Caring society 'must begin with caring neighbourhoods'

Caring society 'must begin with caring neighbourhoods'
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat (right), seen here with MP Lily Neo (centre) and children from Catch Plus after opening a new activity centre for the community programme, in which volunteers help children from low-income families with schoolwork and to learn new skills. Also present are People’s Association chief Ang Hak Seng (in purple), and Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Committee chairman Philip Loh (background, in white).

EDUCATION Minister Heng Swee Keat has called on Singaporeans to launch more ground-up initiatives to complement what the Government is doing at the national level.

This is as such local efforts can better meet the specific needs of different neighbourhoods, he told reporters after a ministerial visit to the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng division in Tanjong Pagar GRC yesterday.

"While government policies are very important at the national level, the local communities have different needs. And these needs can also be met more efficiently or meaningfully at the community level," he said.

"And that's where an energetic and caring community makes a difference."

After touring MP Lily Neo's ward, he praised its community spirit, holding it up as an "excellent example" of how residents can support their own community.

With low-income families in rental flats forming about a third of her ward, and almost half the residents aged 50 and above, these initiatives focus on taking care of the elderly and building a community spirit.

Mr Heng said: "We hope many more of these ground-up efforts to bring out this community spirit, and to build a more caring community, will take root across the whole island.

"A caring Singapore society must begin with caring neighbourhoods."

Mr Heng is the latest minister to call for greater community action as the Government ramps up social programmes from social safety nets to health care. President Tony Tan Keng Yam - in his address delivering the Government's plans for the rest of its term - had said that the increase in government spending over the next decade needed to be matched by "individual and community effort and initiative".

Two such community initiatives were launched by Mr Heng at the Tanjong Pagar ward yesterday.

One is the Ageing Gracefully @ Home programme for ablebodied seniors to befriend elderly folk in need of help.

Another aims to revive the "kampung spirit" in the estate by appointing residents as ambassadors to help neighbours bond.

Mr Heng also opened a new activity centre for the community's Catch Plus programme, in which volunteers help children from low-income families with schoolwork and to learn new skills, such as making handicraft and playing table tennis.

This programme, said Dr Neo, aims to help these children "move up the social ladder".

During a dialogue with residents at the end of Mr Heng's visit, ways to improve community support for the elderly were discussed.

A grassroots member also asked Mr Heng why there would be higher premiums under the new MediShield Life scheme.

Mr Heng explained that this is because it is a risk-pooling scheme which will cover more people than the current MediShield scheme.

The full details of MediShield Life, which will cover all Singaporeans for life, will be debated in Parliament this week. The Government has pledged to keep premiums affordable for all.

Asked about this concern over MediShield Life premiums, Mr Heng later told reporters that the Government has to continue to step up its communication of policies.

"The details can be quite complicated, but we have to do our very best to make it simple, easy to understand, and to provide helplines and volunteers who can explain these details," he said.

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