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Singapore ranks among bottom 10 globally on tackling inequality: Oxfam

SINGAPORE is ranked among the bottom 10 countries globally on tackling inequality, according to an Oxfam International study released on Tuesday.

The organisation called on policymakers here to strengthen labour rights, enact anti-discrimination laws, and increase social spending, while the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in turn delivered a blistering response to Oxfam's report.

Oxfam ranked Singapore 149 out of the 157 countries that it studied. A comparison to the country's previous year's performance on the index is not meaningful as the methodology for the study has changed.

The index looks at three factors, beginning with a country's social spending on public services such as education, health and social protection. Singapore fares poorly by Oxfam's standards as the country's spending on education, health and social protection combined is "well below" countries such as South Korea and Thailand, which spent half their budget in these areas, said Oxfam. Singapore is also one of the few remaining countries that does not have a universal minimum wage.

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Oxfam also looks at the rate of progressive taxation, saying that Singapore "under-taxes" wealthy individuals and corporations. It finally looks at the way in which a country assesses representation and legal rights of women in the workforce - here, Oxfam flagged that the country has no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women.

The organisation cites data constraints among other things as a limitation in assessing structural policies such as land policy and corporate governance. It also looks at factors that may have no direct impact on social redistribution, such as taxation policies on foreign corporations.

Oxfam said it ranks governments on inequality by looking at their policies, noting that this will allow citizens to hold governments accountable to their progress in committing to reduce inequality and eradicate poverty through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In a press statement, Matthew Martin, Development Finance International’s director, said: “What’s most striking is how clearly the index shows us that combating inequality isn’t about being the wealthiest country or the one of the biggest economy. It’s about having the political will to pass and put into practice the policies that will narrow the gap between the ultra rich and the poor."

Meanwhile, the MSF issued a statement on Tuesday evening, saying that the Oxfam report "assumes that high taxation and high public expenditure reflects commitment to combatting inequality".

"We think it is more important to look at the outcomes achieved, instead," the ministry said, pointing to the Republic's home ownership rate and international education rankings, as well as healthcare outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality.

"We do not have a minimum wage, but we have income support for low-income workers, generous schemes for worker upskilling and a progressive wage model for certain low wage jobs," added the ministry.

It also said that lower-income and median-income households here "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," the MSF said.

"We set out to achieve real outcomes for our people - good health, education, jobs and housing - rather than satisfy a collection of ideologically driven indicators."

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