Being a country that strives to be first/biggest/best in all we do, the fact that we’re near the bottom of this list is probably something that’s hard to swallow for our nation’s leaders. On The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018, which is a global ranking of governments based on their efforts in tackling the gap between the rich and the poor, Singapore came in at the low, low place of 149.
Singapore plummeted 63 places from its 86th position last year, falling below Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar (#138), Cambodia (#121), Vietnam (#99), Indonesia (#90), Malaysia (#75), and Thailand (#74). Out of 157 countries, we were positioned just below Bangladesh and above Laos, which was followed by Madagascar, Bhutan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Haiti, and Uzbekistan, with Nigeria coming in last.
At the top of the index, Denmark took first spot, followed by Germany, Finland, Austria, Norway, Belgium, Sweden, France, Iceland, and Luxembourg. Representing our region, Japan was the only Asian country in the top 15, coming in at 11th place.
The annual list is compiled by Oxfam, a UK-based charity organization that fights poverty, and it’s put together based on factors like social spending on health, education and social protection, wages and labor rights, and progressive taxation, where corporations and the rich are taxed more to redistribute resources in society.
Part of the reason for Singapore’s massive drop in ranking was attributed to Oxfam’s introduction of a new indicator under the “harmful tax practices” category. It said Singapore “has a number of these”, citing our low maximum personal income tax rate for the highest earners, which is set at 22 percent. Other reasons include Singapore having very low tax rates or providing tax havens for corporates and individuals to avoid or evade taxes.
Besides our country’s tax practices, Oxfam described Singapore as having a “relatively low level of public social spending”, with only 39 percent of our budget allocated to education, health, and social protection, behind South Korea and Thailand’s 50 percent.
“On labour, it has no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women,” Oxfam added. “Its laws on both rape and sexual harassment are inadequate; and there is no minimum wage, except for cleaners and security guards.”
According to Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, “governments often tell us they are committed to fighting poverty and inequality — this index shows whether their actions live up to their promises.”