Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mdm Chair, more than 200,000 people is estimated to be providing regular care to family and friends in Singapore. This number is expected to rise as the number of elderly more than double by 2030.
A Duke-NUS Medical School survey found that fewer than 5% of care-givers interviewed used individual support services such as home nursing and respite care programmes. Care-givers are becoming a vulnerable group themselves while they care for their vulnerable loved ones. They face emotional stress, lack of social support and immediate and long-term financial burdens. This is worst for specialised care-givers who have to care for loved ones with specific illnesses, for example, care-givers for elderly with dementia, care-givers of people with mental illness and parents of children with special needs.
I understand that some of these specialised care-givers will qualify for tax reliefs such as Handicapped Parent Relief or the Grandparent Care-giver Relief. However, tax reliefs are only meaningful for working Singaporeans with large enough incomes as to pay taxes. Many specialised care-givers either cannot work or work part-time due to the nature of the specialised care-giving.
I also understand that some Government subsidies are available at the point of service, for example, for Singapore Programme for Integrated Care for the Elderly (SPICE) and also the Foreign Domestic Worker grant. However, there are also specialised care-givers who feel that taking care of the dependents personally is the best care that they can give them.
I ask that the Minister consider giving means-tested refundable tax credits for specialised care-givers, meaning that some of these care-givers who do not work or work part-time would get the cash refund, a portion of which would go into their CPF. This will lessen their financial burdens, improve their retirement adequacy, give them flexibility to use Government aid and empower them to seek individual support services for a better quality of life for themselves and their loved ones.
The Senior Minister of State for Finance (Ms Sim Ann): Mdm Speaker, allow me to address the cuts by Ms Sun Xueling, Miss Cheryl Chan and Dr Tan Wu Meng on the various facets of digitalisation and the delivery of Government services, followed by the cuts by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh and Mr Edwin Tong.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked if refundable income tax credits could be provided for specialised care-givers of dependants with special needs, including autism and dementia. In essence, the Member is asking if direct cash grants can be provided for caregivers.
Madam, this suggestion has been raised several times in the past by Members of this House, including Dr Lam Pin Min and Mr Christopher de Souza. We recognise that caregivers play an important role, which can be very demanding and challenging, and we should support them. Our approach is to focus on directly subsidising services required by people with special needs, thereby defraying the costs borne by their families and caregivers; rather than by providing cash allowances to people for looking after their family members. This has been our consistent approach, as reflected in previous replies on this subject by office holders overseeing health, social support and ageing policies.
Caregivers who work can tap on subsidised centre-based care services when they are working, such as Special Student Care Centres for students, and dementia day care and home help services for seniors. We will continue to expand the capacity of these services, especially as our population ages.
If caregivers hire a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW), they can benefit from a lower FDW concessionary levy. If they are from lower and middle-income families and are caring for an elderly person or a person with moderate disabilities, they can get an additional FDW grant. They also benefit from tax reliefs, such as the handicapped parent relief and the handicapped child relief, if applicable, which reduce the tax they have to pay.
Caregivers can also benefit from a training grant to equip themselves with the necessary skills to care for their loved ones, and self-care skills. We are also strengthening respite care, to enable caregivers to take a much needed break at times.
Should caregivers require additional assistance beyond what is already available, we have existing social safety nets to help them when required.
We will continue to explore further ways to help persons with special needs and with dementia, as well as their caregivers. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has recently set up a Committee to look into the next Enabling Masterplan and it will be studying various initiatives to support persons with disabilities, and their caregivers. The Ministry of Health will speak more about enhancing support for those with dementia as well.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: One of the chief problems faced by specialised caregivers is their own retirement adequacy. Government assistance and direct subsidies, at the point of service, help them for the immediate needs. But many of them are themselves well advance in age after the end of care, and will not do well in the labour market. My question is how is the Government looking into enhancing the retirement adequacy of this group in the long run?
Ms Sim Ann: The Government is concerned about the retirement adequacy of Singaporeans who may not have had the opportunity to work or to build up their savings either in cash or in CPF. That includes, but is not limited to caregivers. To address this, there are CPF top-ups. There are also various assistance schemes which we have mentioned broadly, which are meant to supplement either the incomes of those who are in greater need or to help them cope with living expenses.