Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Inequality: It's not just about money

LAST Saturday's articles ('The Nordic give & take' and 'When money gets in the way') explored the rich-poor divide in Singapore and the social model of the Scandinavian countries.

Particularly eye-catching was the photo of a huge private medical suite and the account about a hunchbacked old cleaner who had to work for a living.

The message was that our society is unequal; that money, or rather the lack of it, is the problem; and that this can be solved if everyone, particularly the rich, contributes more.

To me, the important thing about a hospital stay is that one gets well. Whether one does so in a fan-cooled eight-bed ward or in an air-conditioned private suite is secondary.

Getting well is the cake, doing so comfortably is the icing. Social equality means everyone gets a slice of the cake, but it does not mean everyone gets the icing.

Where medical care is concerned, instead of asking what the rich are getting, it is more important to ask what the poor are not getting.

The old cleaner personifies the needy group of elderly people in our society.

What the article did not mention is whether most of these people have family support.

For those with families but who are left to fend for themselves, it is not about the rich-poor divide. For those with no families, before discussion of the Scandinavian model can become meaningful, we need to ascertain if it is true that there are neither people nor resources to help them.

Perhaps the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports can address this issue.

In every society, there will always be simmering resentment towards the relatively well-off.

This makes it attractive to frame social problems as simply money issues arising from the rich-poor divide. The concern is that such a simplistic treatment ignores the real issues of greater importance.

Tey Chee Meng