On 10 September, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) held its inaugural PSP Talk series. PSP Talk is an initiative by the party to bring thought leaders and subject matter experts together to share insights and exchange ideas on national issues as well as to encourage the sharing of different perspectives.
Moderated by advocate and non-practising lawyer Khush Chopra, the inaugural PSP Talk focused on the topic of poverty in Singapore and policy gaps in the social safety nets.
Mr Chopra said in his opening statement, “We are, by all accounts, a rich country, but we have poor people in our midst. The question is, despite the great progress that Singapore has made and the economic miracle that the PAP government has delivered, why is it that we have left large sections of the population behind?”
Mr Chopra was joined by well-respected economist and a “veteran of big-picture economic issues that affect Singapore” Mr Yeoh Lam Keong who gave a presentation on three major reforms that the government can take to strengthen the social safety net in Singapore and help lift thousands of citizens up from absolute poverty.
Also present was PSP Secretary-General Dr Tan Cheng Bock who explained, “It is my intention to get Singaporeans to understand policies better. And it is also the policy of my new party [PSP]. We must know the facts well. We cannot just go and rely on newspaper cuttings data.”
As part of his presentation, Mr Yeoh, who is best known for being the former Chief Economist of GIC, started off by talking about his time in the GIC and how he came to be coordinating and conducting a study on poverty in Singapore in 2007.
He said, “To my shock and horror, I realised that the position of the poor in Sg was much worse and much more awful than I can imagine. So that struck me.”
Mr Yeoh said the findings were then presented several senior government officials and that it was well-received. However, while the government was open to and did opt to take on some of the recommendations put forth, it was a slow process that left many gaps until today.
Mr Yeoh then focused his presentation on presenting those findings. He explained the concept of ‘absolute poor’ and talked about the three categories of poor people: the working poor, elderly poor, and unemployed poor.
He then went on to explain several reform recommendations that could effectively help the poor in Singapore, from increasing payouts on Workfare Income Supplements and Silver Support Schemes as well as introducing a comprehensive national unemployment protection scheme and making all those schemes automatic.