Teh Tarik with Walid IRL - Housing Security in Singapore with Ng Kok Hoe

Recording of Teh Tarik with Walid IRL: Housing Security in Singapore

Teh Tarik with Walid IRL: Housing Security in Singapore took place on 16 July, Sunday at Ethos Dreams, a pop-up bookstore and community initiative organised as part of The Singapore I Recognise, a National Day Initiative by Ethos Books. You can watch the recording above and access the full transcript of the programme on this page. Portions of the transcript have been edited for clarity.  


What does housing security look like? Is a welfare state feasible? Is empathy ‘political’? Join Walid J. Abdullah in conversation with Ng Kok Hoe as they discuss the history and challenges of public housing in Singapore. This conversation is in collaboration with Teh Tarik With Walid, and was held at Ethos Dreams, a pop-up bookstore and community initiative in July 2023 organised as part of The Singapore I Recognise, a National Day Initiative by Ethos Books.

You can find the speaker bios at the bottom of this page. Enjoy the conversation!



Walid: All right! “Progress in public housing is not only judged by what the majority has achieved, it is also measured by whether citizens with the least means are able to live in security, peace, and dignity.”words of wisdom from our guest today Dr Ng Kok Hoe, senior research fellow at the LKY school of public policy. Welcome everyone, good evening for this very special live Teh Tarik episode, episode 62. We have a very diverse audience; it’s full house as well. Thank you everyone for being here so we will be discussing this book that I hope all of you will get, They Told Us to Move: Dakota-Cassia. It is edited by Dr Ng and his team and we will delve into that. Today I’m a bit nervous, Kok Hoe, because for the first time in a week I am away from my phone for one hour and I’m afraid that after this there’s only going to be 86 or 85 members of parliament left in this hour (laughs) but hopefully not, and if such a thing happens, please don’t inform me I need to concentrate on this. 

My first question to you is, why did you write this book, what was the motivation, what were the research questions, and basically what prompted you and your team to do this?

Kok Hoe: Thanks Walid, it’s very nice to be here with you this evening and also very nice to be in this location. It’s very meaningful that we’re back again at the site that inspired us to put this book together. The project really started because, well, we have to first talk about the context of Dakota. This place is unique, in the sense that it is a very old estate. It was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958, so it’s pre-HDB, before the Housing and Development Board. It was before independence, so the estate is older than Singapore the nation. Architecturally it was interesting, so it always provided a marker of Singapore’s urban development. At the same timeand that was my personal interestDakota Crescent was a social housing estate, that means it was a public rental housing estate, not sold flats.

All the residents were tenants who rented their flats from the HDB, lower-income tenants, and at the time when we first thought about the book, I’d been studying social housing for a while, so this was a very rich case. And then I met a group of fantastic young volunteers known as the Cassia Resettlement Team (CRT) who were helping the older residents relocate. After the announcement that Dakota would be redeveloped, all the residents had to move and they realised the residents needed a lot of help. I thought that was very interesting  first of all relocation is something that happens throughout the history of public housing in Singapore. It constantly happens. We are constantly tearing down housing, building new housing, and because of that people have to move. I thought it very interesting that the services to help people move should have to be provided by volunteers. So we ended up making this book. It has three layers; we constructed it like a conversation.

CRT had done some interviews with the residents. We selected nine of those interviews, turned them into transcripts, and then I asked nine of the CRT volunteersmost of them young peopleto respond to the transcripts. And then I asked nine academics to respond to the nine transcripts and volunteers' reflections. So in a way there are these nine sets of three, right, if it makes sense. The idea was that this would be a very flat spacea space for dialogue between the residents, volunteers, and then the academics. What did we want to find out? I wanted to know what [was] the cost of relocation. Urban development is ostensibly a good thing, but it’s not without costs. We wanted to understand the sacrifices, the loss that such a disruption of a community entails. I wanted to know what it says about our urban development, society, [and] what we want to be. 

Walid: How many pages do you have there?

Kok Hoe: We only have about 21 pages of notes. 

Walid: (laughs) Okay, thank you for that. One of the things that the Singaporean government prides itself in is public housing. Even academics like Professor Chua Beng Huat will say that public housing is the most radical thing that the PAP has done. And I went to the website just now and the HDB website [says]: “Singapore’s public housing system is widely admired. 80% of Singaporeans are in public housing and 90% own them”. So that’s about 8% which are in rental flats. It’s not an insignificant amount. Singapore's public housing system is widely admired, so where does Dakota fit into this narrative? Where do the rental flat folks fit into this narrative? 

Kok Hoe: Rental housing is referred to as social housing in housing research, which I think is a better term, because it refers to housing that is rented out on the basis of social need at submarket rents, so I think that term is useful. Social housing, although it’s a very small fraction of our public housing system, performs a disproportionate role in Singapore's public housing story because it is this small fragment of the public housing system that is used to motivate home ownership. When we look at the history of public housing in Singapore, many of us probably don’t remember [that] public housing in Singapore started off as purely rental only. When the HDB was first formed in 1960, the mission was to quickly build social housing to provide safe shelter for as many people as possible.

But over time the mission shifted, from providing shelter to everyone on an affordable basis to promoting asset ownership through the selling of flats. Alongside this campaign we saw a dramatic residualisation of social housing. The term ‘residualisation’ refers to how you diminish social housing. How do they do that? Through a program of limiting and degrading social housing. There were concrete policy decisions: reduce the stock, so demolish social housing without replacement, so there was a policy where over 20 years from the '80s to 2000s, not a single new social housing unit was built but demolition continued. So diminish the stock. Housing is like this  if you don’t top up with new stock, what happens to existing stock? It ages.

At the same time another key decision [was made]: there used to be 3-room rental flats, but a decision was made to bifurcate the housing system; only smaller flats to rent, one- and two-room, larger flats were reserved for sale. So we end up with two housing systems, not one. The logic is that if you want to encourage people to buy, then make the alternative more difficult to access and less desirable. That was the campaign product differentiation. But of course that has practical consequences. It means that the current stock of social housing over time is fewer, smaller, older; the flats for sale, more plentiful, newer, larger. That means that larger households who need social housing won’t meet their space needs and because the stock is so limited it sometimes both justifies and requires some irrational allocation processes, like very low income limits, requiring singles to share a flat and so on. The basic logic is you don’t want to make it an attractive option because you want people to do the other thing. Dakota is one of the last remaining clusters of social housing. After that time, all social housing is thinly and widely spread. One or two blocks within sold flats. You won’t see a cluster of fifteen blocks like this anymore. The largest one, if I’m not wrong, is in Jalan Kukoh. The demolition of this estate is a sharp reminder of how far this campaign of residualising social housing has come.

Walid: Thank you. Over the weekend I went to Bedok Corner and one of the things I saw was, on the tables, interestingly, there were ads about how HDB is affordable. I’ve only seen it in lifts before this. I find it strange that you have to tell people something is affordable. People will know whether it’s affordable, and this is something you cannot convince people out of, right? If people buy and they know, some people here are renting houses, they know how crazy the market rate is now, so would you say that is the PAP’s biggest mistake? To turn housing into an asset? Because it seems to me it’s very difficult, almost impossible to reverse this mistake, whereas others are possibly reversible. 

Kok Hoe: When people ask what are the reasons for pushing homeownership, Beng Huat has his theories. I mean politically, Lee Kuan Yew himself has said that he has noticed that in the West, homeowners tend to vote more conservatively. The idea that if you have a mortgage to pay, you don't want to rock the boat. Scholars have also suggested it promotes labour peace; if you have to pay a mortgage, you won’t protest or go on strike because you don’t want to lose your job. So there are political reasons. For this particular government, on hindsight, housing is probably the greatest monument to their so-called track record. It’s visible, you live in it, you walk past it, it’s everywhere.

The irony is that for something we are so familiar with, that we live in, that’s part of our lives, we constantly need to be told how to feel about it, as Walid has pointed out. That is very strange. Something that we’ll return to again, that the policy of public housing is, in a way, propped up by a very thick, rich set of policy narratives. About what it is, about whether we should celebrate it, about what is good and what is bad about public housing. It is not entirely irreversible, maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about that later. But speaking of narratives, before I forget, from time to time we hear prominent people saying “you know, I used to grow up in rental housing,”.

Walid: Oh yeah. The ‘rags to riches’ story.

Kok Hoe: Rags to riches. In election campaigns, you will hear it, prominent people saying “I grew up in rental housing.” But why do they say it? I think they say it because rental housing today connotes hardship, so they say it because of what rental housing is today. It’s both proof of commonness, proof of humanity, as well as to justify privilege, right? “I’ve had to work hard to come this way.” But I suggest that when we hear these statements, we check the historical timing. It’s quite important. So if somebody in his sixties says they grew up in rental housing, they would have been a kid in the 1960s. In 1965, 96% of flats were rental housing. To say that you grew up in the ‘60s in a rental flat, you’re not remarkable. You are not special. You are just like everybody else. And if that prominent person also happens to be a politician, a policy-maker, who should in fact share some responsibility for turning rental housing to what it is today, to then instead turn around and wear it like a badge of honour, frankly feels a bit cynical to me.

Walid: Thank you. So, you said it’s not irreversible, I hope we get to that. In the new BTOs (Built-To-Order flats) today, there is a social housing flat block in between, and that is to encourage class mixing. Does that alleviate some of the concerns you have? 

Kok Hoe: This is an interesting experiment. They started a few years ago with two blocks, mixing social housing units—so rental flats—with sold units. HDB was a bit nervous so they started mixing within the block, but not on the same floor. They were afraid they couldn’t sell the flats, if people came to know. And they were very cautious with how they advertise it. You cannot not tell people, you’re afraid that if you advertise it too loudly, you end up with flats you can’t sell. So it’s the fear of nimbyism, right, flat value and all of that. I find it (sighs) an awkward thing to talk about because sometimes people say that mixing is good, when they say that they mean that somehow, by hanging around richer people, it will be good for lower-income tenants, that somehow your goodness of character will rub off on me.

(Walid laughs)

That, of course, I mean, it’s completely wrong-headed. That somehow mixing will elevate people in lower-income situations. I don’t think mixing, per se, will do anything to people’s hardships. In fact putting the wealth gap in people’s face might be an issue; I’m more concerned about what it means for the tenants. If we really wanted to flatten out or narrow the differences between the experiences of homeowners and tenants, we need to change the—so this is where we can do some reversing. Currently, social housing is so residualised, so targeted, that it can only allow through into the system people who are most severely disadvantaged.

This system of narrow targeting exaggerates and accentuates the differences between homeowners and tenants. If you blur the lines, if you enlarge the social housing sector, tenants wouldn’t be so exceptional anymore. Then, in a sense, mixing is not so necessary. So, for me the issue has always been the narrowness of the targeting because if you have only 5% of your housing stock—5% or 6% now, rental housing, the history was from 100% social housing to 5-6% now, it’s a complete flip—if you only have 5-6% of your social housing stock available, you naturally will select the people who are at the extreme end of society. In a way you prove your bias and stereotype. 

Walid: But wouldn’t the social mixing do that? Maybe not in the end that it’ll rub off, your kindness. In the first place that’s not true, there’s no guarantee that richer people are nicer, a lot of times they’re not. But maybe it’s the other way around, it exposes you to different people from socio-economic backgrounds, and maybe you don’t have that level of suspicion towards them or that level of snobbery to them. You think that would work?

Kok Hoe: I think that’s possible, you’re right. Through day-to-day experience, it always helps, right? The best way to debunk stereotypes is to know somebody, right? 

Walid: Yeah. Although having said that, I had this experience, because there is this social housing block in my new neighbourhood. One of my acquaintances, or friends, stays around the area and she works in a social organisation. And when she was talking to me, she actually said, “eh you know that place, near our house right, there’s a lot of crime there. You know the ghetto place in our—” she actually said that. I do think the intent is good and I think the benefits outweigh the costs. But along with that I think there needs to be a constant challenging of the narrative. You cannot just have that and then leave people be.

My next question is how else can we make housing better in Singapore? You alluded to one of the answers already, which is to make it less restrictive, yeah? 

Kok Hoe: I think the home ownership campaign needs to be rethought. Of course we don’t want to, there’s no need to roll back homeownership. But I think home ownership is best when it’s left to people as a matter of choice. So you give people a range of options. People know when they’re ready to buy a flat, if younger couples are not ready, if they want to settle down but can’t afford to buy a flat, then they rent one. You trust people to know when it’s ready, and how do you know that? You provide them [with] a range of choices, that means larger rental flats, for which you can collect slightly higher rent, still subsidised, sub-market, but slightly higher rent; a variety of flat sizes for different family sizes so you at least meet their housing needs, so that when people are ready, they will buy. When they’re not ready, they don’t get punished. That, I think, would be a good start. 

Walid: A lot of young people nodding along. I think anyone who is looking for a house or just bought a house would understand that. But to push you a little bit on that, right, what about those who have already owned homes, they would be up in arms, right? Because that would affect the value of the…

Kok Hoe: Yeah, yeah. Earlier on you mentioned that the public home ownership system is so entrenched in our social policies, social welfare system that it’s impossible to uproot it. Quite true, we don’t have to uproot it, we can slowly roll it back. And the problem is its entanglement with retirement, right? Of course people are upset if the housing that they bought has depreciated in value, but they’re mainly upset because you told them it’s their nest egg for retirement. So if we were to say, you’re exactly right, if we enlarge the rental system, there’ll be less demand to purchase, the housing market may not be as buoyant. Flat owners may be a little bit upset, but I think it will help if we reform the retirement income system, and not make it premised on housing ownership, which in any case has always been biased towards people who can own housing, and not all people who retire at the point of retirement are able to own housing. There are many older people whose pension system is essentially their children; they live with their children, their children support them. Homeownership is not universal. 

Walid: Thank you. So you mentioned in your book that the liberal welfare state is individualising. And I agree with you, however if I were just to challenge you on this, what about it being prone to abuse? And one of the reasons in the West for instance, where the social welfare state is entrenched, and one of the justifications given for why they are really anti-immigration is “oh, they’re coming here to get our welfare, and they don’t contribute; they just leech off the rest of us”. Lee Kuan Yew also talked about this; there must always be an incentive to work, and that’s why unemployment insurance or minimum wage, although there are forms of it already implemented, were for the longest time frowned upon. Would you say there is some merit to that argument? And if so, how would we overcome that?

Kok Hoe: There’s often this logic that if social welfare is too generous, it takes away people’s work ethic, and then it’s inferior to competition, and that’s a healthy way to meet your needs. But that’s the narrative. But, I mean, we’ve been doing, me and my colleagues, in all the many years we’ve been doing research, talking to people, especially, say, in the minimum income standards project, where we ask people what do you want, what is an acceptable way of life, people will never say that, “I want to compete. I want to win.” They want to meet their ba sic needs, they want to live well, they want freedom, they want to be independent. Nobody needs competition. So this idea that competition or market logics is the most natural, it is not. It is not natural, it is not what people want, it is not the only way to organise social welfare. They’re policy decisions. And I think these are policy decisions often based on a faulty model of human motivation, and probably unquestioned faith in the fairness of competition, it pays too little attention to entrenched privilege and so on. 

This idea of abuse, that if welfare is too generous, people will abuse it, actually has very long roots. We can trace it back to 19th century England, when they were debating how to reform the poor law, they were in a similar dilemma, they were thinking, “oh, you want to help people in poverty, but if you do too much, then you make them lazy.” So they settled on what they called the ‘Principle of Less Eligibility’. Actually ‘eligible’ doesn’t mean qualified, it means desirable. ‘Eligible bachelor’ kind of thing. So the ‘Principle of Less Eligibility’. And their logic is this: you want to help people, but you want to be careful that they don’t become lazy. So what do you do? The principle is that the living standard of the person on welfare must be poorer to the poorest person in the workforce. So the best standard of living in the social welfare system must be inferior to the living standards of the poorest working person. You separate it, leave a gap, so to make sure there is no incentive for the lowest-paid worker to go to welfare, because that is poorer.

That logic is very strong, and based on that logic, they set up workhouses. Sometimes you see it in Victorian BBC dramas: they put people needing help in workhouses, and they create meaningless work for them. They have to crush bones to turn into fertiliser, you have to break stones, plait straw, do all kinds of things, and of course they’re not treated well. The idea is you both want to help, but you want your help to somehow also be repellent to poor people. You want to keep them away. So it’s meant to be a selection mechanism, so that only the truly desperate will come to your system; you are in no danger of abuse. But what that usually means is that the people in the workhouse lead a very horrific life. And we see this logic—this is not just 1800s England—we see this logic even today. What I said about social housing: Principle of Less Eligibility. If you want people to buy flats, make sure your alternative is of a lower quality. It’s the same for social assistance: you want people to stay in the workforce? Make sure your ComCare social assistance never pays anything close to wages, right, so that there is a clear gap. If you want welfare? Oh, then it’s as much as high—maximum is half of lowest wages. That’s why you see this clear gap between progressive wage at the basic level and social assistance. But what it means is that the people on assistance, you don’t leave anyone out of poverty, you trap them in insecurity and indignity. And actually there’s a reverse dynamic that analysts have spotted, which is that when you keep social assistance very low, you give employers no incentive to increase wages. So the lower you push your assistance, the lower the lowest wage will be. Same logic, right? I can pay you a dollar more than social assistance, and you’ll still work for me, because if you quit, you get a dollar less. It’s a race to the bottom. So in countries with very meager social assistance, they also have a problem with low wage. 

Walid: What about if you have minimum wage alongside that? So if minimum wage is $16 per hour, and unemployment benefit is $10 or $13 or maximum $14 [per hour], would that work?

Kok Hoe: Minimum wage is often motivated by a different logic. It’s to prop up a wage so that people can meet their basic needs. I think that would be a very interesting experiment, in liberal welfare states like ours, we are under the impression that people are flocking to social assistance offices; they do not. We have interviewed many people who say that they need it but they don’t want to, partly because they want to keep trying, partly because of the shame. That’s how the system works, it’s still the Victorian workhouse system. People are not flocking to social assistance, anyway the thing they get is not enough. I think if our Progressive Wage Model—a byword for minimum wage, though different in some important ways—really takes off and works properly, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to a social assistance system that gives so little. It may become very irrelevant.

Walid: Thank you. Just a reminder to everyone, you’re free to ask your questions online as well, I have a phone with me. So feel free to type in your questions if you want, or you can just raise your hands, or you can make a comment, can disagree with us and argue with us as well. Argue with him (audience laughs).

Also in the audience there are some very important people, some people I would like to have on next time. I don’t want to point fingers or mention You Yenn’s name (audience laughs). My next question is—I actually read this in the book, right, in This Is What Inequality Looks Like, and I also heard this many, many times, including from some of my own students, which is, “poor people make bad choices”. They are in social housing because well they didn’t work hard enough at one point in time of their lives, or now they are not rolling their sleeves up and working hard enough, so how would you respond to that?

Kok Hoe: A tricky question. We can approach it in a few different ways: one is to say that what appears to be bad choices actually makes a lot of sense if we are in the same shoes. What are typical examples people like to bring up? For example, stay-at-home mums. So, you are a social housing tenant family, you live in social housing, clearly you need income, so why is the mum not going out to work, right? Well, the logic is very simple: for somebody with lower skills, in a system, in a labour force that lacks wage protection, they make very little working. But they will need to arrange for care while they’re at work. The cost of care is higher than what they can bring in. Why would you go to work? Plus you get to take care of your children yourselves, which is very important to a lot of parents, and I think they should be able to choose that. So it doesn’t make sense to work.

Another “bad choice” we sometimes hear people point out is why don’t lower-skilled workers go for training? [There are] so many training courses available, right, if you attend training, then quickly you’ll become more competitive in the workforce, your wages will improve. There are many reasons why lower-income workers don’t go for training. Lower-wage workers are often also doing insecure jobs, on-call work, they’re not on contract. So if there is work, it may be mover job, a cleaner job, if there is work, the company will call you; if there isn’t, you sit at home, you don’t get paid. There is no fixed monthly salary. Under these circumstances, you can’t take leave, there is no such thing as training leave or even personal leave to attend training. You are just waiting for the next call to go for work, because you might not get a call every day. Would you go for training? I wouldn’t. You’re having difficulty bringing food home. It makes a lot of sense, not to go for training.

And then we have a range of other things, people like to point out—when we did the minimum income standards study, why are birthday gifts important for children, birthday parties, people like to target these things that look like luxuries, right. But the context is that in lower-income households, there are many children’s requests that the parent cannot fulfill, but there are a few they will try to fulfill. It often may be a big birthday party. The rest of the year, they have to keep saying “no,” which is not easy for parents to do. So there is one big birthday party. It makes a lot of difference in the context of that life. 

So that is one way to respond to it, which is that they’re not really bad choices. But the other thing to say is of course that everybody makes good choices and bad choices, right? I know rich and powerful people make a lot of bad choices, we don’t need examples. (Walid laughs). They make plenty of bad choices, but maybe they have more control over the exposure of their choices, until they have no control. So part of it [is] we pay a lot of attention to poorer people, including researchers, media researchers, of course the government does. In society in general, we put them kind of under a bit of surveillance and scrutiny, and rich people very rarely get studied, mainly because they don’t respond to supermarket vouchers as tokens, so they won’t do it. They’re very hard to find, very hard to recruit for research, but it’s really unfair, the amount of scrutiny we put lower-income people on, and you have to justify every decision. If you scrutinise my life, you’ll find I make plenty of stupid decisions. 


Walid: Thank you. The earlier point you mentioned, [how] ministers like to mention, “I was from rental flat, two-room flat,” the rags-to-riches story, it’s not really about uplifting, it comes from a place of arrogance, but which stems from the unflinching belief in meritocracy, right? So if I work hard, I made it, then you can work hard and you can make it as well, without of course considering your parents, your family background, your friends, your neighbours, whatever it is. So would you say the root of the problem, then, is this, the belief in meritocracy?

Kok Hoe: Today I was just discussing meritocracy with a class. It’s one of those things that has an intuitive appeal. And it feels very fair, what can be fairer than rewarding people on the basis of their abilities and effort, right. Except that this is premised that the competition is fair, right, that the competition of merit is fair. And it will—it’s very hard to make it fair. Of course it’s unfair to different degrees in different societies. Once we pay attention to the starting lines, people start at different starting lines, right? There was a survey I did among rental-tenant households a few years ago, we surveyed 1000 households, and one of the questions I asked the parents was, “what is the highest education you hope your child will achieve?” And we noticed a pattern: for parents whose children were the youngest, their goals were very high - university, diploma and so on. But as the children’s age increased, the expectations came down.

By the time they were in primary school, some were saying diploma or ITE. And when some closer to upper primary, some were saying, “I hope they will finish secondary school, ‘N’ Levels.” The competition really, I mean, the circumstances in which children have to compete currently in the education system sorts out children based on the resources they have to begin with at a very, very early stage. Once we see that kind of pattern and how people kind of settle into the place, the tracks that have been set for them right, then meritocracy can feel very hollow. That is the problem.

Walid: Okay. Thank you so much, that was really comprehensive. So there is a saying, I can’t remember, it’s one of the greats, Mandela or Gandhi said that, the problem with poverty is not just a lack of material wealth, it also strips you of your dignity. Or it can strip you of your dignity. But there was a story in your book of this person, this lady, and you guys mentioned that vulnerability existed alongside empowerment for many of these people. Can you explain a little bit?

Kok Hoe: What we discovered when we spoke to the residents in Dakota, as with most of what we find in poverty research, is that generally people try very hard, so this image that people are lacking in resilience and so on, it doesn’t really match reality. People work very hard, people in difficult circumstances have to be very resourceful. During COVID when we were interviewing lower-income families, the way they were rationing groceries, it was at that level of, if I buy a bigger bag of, say, potatoes, then on a per-potato basis it’s cheaper, then I think of dishes to cook which can keep for a long time.

I think of dishes which are more savoury, which have more gravy, so that you can go with rice better. They were thinking to that level, then if you don’t want something savoury, then maybe ikan bilis, so there’s some variety, for the kids’ palette and so on. The degree of rationing, goodness, people try very hard. And we noticed a lot of resilience among the Dakota residents, including helping each other, some of the families, the kids would go out and help the older residents and so on. So resilience is already there, they already are resilient. I’m also a bit cautious when we talk about resilience, because sometimes, I mean, the point I want to make is they are already resilient, but sometimes we frame resilience as if it’s the goal of social services and social policy to make people resilient, as if the lack of that is the reason for poverty. It’s not, you don’t have to worry, they are already resilient. The problem is the circumstances, that led up to their poverty. But every time we talk about this, we are refocusing the problem on individual moral deficiency and individual responsibility. 

What you said about stripping people of dignity, it is very true. There was a study from very long ago, it’s a theoretical framework by a pair of scholars called Ingram and Schneider, I like it very much because it really opened my eyes. They came out with a framework called the “Social Construction of Target Populations”. It’s a very simple theory: they noticed that people who in the public’s eye have a more negative label and who are politically weaker tend to be treated in an overtly-bad way by policy. So they’re saying that social perception and political power determines how policymakers treat you. If you’re negatively-perceived and politically-weak, like lower-income people—‘cause you’re in the minority, by definition you’re politically-weak—then you’re often subjected to overtly-bad treatment. If you have a negative social label, but you’re politically-powerful—so here, think rich bankers—then policymakers may sell you favours, but they do it covertly. So this is a very interesting theory, I thought it also helped me to understand, well, at the time, I mean a few years ago, Trump is the best example, right?

What he says loudly about disabled people, about Mexicans, already Americans have a certain perception of them, and they’re politically voiceless in American politics. And we don’t even have to look that far. Some of the ways we talk about migrant workers overtly, and the way we overtly treat migrant workers during the toughest part of the pandemic, it reminds me of this. When you say stripping people of dignity, over the years periodically, you’ll see policy statements referring to helping rental housing tenants to improve their lives by getting rid of vices like smoking, drinking, drugs, poor parenting. These are policy statements, you can Google it. Policymakers openly associating tenants with various vices with no evidence at all. And a few years ago, I found this truly shocking video which you can look for before they remove it. It's done by CNA, it’s called “The Lies People Tell”, it’s a special feature on people seeking social assistance at SSOs, Social Service Offices. It’s an entire video dedicated to telling us that when people seek social assistance, they often lie.

I don’t know why people want to put out such a video. I don’t understand it, but it’s a huge reminder that you can do this at no political cost, huh? It’s exactly what those scholars reminded us: how you’re treated by policymakers—and of course when they do that it’s because they think they’re kind of capturing public sentiment and turning it on an othered group, they think they’re riding on public sentiment. But of course when they do that, they’re also fanning and encouraging a certain negative public sentiment. It’s a very divisive thing to do, and we ought to be very, very cautious. 


Walid: Well I hope CNA, if they do that, then they should, their next documentary idea—we have a CNA person here, luckily the camera is not panned at that person—but the next documentary they do should be “The Lies Politicians Tell”.

Kok Hoe: Oh goodness.

Walid: And I think it’s really important, I’m not saying this whimsically, alright. I would be okay if they did that documentary, at the same time do the other documentary. You punch up as much as you punch down. And then I think that’s good journalism. But if you just do this and avoid the more obvious (laughs), the more interesting thing, then there’s a problem somewhere already. And none of them—I mean they can prove me wrong—none of them will do this documentary [on politicians]. But anyway. 

So whose responsibility is it to care, then? So how do you balance? Because on one hand, I agree with you about the liberal welfare state, and I think some basic provision—like we never ask how much do we spend on defense. We never ask that question, it’s always the most. When we spend a little bit only, can we balance the budget when we spend on social welfare? We never ask that, we assume that the defense spending will be there. So that’s a criticism of that kind of thinking, neo-liberal, or whatever you want to call it, the military industrial complex in the States. But on the other hand, there is some truth to the criticism, would you not say? If too much social spending, and especially in the West you see more immigration, it leads to societal polarisation, and there are some people, not all, but some people who take advantage of the system. So I guess the specific question is, where do you balance state care and individual responsibility?

Kok Hoe: This was a huge issue in Brexit, but, I mean, Brexit happened in a very different context where they have very porous borders because of the EU. And one of the kind of narratives that was swirling around the leave campaign was you have these welfare cheats who come from the less-wealthy parts of Europe—they’re thinking Eastern Europe whenever the Brits say this—and they’re living off the British welfare state, that anyway is not that generous, by European standards (Walid laughs). But it nonetheless was the narrative of the leave campaign. But that’s the European context and the British context, we nowhere have near the kind of porous borders with our neighbours, and our welfare system is not worth risking the trip to enjoy, you probably won’t qualify anyway. Even Singaporeans in genuine hardship don’t qualify so, no need to try. 

So the question about whose responsibility it is to care was actually asked in a chapter by my friend and colleague Ad Maulod, who’s in the front row, so I’m very tempted to pass the mic, but I don’t want to lose a friend, so I will try to answer. So whose responsibility is it to provide care? Ad was asking that [question in the context] of older residents in Dakota who are living alone and find it very difficult to just live on social assistance. There are a few things we can say about care, care in Singapore, we can think about ‘care’ as ‘looking after people’. Looking after people, interpersonal care. And in Singapore, currently, predominantly care tends to be informal, gendered, a lot of it is unnoticed, unrecognised, and therefore uncompensated. Mainly done by women who don’t get paid for it. We have a huge dependence, therefore, on people’s personal resources, including time and sacrificed income, or market solutions - I’m thinking foreign domestic workers. The state infrastructure for care is not adequate yet. We don’t have enough care workers, and so currently, because of the huge dependence on personal resources and market solutions, care is a domain of steep inequality.

Some people get very good standards of care because they can afford it, and if you don’t, then you don’t get the care that you need. So what do I think we need to do is a matter of degree, we are nowhere near kind of the irresponsible social spending kind of extent, we have a long way to go in terms of giving proper recognition to care work and to carers, and therefore better state support. In concrete terms it means leave, care services, as well as some forms of compensation. AWARE has of course been talking about this. Some sort of care allowance, so, I know some Singaporeans are not used to thinking, “why should I pay somebody for taking care of a family member?” but they had sacrificed income, and usually the ‘they’ are women. And when they sacrifice income, they also sacrifice pension savings, so retirement savings. Why shouldn’t they be compensated? So it’s not a dream, there are countries that have care allowances or pension top-ups for people who stay at home to provide care. 

So I want to emphasise this: their argument is that, sometimes in welfare states like ours, if you ask the state to care, you’re giving up. You’re abdicating your responsibility towards your family members. But no. Social policy, by pooling all our resources and then turning it into services that everybody needs is a collective act of care. In fact, one of the best definitions that I have come across for social welfare is that it is an act of care towards strangers. Social welfare is an act of care towards strangers. So pooling our resources through taxes, turning that into services that are universal is a very important form of care. 

Walid: Thank you. There’s a comment by Nic that says that, when you’re talking about social housing—comment is on IG Live—it reminds him of the trampoline that SM Tharman, future President Tharman was talking about. You remember that? When he was answering the question, do you believe in a safety net, and he said he believes in a trampoline instead of a safety net. So yeah maybe that makes sense. 

Now it’s 8:45, so I shall open it up to the floor to our live audience. Yes, Arun, thank you so much. So you just state your question there, and I’ll repeat the question for the audience. 

Audience: [inaudible]

Walid: Okay so the question is what can be done to encourage social mixing, and he mentioned three: inter-ethnic, international and inter-SES mixing. Is housing the main tool, or should we look at others including education? Did I get it correct?

Kok Hoe: That’s a good question. I think we generally appreciate the argument for social mixing. It’s good, especially for kids growing up, to get to know people, make friends with people who are different from themselves. In all sorts of ways. That’s an important thing. So school is obviously an important site for that to happen, housing because it’s day-to-day, people talk about National Service, although that’s only for men, and so on. So all that’s great, but when it comes to these issues, I still generally tend to return to that argument, that if your inequality wasn’t so bad, you wouldn’t be so worried about mixing. If your kids weren’t so different, if they didn’t come from such starkly uneven backgrounds that they couldn’t relate to each other's lives, you wouldn’t have a problem of mixing. So yes, mixing is important, and certainly we don’t want parts of Singapore to be kind of gated communities for the privileged, so all that’s bad. But I think we need to go back to the fundamentals, that if society wasn’t so unequal, it makes mixing kind of a moot issue. 

Walid: So the root cause is inequality. I remember—I’ll get to Ad in awhile—so I remember this, maybe ten or eleven years ago, I attended a forum. Then a professor from a university I shall not name, he was proudly talking about this incident to show his multi-ethnic credentials. He said his eight-year-old daughter, eight- or nine-year-old daughter, when he invited an Indian friend over, so the eight- or nine-year-old daughter, the first thing she did was touch the guy’s hand, but he didn’t say anything. So when the guest left, then he asked the daughter, why was that the first thing you did? And she said “oh, I wanted to see whether it was paint.” And then he used that as an example of “I had to educate her.” But at eight or nine, they probably don’t think that unless they’ve been fed a lot of nasty things at home. (Laughs) And I thought that was pretty embarrassing. And it goes to—basically it’s the racial equivalent of what you’re saying. If we didn’t have the problem of racism or racial privilege, majority privilege, or whatever it is, right? Then probably that would not happen, right, you do not need to account for all of these other things. 

But having said that, a safe government would say, “oh we cannot count on the goodness of human nature, we need institutions. So yes, work on that, but we have the EIP, we have social housing in every HDB flat.” Do you think that would be a fair way for the government to think?

Kok Hoe: Repeat that last question again.

Walid: So a good government or a safe government would say we cannot leave it to chance, we cannot leave it to the goodness of human nature, so we need to have these institutions in case these things do not work.

Kok Hoe: Yeah, well actually I agree, you cannot leave it to people’s good natures, you depend on good policies. Not good policies to provide mixing, but good [policies] to tackle inequality. But this argument is sometimes switched around at people’s convenience, you know. When it comes to tackling certain social problems, the solution is to encourage goodwill. So when it comes to the homelessness issue, for example, the policy position now is that more people should volunteer and be kinder towards homeless people. Not that that is not important, this sort of messages need to be responded to very carefully. Asking people to be kind is one of the most important things we can ask of people, but it is not a solution to homelessness. Walking up to somebody, speaking to them nicely does not give them housing. It does not prevent the next person from becoming homeless. So sometimes—so this argument sometimes is switched around, when we don’t want to move from policy, then we say, “ask people to be nicer to each other”. In a way sometimes when we don’t want to talk about institutional racism, we say it’s all casual racism. 

Walid: Thank you.

Audience (Ad): Inheritance creates wealth for the next generation, and a lot of the housing policy revolves around HDB being assets but we know that’s not true because of the 99-year lease. So why do the freehold condos and landed property are allowed to be freehold, when actually that could be a radical solution to make it as leasehold as our HDB flats? So that wealth can be passed down to the next generation, therefore reducing inequality?

Walid: So the question is why don’t we have the 99- or whatever it is limit for condos, bungalows, because this reduces the chance of inherited meritocracy? This is a very Marxist question (speakers and audience laugh.)

Kok Hoe: Wow so I didn’t deflect the question to Ad but Ad asked me a question instead. So never trust your friends, is the lesson. (Walid laughs) I think it’s an interesting suggestion, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t consider it. Although I must say that inherited wealth comes in more forms than just housing and property, there are so many ways in which we still haven’t fully explored the potential of taxing the rich. There’s a lot more room for that, that being maybe one of the suggestions that we should explore. 

Walid: Interesting. Anyone else? 


 Audience: How do we restructure our social welfare system such that instead of doing resilience, we help people to be independent from the welfare organisations?

Walid: Oh, so how do we make people be independent, so make people more resilient?

Audience: They’re resilient now, because they have welfare– [inaudible]

Walid: Ah okay, so is the long-run goal eventually to get them off the social welfare services?

Kok Hoe: I think the long term goal is that we shouldn’t think of social welfare as social welfare. We should think of it as public services. These are all public services, school is a public service, hospitals are a public service, income support when someone is unemployed is public service, universal income support for retired older people is public service. They are not social welfare. So over time, especially in our context in a liberal welfare state, we’ve had all sorts of negative labels attached to the welfare state, and that is part of how it works. Remember, welfare must be repellent, Principle of Less Eligibility. That package comes with some shame. So think about it before you come apply, that’s all part of the package that is offered to you. But that is not a natural state of affairs.

We think that getting welfare is to receive handouts, is to be a free-rider, is to be dependent. The opposite is to be self-reliant. Nope! And there are alternatives, we’re not speaking in dreams. In the more social democratic welfares of Northern Europe, people pay very high taxes and then they depend heavily on public services: free university education, free childcare, who doesn’t like. So here we often like to say, we preempt the public sentiment by saying, oh no, people will never want to pay that high taxes. But actually in service in Northern Europe, those welfare systems are very popular. Even in the UK, which is a fairly liberal welfare state, people are very attached to the NHS. Extremely popular.

They want it to be well-funded, so both parties, even the conservatives, cannot touch the NHS. So where there are universal services and people don’t think of it as charity, people enjoy it, because it provides. So it’s not about resilience on an individual level, so much as seeing social services as public services. And there’s a huge difference. One of the things we learned from the Dakota residents is that in a liberal welfare state like ours, social housing is seen as an act of charity. And so you’re not so much a resident or a citizen, you’re a recipient of charity. 

There was one resident, an older woman, we interviewed her to ask her, “if you could tell the MP,”—I remember the interview—was, “if you could tell the MP what should change, or what should be different about the way relocation is done and so on, what would you ask of the MP?” Then she said, “we cannot say, we cannot say.” Then the interviewer said, “no, but what if you could?” It was a young volunteer, CRT, very persistent, “what if you could?” Tried to trick her by asking the hypothetical. Then she said, “no, no, I cannot say.” Then she insisted, “but if, if you could, what would you tell the MP?” And she said, “they are government, we are only citizens. We cannot say anything. But if I could—” then she went on to speak an entire paragraph about the kind of living environment she likes, the kind of neighbourliness she enjoys in Dakota, even the trees, the courtyard and so on, she had very specific ideas about what is a good place to live in. But she felt she couldn’t say, because this system, in our system, liberal welfare state, the recipient of some social services, the targeted ones, they are made to feel like recipients of charity.

And if you’re a recipient of charity, you have only one approved sentiment. And that is gratitude. You don’t critique, you don’t ask for more, you don’t give feedback. If you’re given food—in Ad’s essay—if you’re given donated food rations that you don’t want to eat, you cannot say anything, you better just keep quiet and keep everything, because otherwise you will look ungrateful. So that’s the reason why services that are very targeted, that are not universal, that are made to look like charity, they’re often very poor services. Universal services that go out to the whole population, they tend to be good services. 

Walid: And it’s not a crazy idea, even the most ardent of the free market philosophers or activists or advocates would admit that there are some things you can’t leave to the market. Like defense, building roads. The question is, where do we stop, or where do we start? And healthcare, I always find that argument about, oh if—you know the model hazard argument—so if you have insurance, you’re less likely to lock your car as opposed to if you don’t have insurance. People don’t think that about health. It’s not as if, oh it’s free, so I should go to the hospital, don’t take care of my health, nobody thinks like that about health, at the very least health. So I don’t understand why that has not taken place at least for that. But okay, I saw a hand.

Audience: [inaudible]

Walid: Okay so the question is, underlying this discussion is this discourse of scarcity, so we must be prudent with our resources. At the same time it’s not just a discourse because Singapore is small, so there are obvious physical limitations. So how would you respond to the discourse of scarcity?

Kok Hoe: Yeah, you know, we’re such a long way from a kind of a mindlessly-spending and mindlessly-generous welfare state that we really don’t have—I don’t think there are any legitimate reasons to worry about scarcity. I mean again, I don’t want to appear like I’m kind of populist (audience and Walid laugh) or making fun of people who are already having a hard time. But some years ago—so we don’t need to name names—a policymaker went press to raise the rates of ComCare social assistance. The younger ones in the audience may not remember, but I think the older ones will. People were asking if the rates can be raised by $30-$60, I don’t remember the details, do search in Hansard , I’m not trying to fake you. Search in Hansard for yourselves. And his response to that was, “no, what do you mean it’s not enough, do you want to eat in a coffeeshop, hawker centre”—wait no, no, let me get this right— “hawker centre, foodcourt, or restaurant.” We’re talking about social assistance at the time that was I think about a few hundred dollars, and the push was to increase it by tens of dollars, and that was the response.

So it is more a narrative, it has no basis in reality. That sort of assistance does not allow people who receive it to live the kind of lifestyle that is described in that very rhetorical and disingenuous response. We are very, very far away from that. I do think of course resources are important. All responsible governments must do the proper job of costing for social services, and that is the problem. Where is the costing for a different model of social welfare that is slightly more generous, a slightly larger social housing estate? You very rarely get very serious responses. When MPs in parliament ask for social housing to be expanded and so on, you get a response like, “oh, we are a small country and we must manage scarce resources,” I think when we begin to hear serious answers with proper costing, people doing their due diligence before reporting back, then we can have this serious discussion about scarcity. 

Walid: And I always feel like policy change is always impossible until it happens, and then the previous justifications all go out of the window, or people just forget to mention them. Like, “you cannot increase tax!” until it’s increased. And “oh you cannot have minimum wage!” until you have the Progressive Wage Model. You can always—and usually there will always be some political development that causes a rethinking in the policy decision. We have—it’s one hour and one minute already, we can go for three, four more minutes? Okay—anyone else has a question? Please, yeah.

Audience: [inaudible]

Walid: So the question is, an unnamed politician—so many unnamed politicians today!—so an unnamed politician said that the best welfare you can give someone is a job. So how would you respond to that?

Kok Hoe: We’ve been, I mean the last few years we’ve done a bit of work on, well, work, conditions of work. We’ve looked specifically at gig work. Old gigs, new gigs, platform gigs as well as older kind of freelancing work. We’ve also looked at people in lower-income households during COVID, like I mentioned. And I must say it was really very sobering to find out how poor the quality of work often is at the bottom of the wage distribution. We haven’t really seriously had a discussion about quality of work yet. This is something our unions should really be talking about. We’re right now on a model of work, any work. So in the welfare literature we say this is an approach of “work, any work”.

Any work would be better for you than no work. Not necessarily. If the work is bad for your dignity, doesn’t pay you enough for your basic needs and puts you at risk of accidents, it is not better than not doing work. And anyway that’s quite a—that’s not a sincere response to what kind of work is serious. There’s already a lot of international research on quality of work: what is decent work, it means decent work conditions, it means some sort of autonomy and control, there must be an element of choice, there must be room for learning and skill development, and of course it must meet all your basic needs. There are so many jobs right now: casual work, on-call work, short contract work that do not meet any of these criteria for good jobs. I think if we’re serious about our tripartism, we should look at the conditions of work, otherwise we can’t say that any work is good work. 

Walid: How would we do that when the NTUC is not a conventional trade union? Because you mentioned tripartism. And it seems like what you just mentioned is the domain of trade unions.

Kok Hoe: Yeah, so Singapore is kind of a strange country. I had to explain this and repeat myself several times when speaking to a colleague from the UK to explain how the union here works. “Is it, sorry again? Who heads your union?” (Audience laughs) I explained, he said, “no, no it cannot be, are you sure?” “I’m very, very sure who leads our union.” So, it’s tripartism, it happened for historical reasons that we can all find out, and it has its strengths and problems. Strengths is of course labour peace, not to be taken lightly, because strikes and labour disruptions is hurtful to everybody, both the workers as well as the rest of society. So not to be taken lightly. But on the other hand, strong lobbying is equally important. So I think we should all kind of be very focused on whether our current tripartism works properly for us, and if it doesn’t then we need to say something.

And that’s related to—if Walid doesn’t mind me doing a small plug—which is that there are spaces to talk that is outside of formal institutional channels. Individual citizens cannot change institutions, you cannot change the constitution of our unions, but you can come to independent spaces like this. That’s the role of independent publishers, independent media like Walid’s podcast, independent spaces like this bookshop, and have conversations. One of the definitions of care, when we say care, is to care for somebody, but it also means ‘to take an interest in’, to care about an issue. And that sort of care, being interested in an issue, mobilising, getting connected with other people, is a very important form of care. And the plug that I said I was going to make was that, we’ll talk more about this, strategies of advocacy and activism in an upcoming book by Ethos Books called The Art of Advocacy [2], it’s edited by Constance and Margaret, Margaret Thomas and Constance Singam, and it features many activists that I admire like Alfian Sa’at, Cherian George, Walid, SG Climate Rally, and Kirsten Han. And Kirsten herself is soon to publish a book called The Singapore I Recognise, where she talks about the Singapore that she has discovered through her activism and journalism.

I mean Kirsten, as we all know, has a very unique voice, she’s always deeply compassionate but staunchly principled, she’s my favorite kind of activist, so I’m very excited about that. So that’s a very long way of answering yes, there are some things we cannot change about the system right now, but that is not the only space in which we exist. So let’s continue exploring those alternative spaces.

Walid: Thank you. Deidre?

Audience (Deidre): Hi Kok Hoe, so actually for me I volunteer with rough sleepers outside, and I think I have always followed your work for your research on homelessness. So tonight’s talk premised a lot on social housing and even HDBs, I’m just wondering, I just wanted to gather how you feel about the recent MSF—what’s it called—the research published on quantifying homelessness, I’m just wondering how you feel about this quantifying the number of rough sleepers that are in Singapore. So people who don’t even have social housing or don’t feel safe in their social housing?

Walid: So the question is how do you feel about the latest MSF research on quantifying rough sleeping or homelessness, which you are of course an expert in, you have done a lot of research on this as well?

Kok Hoe: That is an interesting study, probably the most tiring [one] I’ve had to do in my ten years as a researcher, and the full story of what happened behind the scenes of that study can be found in the sequel to The Art of Advocacy, so please get a copy of that. I do think it’s very important, and we first started doing this study mainly because it’s done as a matter of routine in many other countries to count the number of rough sleepers, but we didn’t even have that number in Singapore, we didn’t know. How can you make policy if you don’t know how many people you need to serve? How? I didn’t understand. And of course part of it was I just wanted to know, every researcher is a bit of a busybody, you just want to know.

So I just wanted to know. It’s important to know and from anecdotes and so on, from kind of sensing this domain, I very quickly learned that it was a sensitive area to study. So there’s a reason why the first study on homelessness only happened in 2019. That was not the first year that people were homeless. There’s a reason why it happened that way. I mean there are research-based reasons, just very complex, and then there are boring reasons like the way universities are designed these days, but nobody wants to hear that (Walid laughs) and Walid already knows. And then there are reasons of political sensitivity, it’s always a bit of a risky study to study an issue which politicians may or policymakers may feel it’s a critique of the homeownership system. It’s almost as if every homeless person you spot is an indictment of our model of homeownership. Of course it isn’t, nobody thinks that way, nobody sees one homeless person and says “Aha! Proof! HDB fail.” Nobody thinks that. But when you are nervous, you’re nervous, and we can’t control that. So we did do that study, I felt it was important to do, it was extremely difficult to do, but to jump forward to the conclusion, I’m quite happy with the outcome.

Which is from a place where we weren’t able to talk about homelessness properly, and to be honest, there were many times during the process, I wasn’t sure the study would be completed. I really wasn’t sure. Until the day we launched the report, I wasn’t sure that something might happen or not. I just didn’t know. But it did get done, and just a few months ago, the government published a report from their first count of homelessness. Of course I have my views about how they did it, but I don’t want to look ungracious. So I will say that I think it's an important achievement for advocacy to move from a place where we cannot talk about it to them having to acknowledge it, and to them replicating the study and committing to doing it, so let’s all watch how they do it. But I think I want to thank all the volunteers like yourselves who did it, this was a study that an individual could not have done. Ahh, that was a huge accomplishment on all your parts. Yeah.

Walid: So, I think you answered it, that study would not have happened without your prior study?

Kok Hoe: Yeah, I think I can say that with a straight face. I think it’s a bit like toothpaste, you know, that once it’s out of the tube you can’t really put it back, so when you reach a point of the discussion, you can no longer go back to—there was a long time when we were trapped in semantics, definitional squabbles, “really homeless? Do they own a flat? Maybe they might own a flat? Maybe they might know somebody who might own a flat?” It was always a “really homeless?” question, I even was asked, when we were doing the count, “how can you be sure that they didn’t just fall asleep on a bench in a park. Maybe they had a good night out with friends and they were drunk.” What if, what if, really homeless. We were trapped in that for such a long time, but I think we got past that, and on hindsight I’m so glad we did, we published in late 2019, November 2019 I think, and then of course a few months later what happened?

The world stopped. And then homelessness exploded because public spaces were out of bounds. But at that point, journalists no longer had to worry about “are they really homeless? Can we really publish these stories?” It was full steam, the shelters were at capacity, journalists helped and they made an open call for businesses and so on to open their premises to homeless people. I’m glad we got past that meaningless unconstructive squabble so that when the crisis hit, we could do the work that really matters. 

Walid: I think on that—unless there are any other questions or comments? So on that very positive note, I think we should bring this session to a close, and also just now I said on the government’s side, change is impossible until it happens, but I think a lot of activists or people in society also, we are sort of crippled by a sense of hopelessness. And I always say, when we lose hope, we lose life itself, because what is there to live for if you lose hope? So there must always be hope that things can change, and I think your study—I think so as well, and I’m glad you didn’t take the road of false humility and say “No, I don’t know what are the other factors,” but you said “yes my study caused it,” that should be the way and academics should be doing that more—and I agree with you, that wouldn’t have happened. The discourse on inequality wouldn’t have happened without Prof Teo’s book, the discussions on racial privilege wouldn’t have happened without a certain paper and the rebuttal to that paper. And I think when you look back, five years ago or ten years ago, you would never have imagined that these things would take place. These discourses and resulting in policy change. So I really would like to thank you, not only for being here and it was a great session, I’m sure everyone agrees, but also for all the work that you do in pushing the boundaries on homelessness and so on. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.


About the Speakers

Ng Kok Hoe received his PhD in Social Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science where he was a UK Commonwealth Scholar and won the Titmuss Prize. He is Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and was formerly from the civil service. Kok Hoe’s research investigates Singapore’s public housing policy, homelessness, and income security for elderly people. His past projects include studies commissioned by the government, local NGOs, and UN-Habitat. He shares his findings through public talks and commentaries in the hope that policy research will inform understanding, facilitate participation, and serve wider public interest.

Walid Jumblatt Abdullah is an Assistant Professor at the Public Policy and Global Affairs Program, Nanyang Technological University. He completed his PhD under the Joint Degree Program between National University of Singapore and King’s College, London. He works on relationships between Islam and the state, political Islam, and political parties and elections, with a special focus on Singapore and Malaysia. He has published in journals such as Democratization, International Political Science Review, Government and Opposition, Asian Survey, and Asian Studies Review, among others. Walid has been promoting political awareness amongst younger generations, having starting initiatives such as his Instagram Live series called Teh Tarik With Walid, where he has discussions with politicians, policymakers and influencers, in a bid to make politics more accessible.