Ministry of Social and Family Development Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered In Parliament On 8 March 2017)


ComCare – Sylvia Lim

There are two broad ComCare schemes to assist those financial difficulties – Temporary Assistance via the Short to Medium Term Assistance Scheme, and the Long Term Assistance, the latter commonly called the Public Assistance (PA) Allowance.

Regarding Temporary Assistance, I would like to clarify how the government tracks its success.  Is it simply based on the numbers of persons helped, or is there tracking as to how persons managed to attain self-sufficiency to no longer need the scheme?  Based on the cases I have encountered, there seems to be a rule or guideline that after a number of months, the quantum of help is reduced and then help is refused altogether.  While I support the rationale of incentivising persons to be self-sufficient, we sometimes see families stricken with illness and mental problems, who have limited means of helping themselves.

Another issue about Temporary Assistance that has recently cropped up is how it interacts with the Silver Support Scheme.  Some Singaporeans who receive both Silver Support and Temporary ComCare assistance were apparently advised that their Temporary ComCare assistance might be reduced in view of the Silver Support payments.   Could the Ministry please clarify this?

Finally, I move to the Long Term Assistance scheme.  Currently the Public Assistance allowance of $500 for a single person is meant for the person to defray his living expenses.  The PA allowance is usually given in a cash lump sum, from which the recipient is expected to pay his bills such as rent, utilities, and Town Council S&CC.  This is different for those on Temporary Assistance, where the government commonly makes direct payment of utilities and S&CC bills to agencies.  Many on Public Assistance are elderly and / or permanently unable to work, are usually not in robust health and have no relatives to help them.  Would it be more efficient for the Long Term Assistance scheme to make direct payment to the relevant agencies?


ComCare Supplement – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Madam, ComCare’s short to medium term assistance, better known as SMTA, currently includes help for rental, utilities, S&CC, monthly cash grant, medical assistance and employment assistance such as training.

However, there are SMTA recipients who still struggle with additional expenses, and who have few alternatives to turn to. Although SMTA is able to cover basic daily expenses, it is still lacking in terms of ad-hoc big ticket expenses. For example, repairing of damaged household appliances or items, repairing damaged spectacles – these are expenses that don’t occur daily but can rack up substantial costs when they do.

I would like to ask the Minister if he will set up a special claim fund to provide additional assistance for ad-hoc repairs and one-off expenses. This can be modelled on the Discretionary Assistance under Public Assistance. I am putting up two recommendations for consideration:

  1. Allow recipients to claim up to 70% funding for ad-hoc repairs expenses such as broken shoes, spectacles, damaged appliances, replacement of faulty light bulbs, up to a maximum claim of $300 annually. By allowing only up to 70% claim for annual repairs allowance, recipients still have to take responsibility for 30% of the expenses, and the annual cap prevents excessive spending and abuse of the system. However, a more in-depth review should also be done to understand the amounts that these groups have to fork out for such expenses.
  2. Allow recipients to claim a one-off 100% funding for household item purchases such as beds, furniture, etc. This can have a maximum lifetime cap of up to $300 per recipient. For one-off claims, it will be administratively more efficient (lesser tracking) to allow a 100% claim since it is only a one-time funding and cannot be re-claimed. This is to emulate part of Discretionary Assistance under PA to extend additional coverage support for SMTA recipients who are unable to qualify for additional welfare programmes.

These claims can be disbursed 30 days after the SMTA recipient files for it with proof of receipts at their respective ComCare branches.

Madam, with that, I would like to urge the Ministry to start looking at the possibility of expanding the current scope of assistance.


Updates on Social Service Office – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Mdm, the establishment of Social Service Office (SSO) in 2013 is with the objectives to provide better accessibility for low-income families who needs assistance and also to play a role in integrating the social service delivery in the respective towns.

I would appreciate if the ministry can provide updates on the SSO meeting its objectives, in particular its role in integrating the social service delivery.

In addition I have 2 questions and one suggestion to make.

First, in replying to my 2013 PQ on whether SSO will be staffed with social-work trained officers and what is the proposed number, the ministry mentioned that some of the staff may have social work training. It was further mentioned that the ministry will provide the requisite training to enable all staff to perform their roles. Can the minister share how many of the current SSO officers are social-work trained and also what are some of the requisite trainings provided to the staff.

My second question is whether SSO practises making referrals to ECDA (Early Childhood Development Agency) to assist with childcare related matters such as placement and grants assistance for those low-income young parents who are open to seek employment. I am asking this because I have come across many such cases where these young parents are receiving financial assistance from SSO but came to me to seek help with childcare placement.

As for my suggestion, can each SSO produces a mini directory with a map, on all the social and community services available within its boundary so as to better assist residents to locate these services especially elderly residents.

Women’s Charter Maintenance Payments – Leon Perera

Madam Chairperson, last year, my colleague Prof Daniel Goh suggested establishing a Commissioner for the Maintenance of Families, empowered to recover maintenance on behalf of families and provide means-tested support where needed during the process. Today, coincidentally on International Women’s Day, I would like to repeat this call.

The Department of Human Services (Child Support) in Australia can collect Child Support Payments on behalf of the parent, investigate cases of non-payment, and issue overseas travel bans, among other actions. The UK too has a Child Maintenance Service that is empowered to take action against the defaulting party if maintenance is not paid.

In our system, the onus lies mainly on the claimant to make trips to court to enforce the maintenance order. This can take a toll on the emotional well-being of spouses who are affected, and may even affect their earning power, as they have to repeatedly take leave from work to make visits to the court. The current enforcement process is one that punishes claimants with unrepentant or spiteful ex-spouses.

A central agency would help relieve this unjust burden.

I would also like to ask the Minister whether the situation has improved since new measures were introduced in 2011 to strengthen maintenance enforcement?

Lastly, the Minister also said last year that a Maintenance Record Officer would be appointed to facilitate firm Court action against incorrigible defaulters. Has this officer been appointed? Can the Minister share more details on this office, including the number of staff, the number of investigations that have commenced and concluded, as well as an assessment of the initial impact?


Assistive Technology Fund  – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Madam, the Assistive Technology Fund provides means-tested subsidy of up to 90% for persons with disabilities to purchase assistive technology devices such as motorised wheelchairs, hearing aids, and screen readers. The Fund has a fixed lifetime cap of $40,000 per person.

While the changes that have been made to the scheme are encouraging, we believe that the Assistive Technology Fund can be enhanced to ease the financial burden for persons with disabilities and special needs over their lifetime. Somebody who is diagnosed with special needs or has a disability from a young age will use up the grant much faster than a person who is diagnosed later in life, as will a person whose disability may require more expensive assistive devices. If required, is it possible for the ministry to assess the needs of these individuals on a case-by-case basis and exercise flexibility even if they have exceeded the cap? The purpose of the Fund will be better served if it can be made more flexible to take into consideration the lifetime needs of individuals.

It is also stated that after the approval of an application to use the Fund, touchpoints such as hospitals and VWOs will assist individuals to purchase the devices and reimbursement will either be made to the touchpoint or to the vendor. Would it be more cost-effective for SG Enable to consolidate these orders so that it can negotiate with vendors and pass cost-savings to the end consumer? The benefits of bulk-purchasing assistive technology devices could be extended to those whose household income puts them just above the income eligibility cap, but who would still find it onerous to fork out thousands of dollars for an assistive device.

Professionalization of Social Work – Daniel Goh

Sir, I would like to call for better pay structure and wage increments for social workers, as well as increased professionalization of the social work profession.

According to figures released by MSF last year, the number of social workers doubled from 2012 to reach 1,600 in 2016. However, this number is still far from what Singapore needs. Social workers play an integral role in alleviating the problems faced by vulnerable members of our society, and they deserve remuneration that reflects the job complexity and high amounts of stress they face in their line of work.

Despite pay increments announced in Budget 2015, the wages of fresh graduates in social work are still a distance from the overall median wage of fresh graduates. Even though the government has pledged to review and provide salary guidelines “based on market data and benchmarks”, it is not clear exactly how the benchmarking is conducted.

I would like to propose that the government benchmark the pay of social workers to another noble profession – teachers. Back when the government was looking to make teaching an attractive profession, it raised the salaries of teachers and increased the quality of their training. I ask that the government do the same for social workers. I would also like to appeal to the government for transparency in the salary benchmarking process and to set a timeline for regular wage reviews.


Helping and Funding VWOs – Png Eng Huat

Madam, in a newspaper article in June 2015, it was reported that the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) was looking into ways to help smaller voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) with “weak or no fundraising capability’. It was stated that NCSS intends to help these VWOs strengthen their organisations and “develop alternative resources to support their functions’.

The same report cited that in 2012, less than 1 per cent of the total funds raised went to small charities with annual receipts of less than $250,000, while large charities with annual receipts of above $10 million, took the lion share of 85 per cent.

Hougang has been blessed with presence of these small charities. I am sure these outfits are doing good work in many parts of Singapore as well. These smaller VWOs are able to complement and contribute to the collective efforts of the big charities and the ministry to help needy Singaporeans in filling the gaps and providing very targeted assistance at times. They are able to reach out to the needy at a personal level and with great speed.

Thus, I wish to seek an update from the ministry on the reported effort to help these smaller charities serve the community. What are the possible alternative ways to help them raise the much needed funds effectively?

It was reported that the Grassroots Organisations (GROs) raised about $7 million from community trade fairs in the last financial year. The GROs were also given $206 million to spend the same year. Would the ministry consider allowing smaller VWOs to raise funds through trade fairs instead, as these charities do not have many opportunities to raise meaningful donations effectively? Giving the trade fair quota to these VWOs will also help bring awareness to their presence in the community and the good work they have done to serve the needy residents there.