Civil society's role cannot be to provide public goods

5 Jun 2017

With the housing problems faced by single parents in the news lately, there has been a well-intentioned call for us to “forget HDB” and for civil society to step up (“Forget HDB. Time for civil society to step up to help single mums with housing“, Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times Online, May 27).

Ms Chua’s suggestion came in the wake of a report that an unmarried mother had adopted her own biological daughter in the hope that she could qualify for subsidised public housing. The Government then said that such a family set-up would not qualify. Citing the case, Ms Chua argued that it was time to go beyond lobbying the state, and urged civil society and individuals to offer direct assistance instead.

While there are important roles for civil society, the argument that we should count on civil society to provide housing solutions instead of pursuing policy change reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of housing problems, how public policies work, and what civil society can and cannot do.

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Ng Kok Hoe is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore and Teo You Yenn is an associate professor and head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University. This article was published in The Straits Times on 5th June 2017.

Ng Kok Hoe

Assistant Professor