Bigger dose of help as more feel the need

Bigger dose of help as more feel the need

Social assistance payments to the poor hit a record $130 million in the last financial year that ended in March.

This is 10 per cent higher than the year before and triple the amount given out a decade ago.

The money was distributed to some 40,000 households, double that of the number of families given help 10 years ago.

The money came from the Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund, set up by the Government in 2005 to help needy families get help.

ComCare is a key social safety net for low-income Singaporeans.

It provides three broad types of assistance:

  • long-term help, largely for the elderly poor;
  • interim as well as short-to-medium term help for those facing crises, such as illness or retrenchment; and
  • student care subsidies for children.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said the increase in number of beneficiaries over the years can be attributed to "policy enhancements, greater accessibility to help and the economy slowdown in recent years".

The rising numbers might suggest a deteriorating social situation, said former NMP and Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

"But it's more likely a combination of factors ranging from our social welfare policy being less tight-fisted, changing demographics, and a more welfare-oriented approach in which short-term assistance is more readily advanced than before."

The biggest jump last year was in short-to-medium-term payouts, from $68.7 million in 2014 to $87.9 million last year.

One reason could be the rise in the number of elderly people who need help.

"We are seeing more households with older persons or retirees requiring social assistance. This could be due to smaller families and an ageing population," MSF Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote on Facebook yesterday.

Spending on long-term help grew to $22.7 million last year, from $18.7 million the year before.

Dr Mathew Mathews, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, does not think that the increase in aid means the Singaporean ethos of self-reliance is waning.

"Today, there is more recognition that providing some short-term help when a family might be facing financial difficulty, coupled with other measures such as providing retraining and child care support, can potentially prevent the family from a downward spiral," he said.

SIM University economist Walter Theseira said: "The keys are to ensure that Comcare-type schemes do the best possible job of helping families 'graduate' from them by finding meaningful work if the recipients can work."

This article was first published on December 10, 2016.
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