As Singapore gets richer, more people left behind

Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:08am EST
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By Kevin Lim

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Every day, through eyes clouded by glaucoma, Peter witnesses the spending power generated by Singapore's economic success, knowing he can only afford to look.

The 54-year-old shopping mall security guard is part of Singapore's hidden problem - a growing number of poor living on the margins in one of the world's most expensive cities.

The party that has run the city state since independence in 1965 has always preached the virtues of self-reliance, but for some the cost of looking after themselves has moved beyond their means.

Peter fears that he cannot afford to treat his glaucoma, a condition that could threaten his sight, despite being eligible for subsidized surgery and other state benefits.

He was told treatment would cost over S$4,000 ($3,200), but the ailment only qualifies him to take up to S$1,700 from his state-administered healthcare savings.

Peter, who wanted his surname to be withheld as he did not have his employer's permission to speak to media, earns around S$1,600 ($1,300) a month working in the glitzy Orchard Road area.

Half of his salary goes paying off S$20,000 of debts run up when his wife broke her ankle two years ago, and they are also still paying off their small flat in a public housing block.

"We have no savings," he mumbled, recounting how he had borrowed from 18 moneylenders after his wife's accident.   Continued...

Eighty-year-old cleaner Lim Chin Seng takes a break from his job at a shopping mall in Singapore November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su