Welfare must not undermine value of hard work

Welfare must not undermine value of hard work

Just 37, Madam N already has eight children and a grandchild. Her third husband, a factory worker, earns $1,400.

The family receives close to $1,400 in monthly cash handouts and vouchers, the bulk of it from the Government.

Factor in medical and education subsidies, and what they get in state aid is considerably more than the money they make from work.

The handouts, the housewife acknowledged, have increased over the years. The state has also exercised flexibility in allowing the large family to live by themselves in a three-room Interim Rental Housing flat, whereas the temporary housing scheme usually requires two families to share a roof.

I chanced upon the former beautician after following her children home one afternoon last month, while wandering along the corridors of their Boon Lay housing block.

Chatting in their cluttered flat as her teenage daughter played on a Samsung tablet, I realised that this family was living proof of the rapid and relatively recent widening of Singapore's social safety nets.

Aid quantums have increased and eligibility criteria relaxed. More help has been targeted to larger families by introducing per capita income criteria to assess financial need.

Families are being judged "case by case" and sometimes, on appeal, rules are bent in their favour. Help has also become more accessible, with far more agencies and offices dispensing state aid than before.

All this is welcome news for the poor in a country long known for its prudent - some would call it tight-fisted - approach to welfare.

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