15 Feb 2007

Singapore's wealth divide widening

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- For years, Singaporeans measured success by "the five Cs" -- cash, car, condominium, credit card and club membership.

But such trophies, especially condos, remain firmly out of reach for many Singaporeans.

While Singapore is the wealthiest country in Asia after Japan in terms of gross national income per capita, it is grappling with a widening income gap that puts it alongside countries such as Burundi and Kenya in terms of income inequality.

The 2007 budget issued on Thursday is expected to tackle such disparities through government handouts to poorer workers after a report released this week showed that 19.3 percent of Singaporean households earn less than S$24,000 ($15,600) a year.

"The five Cs used to be an aspirational goal," said Colin Goh, whose award-winning feature film "Singapore Dreaming" showed how such aspirations can shatter family relations.

"Now, Singaporeans regard them as essentials, and if you're of a certain class, practically an entitlement. Having the five Cs is no longer a sign of attaining entry into the elite. Rather, the absence of the five Cs indicates one's inadequacy," he said.

Exclusive clubs

True, some of the Cs have become more attainable.

Banks, increasingly eager to earn fat fees from consumers, are falling over themselves to offer cash advances and credit cards, although in the case of DBS, the country's biggest bank, customers need to have an annual income exceeding S$30,000.

Prices for club memberships and cars have also declined. But the entrance fee for the 160-year-old Tanglin Club, a relic of the colonial era, still costs S$20,000.

Moreover, exclusivity matters.

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