Sunday, October 27, 2013

Address Poverty, Not The Shadow of Poverty : Why Defining A Poverty Line Is Ineffective ?

MR TIMOTHY Lim Wei Chong argues that setting a poverty line will increase awareness of income inequality and spur action from the state and community ("Poverty line sets clear benchmark for all"; 25th October).But he also concedes that defining the poverty line will "inevitably result in groups on the margins losing out".

I believe the Government's current approach of addressing various facets of poverty - deprivation along the lines of education and health care - is more effective. In considering this issue, it is important to not conflate measuring poverty and defining the poverty line.
Poverty measurement entails objectively looking at how Singaporeans fare on various indicators.Data on the education levels and wages of Singaporeans are examples. Such measurements will enable the public to better understand the problem of poverty in Singapore. A poverty line is unnecessary.
When a poverty line is defined, a target is set simply based on an indicator taken to be more important.A case in point is Hong Kong's poverty line, which is pegged at half of the median wage.

Certainly, there are other factors which influence whether citizens are deprived of access to basic necessities, yet they are excluded, leading to a distorted view of poverty.
When the poverty line is fixed, it is likely that the state and public will be fixated on it.

Certainly, setting targets to alleviate poverty is important, but I believe it is more effective to set specific goals based on a broad range of metrics rather than pursue a general goal.

This is the Government's current approach. It is pushing for higher wages for low-wage workers, strengthening the social safety net and ensuring that education and health care are available to all. Such a multi-pronged approach will yield better results.

Perhaps the problem of poverty and the progress made in resolving it are less obvious due to the fragmented approach in addressing it.To raise public awareness, the Government could perhaps release a comprehensive report regularly on the state of the underprivileged, citing key indicators such as wages, access to education and affordability of essential goods.

Becoming more aware of any problem is an important first step.Specifying the poverty line gives one the illusion of grasping and addressing the complex problem.

It is the nuanced measurement of the poverty, combined with specific targets and precise action, which will be most effective in reducing it.

We need to address poverty, not the shadow of poverty. 

*This is my article that The Strait Times published on 26th October 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Pls think again, what you have written, 10 years ago, it was a similar principle, the statistics do not lie and besides our labour participation rate has dropped to 54% from 66%.