Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Chairman, Sir, Ministry's ComCare Annual Report reported that the number of recipients of ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance increased from over 11,000 beneficiaries in Financial Year 2012 to over 27,000 beneficiaries in Financial Year 2014. I believe this is due to the expansion of the eligibility for Short-to-Medium Term Assistance in 2012 and 2014, and also the greater outreach effort by Social Service Offices.
It is good that ComCare is reaching more Singaporeans in need. Nevertheless, all else being equal, the effectiveness of Government's efforts to help Singaporeans in need should be reflected in a decline of the number eligible for assistance. We should be worried if the number of beneficiaries continue to climb when the eligibility criteria stays the same.
I would like to propose the Ministry set up a Mentoring Programme for the recipients of ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance. Recent studies show that asset and cash transfers to the poor are more effective when the recipients receive two years of counselling and training to use the assets and cash in ways that will help them to graduate from poverty
In the Singapore context, it could be to enrol in skills training, so that the person could land a decent job or to leverage existing skills to start micro-businesses. The Mentoring Programme would also encourage recipients to persevere and break out of the poverty cycle.
We should not be so judgemental as to tell the recipients what they should consume with their cash assistance, but the little mentoring advice and encouragement will go a long way, especially with the needy who find themselves socially isolated.
This Mentoring Programme need not and should not be as intense as the handholding for the Fresh Start Housing Scheme but the underlying principle is the same. The ComCare Annual Report should also show the number graduating from ComCare through the Mentoring Programme, not just the number of beneficiaries, so that we can be confident our fellow Singaporeans are being uplifted from poverty.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social and Family Development (Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim): Sir, allow me to start my speech in Malay.
ComCare also provides short and medium term assistance to low-income families and children in need. Each household is different. Our approach is to provide appropriate assistance to meet each family's needs and work with them so that where possible, they can improve their lives and regain self-reliance.
To answer Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin’s concerns, besides financial needs, we also look at their food, shelter, care-giving, employment, family support, and healthcare needs. Our SSOs would typically work with them to formulate action plans to guide them towards improving their circumstances in the different areas. Such assistance is also available to foreign spouses in vulnerable transnational families, a point raised by Mr Ang Hin Kee.
For example, SSOs work with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency to help train ComCare recipients and place them in employment. SSOs may also link them up with financial literacy classes for proper budgeting, or with other social services if they have family or socio-emotional issues. CPF and HDB do give advice when home owners buy or sell their flats. Mr Chen Show Mao and Assoc Prof Daniel Goh had asked about this.
An example of a person or family who have graduated is the case of a male Singaporean aged 37 who approached the SSO in Chua Chu Kang in September 2014. He was also the sole breadwinner for the family and was not on full-time employment. He and his spouse have three young children, youngest being two years old. We provided the necessary assistance to the family. Together with our partners, we helped him secure a full-time job with a basic income of $1,800 a month in September 2015. Our assistance ended in September 2015 as the family was able to cope with their lives. However, given the complexity of cases and variety of needs, there is no single definition of graduation.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: Thank you, Chairman. I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary. Many advanced countries have a clear definition of graduation from relative poverty because they have a relative poverty line, and they check the progress of their welfare schemes. I would like to ask what is the Ministry's working definition of self-reliance since that is the objective of ComCare assistance and does the Ministry track how many beneficiaries become self-reliant at the end of the assistance.
Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: As I have said earlier in my answer, realistically, due to the complexity of the cases and the different needs, you realise that each individual and family's graduation refers to different forms of graduation. Our approach is actually to uplift everyone, whether someone is poor or in need of help to better their lives. As Members of Parliament, we have come across many cases whereby we have helped them and we also see their lives improve, day after day.
Nevertheless, if you go back to the notion of having a clear, clean definition, you realise it does not work that way on the ground. You realise that there are people, even though you have helped, who seem to be able to do better now, but they still need help, because they need the support not only for themselves, but also for their families.
That is why in my answer earlier, I shared that there is no clear definition of graduation because on the ground we see the different complexities, the different needs of families. I am very passionate about this because to me what is important is that each and every one of us plays a part. We are all touch points of the people around us.
If you see any of us having difficulties, be it financially or socially, please find ways to get them to the SSOs for help. If you cannot find where the SSOs are, remember this number: 1800 222 0000. This becomes very handy. I am very serious here because when it comes to issues like these, it means a lot to our residents who need help.
Dr Lily Neo: Mr Chairman, I would like to have one clarification on KidSTART. Intervening for disadvantaged children is crucial and the earlier the assistance is given, the better it is. Thus, may I ask the Minister whether he will consider the flexibility on the age criterion for existing cases on a case-by-case basis beyond the six years of age?
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin: Chairman, right now we are looking at the age six and below. If there are particular cases that Dr Lily Neo would like to raise for consideration, we will take a look at them. But KidSTART is just a particular programme. It does not preclude the whole series of different outreach efforts that we have that are already on-going. Some of it may be eligible. Perhaps to reinforce the response given earlier to Assoc Prof Daniel Goh, I think the whole idea with the set-up of the SSO is to forward-deploy a lot of our Social Service Officers upfront, especially to deal with complex cases.
If I may also add, we do not have one definition of poverty per se and many of us encounter them in many, many different circumstances. If you use the analogy of social safety nets, what we have is a series of safety nets at different levels for different groups. What you want to make sure is within each net, it is interwoven enough so that it is tight. And between the nets, you make sure that the gaps are not there. And especially using the analogy of a trampoline, these nets are also to help you to be able to stand. That is really important.
In the cases where they fall outside of that particular definition of, say, aged six and below, we will look at them. If there are needs, I think we will endeavour to see how best to address those needs.