Oxfam inequality index: Singapore achieves real outcomes rather than satisfies indicators, says Desmond Lee

Oxfam inequality index: Singapore achieves real outcomes rather than satisfies indicators, says Desmond Lee

singapore skyline
View of Singapore's skyline from a building. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Rather than satisfy a “collection of ideologically driven indicators”, Singapore instead set out to achieve "real outcomes" in health, education, jobs and housing, Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development, said on Tuesday (Oct 9).

An Oxfam inequality index, released by the global developmental charity earlier on Tuesday, placed Singapore 149 out of 157 countries based on efforts to tackle the inequality gap.

Oxfam attributed Singapore’s low score in the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index 2018 to the country’s “harmful tax practices”, such as tax incentives for certain industries and the relatively low personal income tax for high earners.

Mr Lee took issue with Oxfam’s assumption that high taxation and high public expenditure equates commitment to combatting inequality, instead stating it is more important to look at the outcomes achieved.

"In Oxfam’s view, Singapore’s biggest failing is our tax rates, which are not punitive enough. The top income tax rate is only 22 per cent the report says.

"Yes, the income tax burden on Singaporeans is low. And almost half the population do not pay any income tax. Yet they benefit more than proportionately from the high quality of infrastructure and social support that the state provides," Mr Lee said in a statement.

Oxfam also criticised Singapore’s relatively low level of public social spending in education, health and social protection.

"In education, our students consistently outperform others in international rankings," Mr Lee said. "In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), our 15-year-olds rank first for mathematics, science and reading, and our students from the poorest families perform significantly better than their counterparts in OECD countries.

"We spend only 4.6 per cent of our GDP on healthcare, Oxfam notes. But look at the outcomes. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks us 2nd in the world for healthcare outcomes and the World Health Organisation ranks our healthcare system 6th. Life expectancy at birth is much longer than Britain or the United States, and infant mortality among the lowest in the world."

The minister said that while Singapore does not have a minimum wage, it does have income support for low-income workers, schemes for worker upskilling and a progressive wage model for certain low-wage jobs.

"Both lower income and median households have experienced faster income growth over the last decade than most countries at similar income levels.

"That we achieved all of this with lower taxes and lower spending than most countries is to Singapore’s credit rather than discredit," he added.

Source: CNA/ec