After the sale of their flats, they find themselves not being able to afford to buy or rent another flat. Another one-quarter had fallen out their families and friends whom they were living with, due to reasons such as strained relationships, anti-social behaviour or addiction-related problems.

Government agencies do their best to help these individuals and families explore sustainable housing options depending on their circumstances. They may purchase a flat within their means. In other instances, social workers help them to reunite and stay with their family members. For those with no options, HDB will assist them with rental flats under the Public Rental Scheme. For those who need temporary rental accommodation while they wait for or work out their longer-term housing option, HDB may refer them to interim rental housing.

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More than 10 families live in East Coast Park's 'Tent Village'

Chinese newspaper Zaobao reported that East Coast Park is now a “tent village” where not only more than a dozen people have set up camp, but is also headed by a 29-year-old “village headman”. Most campers were forced into this “temporary shelter” while they wait for their rental HDB flat.

Newspaper received readers informed that the area along the east coast there are many large tents, as a self-sufficiency of the “village.”

According to the newspaper, the  “Tent Village” is in a location which is hidden from most members of the public, not far from a construction site, but near public toilets, which is convenient for the campers.

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3 Hard Truths About Poverty In Singapore

There are two general definitions about poverty that the rest of the world takes. They are “absolute poverty” and “relative poverty”.
  • Absolute poverty is defined as the minimum requirements necessary for living in Singapore. This will include how much is needed for food, shelter, clothing and other basic necessities to survive in the country.
  • Relative poverty is the standard more commonly adopted in developed nations or cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, should we have one. Relative poverty refers to how much is required for a certain household to afford the basic necessities to survive in life and also avoid “social exclusion”.
For example, while you can physically survive without the need to have a computer, handphone or Internet connection, you would be socially excluded without these items, and hence, unable to move up the career ladder.

Hard Truths About Poverty:

  • 110,000 – 140,000 household falls under the basic living expenditure of $1250
  • $2500 – $3000 is what you need to avoid being socially excluded (i.e. be in relative poverty)
  • People in the bottom 20 percentile spend more than they earn
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No Such Thing As Poverty In Singapore? Wake Up And Think Again

One day, there was an article about Singaporeans queuing up and buying many masks at one go. When asked why they were buying so many, most said that they were buying them for their friends and family members, and that they did not know when the haze would end.

And, on another day, there was an article about a Singaporean who could not afford a mask, has to cycle to send her children to school every day and sell curry puff in the haze. She could not even afford to switch on the fan, for she wanted to save on the PUB bill.

And in case you're wondering, yes, both articles are in the same national newspaper, not some online news site. What is the first thought that comes to you?

Source: https://www.facebook.com/lowkayhwa/posts/10151496326311088

The New Standards For Poor

A day after the Budget was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, S&P issued a top AAA unsolicited rating on Singapore. S&P noted that investments in the $68.2 billion budget - including efforts to boost innovation, skills training, as well as funding to meet the needs of Singapore's ageing population - "significantly outsized" the $705 million transferred to households. Investments such as the $26 billion for trains that keep breaking down, while $9.3 billion is allocated for hospital grants and construction, and suspect "Medishield Life subsidies".

What is also impossible to miss is that the $10.5 billion to be harvested from Goods and Services Tax (GST) is second only to the $13.5 billion contribution from corporate income taxes. Even the poorest of the poor, who are spared the $8.9 billion to be collected from personal income taxes, will have to pay 7 percent extra for the bread and water to survive on. Lest we forget, our water bill is doubly taxed, the GST is applied on top of the 30 percent "Water Conservation Tax".

As long as there is sheep to be fleeced from, Singapore is in no danger of going broke.

Singapore’s Old Recycled

From seeing elderly’s clean tables at food courts to collecting recyclables to make a living, it is indeed a sight that many aren’t comfortable with.

Many of these elderly’s earn very little, but do it anyway- some, because they want to fill time, others, to earn some extra cash.

A team of five individuals decided to look into the issue of a certain number of senior citizens being left behind while Singapore progresses forward.


With Budget 2014 fresh in our minds I thought that now would be a good time to update my readers on the case of Madam L. You can read the previous blog entries from September last year, if you are not familiar with the case or need to refresh your memory. (“Homeless in Singapore’s Island Paradise” and “Homeless with a Handcart against Singapore’s Grand Prix”).

Mdm L has been homeless for 2 years, sleeping on the streets and turned away by everyone until she came to me for help. So, I was not her first choice! But she had always been a supporter of JBJ so she came to me. She has been living in the street on around $8:00 she earns a day, on days when she is well enough to push her trolley around collecting cardboard.

Despite repeated calls to the Social Service Office in the months following our first meetings, dealing with her case we seemed to have hit a brick wall. Despite Madam L being homeless and destitute it seemed impossible to unlock the aid to which according to the ComCare website she was entitled. ComCare promises $450 a month Public Assistance to those unable to work and without any other means of support. Madam L does have children but is estranged. In any case I went to visit her son and they have several children of their own to support and are in the low-income bracket.

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Is it just “no fun” being poor in Singapore?

In an interview in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the annual World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “If you’re poor in Singapore, it’s no fun but I think you’re less badly off if you’re poor in Singapore than in nearly anywhere else in the world including the United States.”

Is that what he really thinks, that it is just “no fun” to be poor in Singapore? One can say that it is no fun visiting the dentist or getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. But no fun being poor?

The statement shows a complete lack of comprehension of, or worse disregard for, the pain and hardship that those stricken by poverty have to endure on a daily basis

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OPINION: Yes Mr Lee, it is no fun being poor in Singapore

Singapore Democrats, 30 Jan 2012 - In an interview in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the annual World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that
"If you're poor in Singapore, it's no fun but I think you're less badly off if you're poor in Singapore than in nearly anywhere else in the world including the United States."
Is that what he really thinks, that it is just "no fun" to be poor in Singapore? One can say that it is no fun visiting the dentist or getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. But no fun being poor?

Poor in Rich Singapore
This is probably the third time I saw the old granny, probably in her seventies, searching and taking out drink cans and old newspapers scraps from the rubbish bin and putting them in her large nylon bag, while on my way to my office in the morning.

I believe this is not the first time any Singaporean have seen this. Try walking along some streets of Singapore (even at the underpasses of Orchard Road), sometimes you could find old grannies and uncles selling "tissue paper" to the passer-bys, or collecting drink cans and old newspapers from the trash bins and rubbish chute.

Auntie, good morning." I plucked up a little bit of courage and speak to her in Mandarin, while she continues searching for more drink cans in the bin.

How do Singapore's poor families get by?
Nurhaida, 29, who is unemployed with six children in Singapore, says it is difficult to make ends meet

Nurhaida Binte Jantan is making dinner. She is roasting otah-otah, a Malay dish of fish paste wrapped in banana leaves, over a portable stove.

She is a 29-year-old unemployed single mother with six children from five to 13 years old. She lives in a tiny flat, just 30 square metres, with little furnishing.

There is no dining table, so the children eat their otah-otah with rice and chillies crouched on the floor.


Singapore's hidden poverty problem

Singapore may be one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, but poverty remains a worrying problem.

Despite holding the world's highest concentration of millionaires, the city-state also boasts the second-biggest inequality gap among Asia's advanced economies.

So how do you live in a city that's becoming increasingly expensive? The BBC's Sharanjit Leyl reports.

Out In The Cold: A documentary bringing light to the homeless
Many here below the age of 40, do not understand the concept of poverty. On the front, its streets are the picture of wealth and affluence. But in the dark corners, hundreds call these streets home.

A group of ex-temasek polytechnic (TP) students did a film about the less known, less talked about, sometimes seen, and always leaving people wondering: The Homeless People.

Titled “Out In The Cold”, it is a documentary bringing light to people and circumstances that sometimes can’t be help.

The ex-students from TP who had to do a final year project for their Diploma in Moving Images formed the team of four for the documentary. They are Tan Yi Wilfred, the director, Nur Shahirah A. Latif, the producer, Sing Valerie, the director of photography and Anisa Bte Abdul Latiff, the editor.


A lot has been said about helping the poor in Singapore, and while it’s heartening to see the leadership coming out to encourage people to help the less fortunate, I’m actually skeptical that such appeals to the general public would hold any clout and actually make life better for the poor.

For one, Singaporeans are not known for their spirit of volunteerism. I’m not saying we’re a nation of heartless and inhumane citizens, but let’s do a reality check: how many people actually come forward to volunteer their time and effort on a sustained basis for the benefit of the destitute in Singapore? Most people would probably think it’s a lot easier to simply donate money, and then get on with their lives.

That is if they bother with donations in the first place. I always believed that in addressing poverty issues, one has to take a very realistic approach, instead of the conventional way that seeks to tug at heartstrings– at the end of the day, what the destitute and underprivileged need are not your emphaties (or is it really sympathies?), but rather real solutions that provide for a roof over their heads and putting food on the table.

387,187 IN POVERTY?

I refer to the article “Median household income rose to $7,870 last year, inequality down” (Straits Times, Feb 18).

Real median household income rose 1.6% - It states that “Median household income rose to $7,870 last year, 4 per cent up from 2012, according to a Department of Statistics releaseon Tuesday. After accounting for inflation, the rise was 1.6 per cent from 2012.” According to the Key Household Income Trends 2013 report released today – the Median Household Income from Work Per Household Member only increased in real terms by 1.9% per annum, from 2008 to 2013, lower than the 3.2% per annum from 2003 to 2008.

Income per household member of the 3 lowest deciles? - Average Monthly Household Income from Work Per Household Member Among Resident Employed Households by Deciles – 1st to 10th, 11th to 20th and 21st to 3oth deciles were only $463, $896 and $1,268, respectively last year.

Poverty in Singapore

There are various categories of being poor in Singapore. (No official line yet, but some are calling for an official poverty line to be defined [t1])

Some could be the old and frail – these are the elderly living on their own, either with no children or children who have abandoned them. They have no means to work and more so if they are sick, they may not be mobile and hence are dependent on others.

We could also have parents not earning enough to make ends meet – partly because they have quite a number of children, in addition to elderly parents so they are the sandwiched generation.

I almost fell off my chair when I read the article “Shelters for the homeless now closer to the city” in the Sunday Times on January 2nd. It says there are 120 homeless families living in shelters run by charities but funded by the government.

Admittedly, 120 families is a small number relative to the population, but it is the first time in my memory that the government has, through its mouthpiece the Straits Times, revealed that there are indeed homeless people in this city of millionaires. This runs contrary to what Kishore Mahbubani has boasted that there are no homeless people in Singapore.

A few years ago Al Jazeera ran a TV news story about poverty in Singapore and showed a family living in a tent on Changi Beach. The government was furious, saying that they were not homeless but probably having a picnic and promptly banned Al Jazeera. (I cannot access its website from my computer, it is still banned.)

Singapore poverty in the spotlight
Poverty in Singapore affects an unknown number of families [Xu Yuan Duan/Growing Up with Less]

Begging is illegal here, under the island-nation's Destitute Persons Act, carrying a fine of up to $3,000 or imprisonment for up to two years for repeat offenders

But Singapore's poor still can be found, often selling packets of tissues outside food centres. Or spending the night on benches near their jobs to save the transport fare home - they are commonly called "sleepers". Or collecting empty soft drink cans out of trash bins.

The poor have no place in Singapore's vaunted success story, but there are growing calls for one of the wealthiest countries in the world to acknowledge rapidly rising income inequality by setting an official poverty line. Hong Kong's recent decision to set a poverty line as a way to better identify and assist its poor has prompted a similar debate in Singapore's parliament.

Who’s poor in Singapore?

A wonderful campaign was launched in Singapore on Monday known as Singaporeans Against Poverty. It is being mentioned on radio, advertised in the newspapers, aired in cinemas, broadcast online with videos that would… make a middle class family cringe.

Given its extensive outreach, it is amazing that it isn’t a G campaign. Instead it is being led by Caritas, the social service arm of the Catholic church here. It has rounded up other affiliates, mainly Roman Catholic groups, to support the message. It is a big range, from guilds for doctors, nurses and lawyers to hospices and children’s homes.

Just what sort of message is it? It is to alert people here that there are poor in our midst, who do not complain about the price of cars and homes because they’re wondering about their next meal.

Singaporeans Are Poor Because The PAP Makes Us Poor

Acting Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong was quoted by the Channel NewsAsia as having said that, “while more should be spent to help the needy, the challenge is to maintain a progressive tax system and avoid getting into debt.

Anyone who has studied the finances in Singapore would be thoroughly confounded by what Lawrence is saying. Based on available figures, there is around S$1 trillion in the Singapore Financial Reserves. What debt is Lawrence talking about? Is he suggesting that if a few million dollars are spent to help the poor that Singapore will go bankrupt because of that?

Of course, this isn’t the first time Lawrence has befuddled Singaporeans with what he had said. In August this year, he had also said that, “Singaporean households are in good financial shape and even those who may have over-stretched themselves are unlikely to default on their loans should interest rates rise.” However, the reality is that, “[Household] debt to GDP (in Singapore) has risen steadily to 75% of GDP currently from 55% in 2010, 45% in 2005 and 38% in 2000.” Also, ”household leverage is (also said to be) high relative to other countries in the region, at 75% of GDP.”

A void deck is home, a marble bench a bed

For nearly two years, home for Mr Lim Cheng Teck, 76, was the void deck of a block of one-room flats in Bedok South. His bed was a marble bench.

One half of the bench held his essentials: a few bottles of talcum powder bottles (the empty ones doubling up as incense-sticks holders), food, utensils, lighters and a few other knick knacks.

He sat, had his meals and slept on the other half, using the elevated middle section of the bench as a pillow.

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Man who sleeps at Woodlands void deck daily referred to welfare organisations: Town Council

A young man who has been sleeping daily at the void deck of Block 892B at Woodlands Drive has been referred to welfare organisations, a town council spokesperson said.

On November 16, a resident wrote in to citizen journalism website Stomp expressing concern for the man's safety and health after observing that he has been sleeping at the block's void deck for several nights in a row.

Here is the Town Council's response in full: "We have brought the case up to the attention of Ms Serene Tan, Manager, Woodgrove Zone 5 Residents' Committee.

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Our homeless sleeping in public places

Last Fri night as I was leaving the coffee shop after my sojourn, I suddenly noticed that there was a surge in the homeless sleeping on the benches at the concrete shade. It was about 1am. A quick count showed more than 10 persons sleeping there. Their ages ranging from early 40s to 70s

Most of them carried a bag and used it as headrest. They didn’t look like foreign workers. They appeared to be locals. I believe this scenario is repeated all over our country. Just go to the Chinatown Buddha Tooth Relic temple vicinity, there is much more there but those are elderly folks living nearby.

I believe there are two types of homeless sleeping in public places. Those who have got a flat but choose to sleep in a public place vs those who are really homeless who have no choice but to sleep in a public place.

Poverty rampant among elderly residents living in Toa Payoh

Hope for resettled homeless through Project 4650

The problem of families found living in public parks and beaches peaked in 2009, at the height of the Asian financial crisis. A project to get the East Coast Park homeless resettled has garnered positive results. Project 4650, started in 2010, has helped about 230 families so far: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/hope-for-resettled/871112.html

What is the percentage of the 230 families to the total number of homeless families?

Since "On a daily basis we usually identify about 5 to 10 at that time and what we saw were families with very young children and it was a concern to us" - does it mean that the number in just a year may be about 2,738 families (7.5 a day times 365 days)?


There are at least 50 people who permanently live in tents in East Coast Park’s Area D.

They are there for a variety of reasons such as being kicked out of their flats by their ex husbands and wives, losing their flats due to losing their jobs, not being eligible for flats or simply not being able to afford to buy or rent a flat.

The camping community set up tents on the east coast beach and some go out to do odd jobs during the day to make some money.

Hope for resettled homeless through Project 4650

The New Paper, 19 Oct 2013

After divorcing his first wife two years ago, an operations executive has been living out of a van at East Coast Park.

The van belongs to the cleaning company he works for and he lives with his wife and daughter.
They are one of several families that spend the night in vehicles at that carpark while waiting for their flats. Full story

“No homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated.”
PM Lee's NDR promise: Every Singapore family who is working can afford their home

Photo credit: Gary Wang, RFSG
On Oct 21, The New Paper ran a story about a family living out of a van at the East Coast Park area. 2 things are glaring: one, the family has a three-room flat in Punggol they have applied for since last year, but they’re not able to move in because a $20,000 resale levy isn’t paid; two, They are one of several families that spend the night at vehicles at that carpark.

Meaning to say they are not alone. And if you noticed, the sole breadwinner earns $2,100 a month: net off his CPF employee contribution at 20%, and his effective monthly disposable income is $1,680 — still above the international definition of poverty, but poor enough to be poor in Singapore if you had a family to feed.

There have been calls for the imposition of a minimum wage, but the problem is determining what is an acceptable minimum wage rate: $1,500? $2,000? $2,500? Therein lies the difficulty of figuring what is an acceptable minimum wage, because whatever methodologies you used to work out the sum, the whole exercise at some point would seem arbitrary, because disposable incomes come into play with lifestyle choices, and there is no way you can come up with a matrix that covers all lifestyle preferences; in other words, you cannot have a condition where you make someone else better off, without making someone else worse off.
Singaporeans Against Poverty

After being asked again in Parliament, Singapore's government has emerged to put their foot down on poverty, this time to reinforce their stance against setting a poverty line. (You can read what Minister Chan Chun Sing said on the matter in the link below.)

This has sparked a new, and very timely, debate--and it comes just after Hong Kong set its poverty line at half the median household income level according to household size. That, in turn, translates into 1.3 million or one-fifth of its population living on HK$14,300 ($2,300) in monthly income for a four-person household.

So in the spirit of debate, we want to know what you think. Should Singapore define a poverty line? What are the pros and cons of doing so? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below. We're following closely what you guys are saying, even if we don't respond directly!


‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ is a campaign that aims to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. It springs from our concern for those in Singapore caught in the cycle of poverty despite our economic success.

Caritas Singapore and a coalition of partners decided to say let’s move out of our comfort zone to find out more about poverty. This journey started about two years ago. What we have learnt is incredibly sobering, but also very hopeful. Because when Singaporeans encounter issues on the ground, many show that they care. Too many of us still live in our cocoons.

We invite you to come out and join us on this mission. Be surprised at what you don’t know. And be inspired to act and make a difference.

26% Of Singaporeans Live Below Poverty Line In Singapore

According to The Straits Times, the “Singapore (government) is not considering having an official poverty line, as it would not fully reflect the severity and complexity of issues faced by the poor, and may also lead to those above the line missing out on assistance.”

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said that, “A poverty line does not fully reflect the severity and complexity of the issues faced by poor families, which could include ill health, lack of housing or weak family relationships. If we use a single poverty line to assess the family, we also risk a ‘cliff effect’, where those below the poverty line receive all forms of assistance, while other genuinely needy citizens outside the poverty line are excluded.”

This is not the first time that the government had been asked what our poverty line is. In 2011, when asked, Chan Chun Sing had said that, “Different countries adopt different approaches to help those in need, depending on their own unique situations.” He had also said that, “Other countries such as Canada do not have a poverty line, but adopt an income threshold, determined using family expenditure data, in guiding its assessment of the populace’s needs.”

"Working poor" in Singapore can't make ends meet: NUS

A new study has shown that the working poor in Singapore are not getting enough pay to make ends meet. “Working poor" is defined as a working person whose income per household member is less than half of the national median per capita household income of Singapore, which now stands at S$1,920.

The survey on poverty attitudes by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Social Work Department showed that those who need money want to work, and that there are jobs available for them. It has been reported that there are more than 300,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents who earn less than S$1,500 a month (excluding employer CPF contributions) despite working full-time.

The study, released yesterday, showed that 66.4 per cent of respondents said there are jobs available for aid recipients who want to work. But 85 per cent said these jobs are not paying enough for them to support a family.

Homeless in Singapore?

Where do the homeless go? There seems to be a perception that people in homeless shelters normally don’t get evicted, I have come across many cases of eviction and notice of eviction from homeless shelters. Perpetual queue of homeless? As I understand it, homeless shelters are almost invariably always full, with new homeless people all the time. So, unless one is evicted or threatened with eviction, they wouldn’t know actually whether they can fend for themselves, as most people will not volunteer to leave a homeless shelter

Interim Housing Scheme - Those in the Interim Housing Scheme also get evicted because they cannot pay their rental. How many homeless in shelters? By the way, how many homeless shelters are there in Singapore, how many people are housed in total, and who runs them? In this regard, I understand that homeless shelters do not have signboards or names, telephone numbers or web sites.

Homeless rising? I also understand that the last time it was reported in Parliament, the number of homeless picked up by the authorities, had increased by 50 per cent or something.

Homeless in Singapore’s Island Paradise

You may recall that I wrote about the sad case of Rebecca Loh and the tragic consequences of our government’s callous policy of self- reliance at all costs. Recently I was saddened again by the plight of another victim of similar callousness though as yet still mercifully without the same tragic consequences.

I know of Madam L’s case because she had called our office to ask for help. Yesterday I met up with her along with the assistance of one of our Hokkien speaking members. Before this our means of communication had been restricted to Malay. (My generation of Singaporeans were taught in English but non-Chinese learnt Malay as a second language.)

I will tell her story as she told it although we are still working on her case and no doubt more details will emerge. I believe it is not atypical.

"I really pity your old folk in Singapore," says Burmese domestic helper
Is this how our elderly should spend their twilight years?

Apparently, Clarice (not her real name) thinks that old folks in Myanmar have a much better deal than our cardboard and can-collecting, table wiping old folks. "The retirement age is in Myanmar is 60, and it's strictly enforced by the government," the 26 year old said.

Hailing from rural Thabaung in southwest Myanmar, Clarice has been in Singapore for three years and enjoys working here. She earns over $400 a month here, as compared to about $100 a month back home.

The higher pay, however, does come with far longer hours. Clarice works an average of 14 hours a day in Singapore, as compared to seven back home. She also works everyday in Singapore, with an off day every fortnight, as compared to 35 hour weeks (five-day work week) back home.

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How Much Do You Need To Earn To Survive In Singapore?

I had used these assumptions about the person’s expenditure:
  • Around $100 goes to CPF monthly
  • Spends $10 everyday on food ($300 monthly)
  • Spends about $3 everyday on transport ($100 monthly)
  • Spends about $200 monthly on rental (if able to apply for subsidised housing)
  • Pays bills of around $100 monthly
You can see that if a person spends on the most basic things, and if he/she earns only $800, he/she would not be able to save at all.

But there’s more. The real incomes of low-income earners are likely to keep falling, as they had over the past decade (Chart 2)

Two women, one constant struggle
They say that disaster strikes when you least expect it

In recent years, “disaster" definitely struck two women, Madam Sidah binte Yusoff, 50, and Madam Seri Ayurani Fadillah, 55. They reside in York Hill, widely known as one of the poorest estates in Singapore. Most of the 12 blocks there house rental apartments for the under privileged.
Both of them has worked since they were 14 years old but have had to stop after being struck by illnesses in the last few years. Their poor health has hampered their ability to work.
Now, both of them are surviving on less than $500, some of which are given by the Community Development Council (CDC). They receive further assistance from charities such as Yong-en Care Centre, which provides them with monthly food donations. Besides Yong-en, others include ONE Singapore, which is part of a worldwide group that aims to end poverty and inequality, 4PM, The Soup Kitchen Project and New Hope Community Services. For a full list of registered charities, go to Charity Portal

Are Singapore's poor better off?
Wan Zaleha at the Sunlove Marsiling Neighbourhood Link Centre on 2 February, 2012
Wan Zaleha volunteers at a centre for needy people; she herself lives in low-income public housing

For the last six years, from Mondays to Saturdays, the 72-year-old has served as a volunteer, making tea and coffee for residents living in one-room apartments in the neighbourhood.

She lives in one of the one-room apartments - which average 30 sq.m and cost S$23 ($19, £12) to S$205 ($165, £104) a month to rent from the government depending on household income. She is not employed and receives groceries worth S$70 from individual donors every month.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos recently that although it was ''no fun'' being poor in Singapore, people were still ''less badly off'' than the poor in other countries, including the US.

We are a group of senior citizens, retired and congregating in Chinatown almost daily to lament our pathetic state of existence consequent of flawed government policies.

Most of us bought such studio apartments on a 30 years lease filled to the brim with legal encumbrances and cash up-front for the purchase because neither HDB nor any commercial banks would grant us loans given our elderly age and with no income.

We are appalled to learn of the newer 99-years lease flat offered to people above 35-years on a monthly income of no more than $5,000 and at S$75,000 (going to S$16,000 with conditional discount of S$60,000). These flats do not have the tight legal encumbrances that our flats have. We feel cheated and betrayed.

Caring for the Elderly in Singapore: Are We Doing Enough?

After reading last week’s news about an 82-year-old Singaporean man being abandoned by his family in Johor Bahru, I decided to do a bit of research on the state of elderly care in Singapore.

Let’s start by looking at the living arrangements of elderly residents in Singapore, defined as citizens and permanent residents aged 65 and above.

From the chart below, you can see that elderly residents who live with their spouses and/or children constitute around 85% of the total elderly population. The remaining 15% either live alone, with other elderly persons, or have other living arrangements (such as living in nursing homes etc.).

The Under Privileged In Singapore- Part 1

By nature, everyday, without fail each day of brightness at sunset gives way to an entire night of darkness albeit lit up by street lights and all kinds of man-made lightings throughout the land. Similarly, socially, it is inevitable that beneath the bright side of almost every aspect on this land, there are corresponding dark sides underneath. Real and genuinely human but obscurely "hidden and buried" below the gleaming success of this gigantic modern man-made metropolitan artifact.

Going one layer deeper, we may encounter some old lady, back bended pushing well-stacked and nicely tied-up discarded card boxes on an old trolley. This may just appear as an outlier in an otherwise highly successful model city-state in the world. Going another layer deeper, we may see middle-aged penny pinching and frugal neighbourhood housewives riding on bicycles with DIY "seats" secured behind the riders. They could be ferrying their children to and from school.

Who are all these neighbourhood housewives and what are their backgrounds?

Old and abandoned

There is a growing number of elderly Singaporeans being abandoned by their families in nearby foreign countries.

An 82-year-old man found hungry and wandering in Johor Baru has sparked the discovery of several cases of elderly Singaporeans abandoned by their families in neighbouring towns and cities.

Once confined to hospitals and old folks’ homes in Singapore, these cases have now apparently migrated to nearby countries

Charity begins at home and in your workplace

Mr Guru and his family
Aged 50+ years old, Mr Guru had been unable to work due to an amputated foot and other physical complications. He has two teenage boys and is currently on a social welfare scheme. Life has been tough and challenging for him as the handouts provided by the charity organisation run out fast and food given would usually be finished before the month ends.

Madam Leong
Aged 70+, Madam Leong lives alone.
As the volunteers entered her home, they sensed a strong stench in the air because there was poor ventilation – the windows were closed. Her home was dimly lit. Many small red and blue bags filled with old clothes and newspapers scattered around.

Mr Gan
Mr Gan lost his wife recently after she suffered from a chronic debilitating disease for some years. Similarly, he suffered a stroke recently and has stopped working due to his disability.
Tears rolled down his cheeks as he expressed he that he missed his late wife and found life meaningless without her at his side. Eric and Jovary consoled him and asked him to be strong, and to find strength and courage.

Madam Heng and her family
Madam Heng works as a cleaner and earns $800 per month at a nearby food court. She revealed that her husband was admitted to hospital due to cancer. Tears trickled down from her eyes as she spoke, as she was worried about her husband’s hospital bills. The volunteers assured her that the social service would assist her financially and told her not to worry too much as the doctors and nurses in the hospital would take good care of him and provide him with excellent healthcare

related: Rebecca’s story

How Many Portions Of Help, Sir?

This article from today's edition of TODAY talks about Singapore's version of a welfare scheme. Welfare-fearing rhetoric from our leaders aside, Singapore is not so heartless that we don't have any welfare schemes at all -- we do

It's called the Public Assistance scheme. There are only about 3,000 households are on it. I am not sure if that's because there are only 3,000 households that need this kind of assistance, or because of the stringency of the eligibility requirements, viz. Singapore citizens who (a) are unable to work owing to old age, illness or unfavourable family circumstances; AND (b) have no means of subsistence and no family members to depend on. (underlining added)

There is a cash grant component to it, with the amounts on a sliding scale depending on household size and the number of adults and children in the household. A single-adult household is currently given $260 per month, but this number is due to rise to $290 per month.

Poor? Government “will deliver meals to you”

At a forum organised by REACH, the government’s online feedback portal, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said:
“If you were a poor person, anywhere on this planet, Singapore is the one place where you will have a roof over your head, where you will have food on the table. Even if you can’t afford it, we will have meals delivered to you.”

Dr Balakrishnan did not clarify who he meant by “we” when he said “…we will have meals delivered to you.” One assumes that he is referring to the government, or more specifically, his own ministry. If this were so, it would run contrary to what we have witnessed on the ground. In my interaction with various sections of poor people and homeless people in Singapore, I have yet to come across any government department or ministry which provides free meals to those who cannot afford them

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Who says there's no free lunch in Singapore?

Although Singapore is one the richest countries in Asia, there are many poor people in its midst who cannot afford the soaring food price and the high cost of living.

Many of the needy are the silent workforce - foreign workers. Their salary are so low that Singaporeans would not take these jobs. Most of their salaries are sent home to their families or pay off up to a year's worth of debts

Help is available for the needy. Yes, there is such a thing as free lunch in Singapore. Some religious associations and welfare groups provide free meals. The bills are sponsored by members of these groups and business people. Here are some of the places that provide free meals:

'Sleepers' in Singapore
"There are no homeless, destitute or starving people [in Singapore]…Poverty has been eradicated." - Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's permanent representative to the UN

"You go down New York, Broadway. You will see the beggars, people of the streets...Where are the beggars in Singapore? Show me." - Lee Kuan Yew

"There are no homeless people in Singapore because they are called SLEEPERS Singapore is ingenious we have gotten rid of homelessness without spending a single cent" - Lucky Tan

Everytime I work late and pass by the bus interchange near my place, I notice the growing number of homeless at the bus interchange. Each pillar at the bus interchange now as a permanent resident (PR). You ever wonder why the homeless sleep next to pillars....so that the tired people coming back from work don't step on them when they sleep. Since every pillar is now occupied, I wondered where a new homeless person would go. The Sunday Times has the answer

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There is no poverty (line) in Singapore

Singapore has no beggers because they will be picked up by the police before long. We have no poverty, because Singapore has no official poverty line. This is the same as saying that Singapore’s TV license fee is “one of the lowest” in the world, without revealing the fact that many countries do not charge for TV license fees at all. Technically it remains correct that Singapore has one of the lowest license fees since there aren’t many countries out there that charge for it anyway.

Similarly, we can also say that Singapore has free speech because we’ve got the Speaker’s Corner, Hong Lim Park where anybody can say anything without getting arrested (but still face the prospects of being crushed with civil defamation lawsuits).

If 3 years of university education in “one of the world’s top”, “world class” university here in Singapore has taught me anything, it has taught me how not to be deceived by mere statistics or unsubstantiated claims. It has also taught me to view mainstream media reports with skepticism

Being Poor Is Your Own Fault

At the dinner table was a friend holding a USA passport, trying to explain the 401K system. He also compared Social Security with our CPF system, the key difference being that CPF is our own individual money. Social Security is a pool, from which the needy has access to contributions from the well off. If your CPF account can't even meet with Minimum Sum requirements, even Bill Gates can't help you. With CPF, you die, your problem.

The Economist really nailed it when they wrote about "The Stingy Nanny", providing the best quote about the (lack of) welfare in Singapore:
"The state's attitude can be simply put: being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom. The emphasis on family extends into old age: retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste. Singapore may be a nanny state, but it is by no means an indulgent nanny."
The author has obviously done his/her research well, with insights accessible only from the ground level:

Singapore policies force some onto streets

“If you were a poor person, anywhere on this planet, Singapore is the one place where you will have a roof over your head, where you will have food on the table. Even if you can’t afford it, we will have meals delivered to you. You will get healthcare.”
No shame in being poor

I fully agree with speedwing that there is no shame is being poor. Often in life a person is dealt a poor hand and got to live with it and make the best out of it.

For the religious, there are many reasons for life to be this way or that way. Society has looked at poverty differently. There is often the intent to want to help, but just enough for the poor to continue to eke out a living, to extend their life in misery. No poor people can expect society to feed them and cloth them and to live well. But the poor needs help and help will be given, on conditions.

This brings to the issue of means testing. My personal view on this is that the poor is already poor, help them if one can, no need to humiliate them more by subjecting them to embarrassing questions. The argument that there will be those who aren't really poor but will take advantage of the help given is valid but not really that serious. This can be dealt with on a case by case basis. The people in authority somehow find it so easy and comfortable to ask for means testing. What is means testing? Basically it demands a person to be stripped naked for another person or a group of people to see, to inspect his finances.
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S'pore dad, 82, found weak, dirty and hungry in JB after being dumped by family

An 82-year-old Singaporean father was found on the streets of Johor Bahru -- dirty, hungry and weak after being abandoned by his family

According to a report in The New Paper, the man was picked up by the Malaysian police, repatriated and sent to a home for the destitute here two months ago. The man is one of a number of elderly Singaporeans who have been abandoned overseas.

Social workers say his case is not unique, as Singaporeans have also been allegedly abandoned in Indonesia and China. A source familiar with the case said the man claimed he was abandoned by a family member and had a son in Singapore. While he could walk, he was very weak and in a wheelchair.

Single mom’s heart-breaking struggle in Singapore

Yahoo! Newsroom Videos - Irfan is one of three children of Madam Salbiah, whose story is told in the multimedia feature documentary "Growing Up With Less". (Screengrab from video)

Most women deliver their babies with blessings from their families, but Madam Salbiah Wahab gave birth to her third child alone in tears and in debt.

Her husband walked out on her barely a month before that painful day. She was saddled with her husband’s debts, payment for their five-room flat and three children to bring up. The then-housewife was at a loss on what to do.
Hers is but one of many stories of low-income families in Singapore. Despite the country’s stellar economic performance, there are still many who are struggling to make ends meet.

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New tables, beds for needy family

Madam Yvonne Chan, 48, knew for a long time that she needed to buy new furniture, such as tables, for her two children. She would share the kitchen table with her sons, aged nine and 11, who used it to do their school homework.

But as she earns less than $1,000 a month, from the three jobs she juggles - including being a supermarket retail assistant - after her husband died of a heart attack four years ago, Madam Chan never made the purchases in the end.

"My boys are still growing up, so I have to buy essentials such as food first before even thinking about furniture. I have to watch our expenses," she said.

Raiding the homeless – in the middle of the night
Raiding the homeless – in the middle of the night

They have been camped out there for months, but no one from the government agencies seem to have known about them – perhaps until The Online Citizen’s report on 13 January

TOC had reported that some 15 homeless families were camped out in tents at Sembawang Park. Three days after TOC’s revelation, on 16 January, Saturday, at around 10pm, officers from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), and NParks, together with some 10 policemen, swooped down on the park.

When TOC arrived at the scene at about 10.50pm, there were two police cars and a pick-up van. Some of the homeless were seen dismantling their tents. When queried about why they were being asked to do so, the NParks officers said the campers had broken “rules and regulations”, even though most of them still had valid camping permits. The summons referred to Section 9(1)(a) of the Parks and Trees Regulation Act 2005 which makes it an offence to conduct a barbeque without a permit, among other things. The camping permit does not include permission to barbeque, apparently.

Meet Singapore’s nomad families

For four years, the newly-weds lived on the beach. From 2003 to 2007, they lived off their catch from the sea, did odd jobs, and washed in public toilets.

At 16, Madam Siti (not her real name), a Primary 4 dropout, married Mr Osman (not his real name), 25, despite parental objections. They were ostracised by both their families.

They lived in a series of pitched tents at Changi, East Coast, then Sembawang beach. When Madam Siti gave birth, her sister and in-laws took them in for a few months before conflicts drove them out to the beach. This went on till last year.

Poverty has been eradicated in Singapore? Think again!
"You go down New York, Broadway. You will see the beggars, people of the streets...Where are the beggars in Singapore? Show me." - Lee Kuan Yew
"There are no homeless, destitute or starving people [in Singapore]…Poverty has been eradicated." - Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's permanent representative to the UN
These political elites must be living in a different world from the rest of us: There is no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore, they are being picked up up by MCYS to be housed and loose their freedom forever. See MCYS picks up more homeless individuals (2011, alternate url link). Some poor old folks who treasure their freedom resort to selling tissues and collecting cardboards and aluminium cans, anything but begging to avoid being pick up by MCYS officers.

[Updated 19 Nov 2011] The Straits Times report today has an excellent special report titled "Running On Empty" detailing many of the plights faced by the lower class citizens struggling for survival, people who have very low wages to families laden with mental patients. I suggest Mr Lee and Kishore to have a read of the special report. Poverty eradicated? Our poors are probably faced the worst and disadvantage situation amongst the first world nations with no welfare and tiny social safety net to fall back on!
[Updated 25 Sep 2013: Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “We do have a problem because we do have a large number of households, who are earning income in the lower end, not having enough to cover their household expenditure, especially at the lower 20 per cent.” Source]

The unofficial history of the poor in Singapore? (Part 4)

Referencing to the article “Relief for some bankrupts” published on Straits Times in 30 August 1994 states: “Relief for some bankrupts BY ITSELF, the more than three-fold increase in the number of undischarged bankrupts in Singapore from 4.297 in 1984 to 13,733 at end-1993 is not reason enough for a major overhaul of the bankruptcy laws.”

There are 4,297 undischarged bankrupts in 1984. Moving on to the 19 May 1997 edition of Business Times Singapore, ”S’PORE HAS MOST BANKRUPTS PER MILLION PEOPLE IN REGION.” by Siow Li Sen - “S’pore has most bankrupts per million people in region. High number reflects efficiency of bankruptcy process, says survey.

SINGAPORE has the highest number of bankrupts per million population in the region despite a decline in the number of new bankrupt cases within the last three years..”

The Unofficial history of the poor in S’pore? (Part 3)
The unofficial history of the poor in S’pore? (Part 2)
The unofficial history of the poor in Singapore? (Part 1)
History of Bankruptcy in Singapore

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Tent Village: Singapore’s nomad families

More than 10 families live in East Coast Park’s ‘Tent Village’

Chinese newspaper Zaobao reported that East Coast Park is now a “tent village” where not only more than a dozen people have set up camp, but is also headed by a 29-year-old “village headman”. Most campers were forced into this “temporary shelter” while they wait for their rental HDB flat.

Newspaper received readers informed that the area along the east coast there are many large tents, as a self-sufficiency of the “village.”

According to the newspaper, the  “Tent Village” is in a location which is hidden from most members of the public, not far from a construction site, but near public toilets, which is convenient for the campers.

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The Surprising Truth About The Homeless In Singapore

As I was walking through Chinatown last week, I passed a man. His shirt was dirty. He smelled bad. He looked sick and was maybe developmentally challenged. He seemingly carried all his possessions in two plastic bags.

Yes, there are homeless people even in prosperous Singapore.

As he passed I thought about the $50 bill I had in my wallet that I was saving for milk, lunch or a taxi. After a few seconds, I turned around to go give it to him but he was gone.

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1,000 street homeless found in Singapore
Elderly in Singapore need S$1,379 a month
Singapore in the 1950s to 1990s
Singapore in bottom 10 of countries tackling inequality
The Surprising Truth About The Homeless In Singapore
Tent Village: Singapore’s nomad families
Singapore: Best Place to Live and Work
Plight Of The Tissue Peddlers
Have you ever Spoken to a Cardboard Uncle or Aunty?
Singapore’s Story: What comes next
Singapore at 50: From swamp to skyscrapers
Singapore Good Old Times
The Poor & Homeless in Singapore
Support for the Needy and Elderly
The Singapore Story
Other Side of The Singapore Story

ChasingThe Singapore Dream
To Be Or Not To Be Singaporeans
Longing for the good old days
Singapore: A Sampan or a Cruise ship?
Singapore at 50: From swamp to skyscrapers
Singapore is ‘World’s Costliest City To Live In’
Coping with Inflation & Cost Of Living
COL goes Up, Up, Up!
Singapore “Swiss” Standard of Living
Tackling poverty the 'kuih lapis' way
Callings for a Poverty Line
Setting a poverty line may not be helpful
A minimum wage for Singapore?

No homeless,destitute starving people in S'pore:Poverty eradicated
Growing Up With Less
Singapore Is The World’s Most Expensive City
Singapore still the best country for expats