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Simplistic to think the problems of the poorest are just rooted in a reduced paycheck

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The purpose of Minimum Wage is to alleviate the problems of poverty of our poorest and allowing them to lead dignified lives, says Facebook user Yishen Kuik. But the problems of our poorest are not just rooted in a reduced paycheck from a money grubbing Scrooge of a boss – that is too simplistic a world view, he added.

There is often a background of mental health, medical conditions or other disability that make them unable to produce work to justify such a wage, Yishen said.

Much has been said about introducing the Minimum Wage of $1300 in Singapore.

Minimum wage and poverty: the examples of US and Australia

The US introduced the minimum wage in 1938. Since then, the minimum wage has been revised many times. But poverty has not been eliminated. Indeed, poverty has remained a significant problem in the US. Nearly 40 millions Americans live in poverty. Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report

Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world. Poverty in Australia 2020published by Analysis and Policy Observatory reported that the poverty rate in Australia is worse than in most other wealthy countries.

Elsewhere in countries that have the minimum wage, the situation is pretty much the same.

32,000 earning less than $1300

During the debate on the minimum wage in Parliament, Dr Koh Poh Koon said that 32,000 workers earned less than $1300 a month. He also said that this figure included people with disabilities.

What is missing from the discussion on minimum wage was why some workers are earning below $1300, Yishen said. He estimated that 32,000 represents 1.3% of the resident workforce based on a 2.4 million resident workforce.

2.5% of every population cohort has an IQ of 70 or less, he said.

He expected that quite a few of the 32,000 workers earning less than $1300 to be:

  1. older male breadwinners who have suffered a stroke
  2. working adults with reduced intelligence
  3. adults who suffer from conditions such as autism, Down’s or other syndromes that impair their ability

He gave the example of his uncle who once owned an auto repair shop but now worked for a fast food restaurant as a cleaner after a stroke, a job that he said ‘provided a paycheck and a purpose’.

The work of VWOs and MSF

“Many good Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore under the coordination of the Ministry of Social and Family Development toil silently out of the spotlight to help these individuals with their respective problems to earn a living with dignity – grants for training, exemptions from COE, wage supplements, job placement assistance,” he said.

“The purpose of Minimum Wage is to alleviate the problems of poverty of our poorest and allowing them to lead dignified lives. But the problems of our poorest are not just rooted in a reduced paycheck from a money grubbing Scrooge of a boss – that is too simplistic a world view.

There is often a background of mental health, medical conditions or other disability that make them unable to produce work to justify such a wage. In the weeds you will find many social workers and civil servants trying to figure out the very messy real world solutions that just go beyond a simple prescription.”

Indeed, it takes much more than wages to help the poorest. This is why MSF has taken a holistic approach to helping people including the homeless.

Last year, in an interview with The Straits Times, then Minister for MSF, Desmond Lee said:
In Singapore, a family with complicated needs typically requires help from different agencies from the public and private sectors, such as MSF, Housing Board, Central Provident Fund Board, Ministry of Education and religious and charity groups.

It takes more than a minimum wage.

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