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Singapore soars, leaves people behind

SINGAPORE--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 SG$4,000 (US$3,200), but the ailment only qualifies him to take up to SG$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 SG$1,600 (US$1,300) a month working in the glitzy Orchard Road area.

Half of his salary goes paying off SG$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.

Compulsory Savings

Singapore operates a system of compulsory savings, supplemented by employer contributions, for retirement and healthcare through its Central Provident Fund (CPF). Private insurance schemes are also available.

Yet, Mindshare, a global media and marketing services firm, found in a survey last year that 72 percent of Singaporeans felt they “cannot afford to get sick due to high medical costs.”

Data for 2002 to 2011 shows the government paid for less than one third of all healthcare costs, whereas the average for developed countries in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development was between 60 and 70 percent.

Mounting unease over the number of voters who feel excluded from the comforts of living in Singapore has persuaded the People's Action Party (PAP) to reset its goals.

At a convention this month, the ruling party issued its first new resolution in 25 years, promising to improve living standards for all, create quality jobs, and provide affordable healthcare.

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People walk over the bridge across the river overlooking the financial district in Singapore on Dec. 11. Economists surveyed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the city-state's central bank, expect the economy to grow by 3.8 percent in 2013 — up from their earlier forecast of a 2.9-percent expansion from the previous survey in September.


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