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  • Writer's pictureDennis Toh

5 ways the Covid-19 shed light on inequality in SG

While Singapore may be one of the richest countries in the world, inequality is still a big, prevailing issue in society. It may not be obvious amidst Singapore’s dazzling skyscrapers and our “rich kids of Singapore” culture, but Covid-19 has shed even more light on Singapore’s underprivileged and the uncomfortable truth that not all people are equal in the eyes of society. Here are 5 ways the recent virus outbreak has impacted different groups of people in Singapore, and why we should not take what we have for-granted.

1. The living conditions of migrant workers

Photo Credit: CNBC

While Singapore was previously hailed as a model for Coronavirus response, the rise in Covid-19 cases among migrant workers in recent weeks gave authorities a nasty surprise. A group that is often neglected, these migrant workers often live in dormitories with as many as 20 people sharing one room. Being cramped up in such living conditions, a large number of them were susceptible to the transmission of the virus.

Even though a Circuit Breaker was implemented in Singapore on April 7, the government overlooked the fact that these migrant workers had no way of practicing social-distancing and were more vulnerable to the outbreak. While Singaporeans were able to serve their stay-home notices at 5-star hotels, migrant workers had to put up with army camps, carparks, and even void decks. When foreign workers were finally moved to “floating hotels”, some Singaporeans expressed their dissatisfaction and lamented that taxpayers’ money were being wasted on these “luxurious living conditions” - a sad example that many of us lack appreciation for the people who helped build Singapore.

This situation should prompt us to rethink our attitude and treatment of migrant workers who have built our homes, schools, malls, and offices. Migrant workers should have their living conditions improved, not just now, but even after the outbreak.

2. The vulnerabilities of low-wage workers in essential roles

If big companies feel hammered by Covid-19’s impact on the economy, we can only imagine how much bigger the impact is on workers in essential roles, especially those in low-wage jobs. Workers holding essential roles such as nurses, supermarket cashiers, and food preparation have some of the lowest-paying jobs, as well as those in the gig industry (e.g. Grab drivers). As their work is essential, these people are unable to isolate themselves from the virus and are exposed daily. Not going to work isn’t an option because a drop in income can affect their livelihoods. Some even have no choice but to report to work sick – especially for those without paid sick leave, and this poses a larger health risk.

While Zoom meetings may be less than ideal, we should be grateful that we are working in the safety of our own homes. The next time we complain about working from home, perhaps we should remind ourselves that there are people risking their lives to keep our country going.

3. Needy students coping with home-based learning

Photo Credit: TODAY

With schools and classes shifting online, some students find themselves struggling to keep up with home-based learning (HBL) which requires the use of online devices such as laptops. While many of us may have access to a computer or tablet, not everyone can say the same. Some students don’t even have stable internet connection, let alone a laptop for personal use. The Ministry of Education has since loaned up to 12,500 laptops or tablets and 1,200 Internet-enabled devices to students in need, shining a light on those of us who have yet to keep up with Singapore’s technological advancements.

The effects of HBL are also different for different children. Several children with access to only one common laptop in the living room may find it more difficult to focus on lessons in comparison to a child with his own personal tablet. Students who hardly used computers for their lessons may also need time to adapt to HBL compared to those who are accustomed to e-learning and online assignments.

If you want to donate a laptop to help less privileged students, you can do so here at Computers Against Covid.

4. Women are hit harder by the fluctuating economy

In Singapore and many other places around the globe, women’s socially prescribed care roles in sectors such as domestic work and healthcare put them in a vulnerable position during the outbreak. Compared to men, a larger number of women work in hospitals, and working mothers may find themselves stretched thin between work and their responsibility to care for the family. Due to women’s front-line interaction with communities, Singapore should start addressing the needs of women in the context of a pandemic, which include issues such as unpaid/underpaid care work.

5. The struggle of Singapore’s invisible poor

Another forgotten class of Singapore is the ‘invisible poor’ or ‘urban poor’ who are one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. While living conditions among Singapore’s poorest may not be as severe as other countries, approximately 10-14% of Singaporeans still have serious financial problems. With many struggling to have their basic needs met and some even suffering from hunger, the poor find themselves in a more precarious position with unstable jobs, few safety nets, and insufficient wages. Additionally, social distancing may be out of the question for those living in the confines of a small flat with little space to move about.

There are numerous charities and donation drives set up in Singapore to help those in need. If you’d like to lend a helping hand or make a change, you can make a donation here at or SG Climate Rally.

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