Singapore government says Oxfam inequality index flawed

Romesh Navaratnarajah10 Oct 2018

Around 90% of Singaporeans own their own homes and no other country comes close, noted Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development. 

Instead of satisfying ideologically driven indicators, the city-state sets out to achieve real outcomes in education, health and housing, said Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development.

He said this to refute an Oxfam index, which ranked Singapore 149th out of 157 countries on efforts to reduce inequality, reported the New Paper.

More: Singapore Fares Poorly On Tackling Inequality

He noted that the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRI) assumed that high public spending and taxation reflect a commitment to combat inequality.

As such, Singapore was ranked last on progressive tax policy, which is one of the three key areas measured.

“We think it is more important to look at the outcomes achieved instead,” said Lee. “The report itself recognises this limitation.”

He explained that while the city-state imposes a low income tax burden, Singaporeans benefited more than proportionately from high quality infrastructure and social support.

In fact, 90 percent of Singaporeans have their own homes and among the poorest 10 percent of households, 84 percent are homeowners.

“No other country comes close.”

The minister also cited the city-state’s performance in international rankings for healthcare and education, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in responding to criticism of its relatively low level of public spending on these areas.

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

In concurring with the minister, analysts said that while Singapore is not perfect, the CRI Index failed to fully look at other efforts made to reduce inequality.

National University of Singapore economist Sumit Agarwal noted that many programmes aimed at redistributing wealth were not taken into account by the report, such as the Silver Support Scheme.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan described the report’s methodology as simplistic and prescriptive.

“The report puts every country through a cookie cutter, but what works for Denmark may not be suitable for Singapore,” he said.

Can you afford a house in Singapore? Check your affordability now.


Romesh Navaratnarajah, Senior Editor at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email


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