The Poor in Singapore – On Social Mobility and the Unfair Advantage

The recent haze has triggered some reflection. As I don on my HEPA mask, one that I have purchased years ago for commuting on a bicycle while attracting weird stares at the same time, I can’t help but notice those who are wearing a mask and those who are not.

My observation so far (don’t take my word for it) are that people who are usually less well to do are those without sufficient protection from the haze, yet having to work outdoors most of the time. These are the cleaners, construction workers and many more. On the other hand, those who are wearing a mask, are usually those who are more health-conscious, probably due to their higher educational level. And these are usually the ones who spend their time mostly in the office without exposure to the elements. The rich ones who work outdoor on the other hand can well afford a mask.

If the haze can be such a polarising factor, imagine how many other aspects of life are the poor disadvantaged.

Ask the youth in Singapore who do they want to help and I believe that many will mention overseas service-learning trip. It seems that we have forgotten that there are poor people in this rich nation.

Singapore has one of the highest social mobility in the world. But let us not kid ourselves by telling ourselves that it is an ideal situation here. It is true that if you are good enough to enter a local University, you not be denied entry because you are poor, due to the wide-ranging financial support that we have for students. But what if you are not good enough, just simply missing the mark by a little? Someone from a poor family scoring mediocre grade will have to convince him/herself that it is time to start working. While a child from a rich family can then look for plans to study overseas. At the same time, rich families can always pump in money to hire the best tutors, provide a nice environment free of worries. Even pigs can fly with the wind strong enough.

But that being said, should we blame the rich? Or do we discount the success of the kids born in rich family? We shouldn’t. No matter how much investment one puts into a child, it is up to the child to act as a factor for the multiplier effect. If the child puts in zero effort, then anything multiplied with zero is zero. And ask yourself if you would do the same as a parent. Most would want the best for their child. And the rich families have their own set of problems not faced by those from middle or low-income families.

What we need to do perhaps, is to always question if there are ways to better the situation and constantly work against the system so that we are able to prevent people getting stuck in a vicious cycle. It takes just one tragedy for one to sink into poverty, like what my family have encountered. But it may take many miracles to lift one from it.