Ministry of Social and Family Development Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 5 Mar 2019)

Working Elderly Singaporeans – Faisal Manap

Sir, I would like to touch on the issue of two groups of elderly Singaporean which have been receiving much attention among many Singaporeans and many have also expressed concerns about them, particularly in the last 10 years.

The first group, elderly who are doing strenuous jobs such as conservancy work, collecting of eating utensils and cups at food or hawker centres and trolley attendants. Second group, elderly who goes around collecting empty aluminium cans, discarded cardboards or any other recyclable items which can be exchanged for cash.

Sir, anecdotally it seems that the number of elderly for these two groups have risen in the last 10 years. The questions that many Singaporeans have in mind in relation to this issue are; (i) why are our elderly, who are supposed to be enjoying retirement in their golden age, are still doing such strenuous jobs and collecting recyclable items and (ii) are our elderly doing such because they Need do so or is it just a matter of choice?

Different views and perspectives have been shared on this issue, in particular on social media. Some are of the view that these elderly wanted to have additional pocket money. Some mentioned that these elderly are doing so basically to occupy their time as well as to keep themselves fit and healthy. While many others, opined that these elderly are in need of cash for their day to day sustenance. The discussion on this issue has been surfacing from time to time in the past years with some turned into an emotive one.

Sir, I would like to ask whether ministry, has conducted any study to find out, first, whether there has been an increase or decrease in the number of elderly engaging in such strenuous works and collecting activity and, secondly, what are the reasons for them to do so, is it due to Needs or Wants?

Sir, findings from such study will allow Singaporeans to have a better and a more realistic understanding on the matter. More importantly, sir, recognizing the root cause will enable policymakers to formulate a more accurate and effective remedial actions in addressing this issue, assuming there is a need to do so.

Vulnerable Children and Youths – Sylvia Lim

Over the years I have encountered families who find life a struggle. Major causes of instability include divorce, lack of finances, and mental health issues that affect one’s parenting capacity and the ability to work. Children and youth in such families are subject to crises sometimes on a daily basis. They do not eat well, and grow up with a maturity well beyond their years.

It is thus very encouraging that the government commenced the KidSTART programme three years ago, targeted at children from low-income families. The three-year pilot was expected to benefit about 1,000 children living in the pilot regions of Kreta Ayer/Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong/Boon Lay and Geylang Serai. We are told that under KidSTART, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) coordinates holistic services for families, and monitors and supports child development from birth onwards. Last month, Finance Minister mentioned in his Budget Speech that more than 900 families had received support from KidSTART since 2016. Could the Ministry elaborate on whether the government is encouraged by the outcomes, and whether KidSTART will be rolled out progressively nationwide?

On the topic of youths, I welcome the Ministry’s announcement last month that it is proposing amending the Children & Young Persons Act, to increase the cut-off age for protection from 16 to 18 years. This will put us in line with the Conventions of the Rights of a Child, which Singapore has signed. I would like to ask for elaboration on how this will be implemented. First, when is the amendment to the CYPA expected to be tabled before Parliament? Secondly, what are the changes needed by MSF, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Courts and the media, to operationalise the changes regarding the crime cases involving such youths? Lastly, will there be any changes to the scope and resources for young offenders’ rehabilitation?

New Homelessness – Daniel Goh

Chairman, there may be emerging new types of homelessness in Singapore that is not about destitution and need for shelter. The Destitute and Shelter Support Branch (DSSB) oversees ten welfare homes that care for and rehabilitate destitute persons. The aim is to provide a temporary place for the destitute persons to stay, where they are trained to become self-reliant, so that they can return to their families.

But the problem is that there are homeless persons who can care for themselves, who are practically self-reliant. In a survey done by volunteer group SW101 and VWO Montfort Care a little over a year ago, of the 180 people found living on the streets one night in Singapore, two-thirds have a job, more than quarter own a flat and a quarter were married.

Further investigation by TODAY journalists found that many slept on the streets not out of destitution. They were homeless because they had personal relationship issues and were estranged from their families, or because they were unable to purchase HDB flats or adapt to sharing HDB public rental flats with strangers.

These homeless persons would not be amenable to being sheltered and rehabilitated in the DSSB-managed welfare homes. Their sense of independence would be too strong, and in many ways, they are already self-reliant in their very struggle of keeping a job while sleeping on the streets. Reuniting them with their families is a noble aim, but it would be necessary to provide dedicated counselling and mediation resources to achieve this.

There is a need for MSF to study the homeless Singaporeans found on the streets today to understand these new types of homelessness. Beyond understanding the homelessness, the aim should also be to redesign the DSSB’s work to help return these homeless persons to their homes and families.

Adoption Support Subsidies – Daniel Goh

Chair, compared to the decade before, the number of children adopted in Singapore has halved in this decade. For example, 352 children were adopted in 2014, compared to 731 children in 2004.Restrictions on international adoptions by some countries such as China explain part of the drop. But fewer unwanted pregnancies and higher abortion numbers here have also been cited as reasons.

I believe many Singaporean couples wishing to adopt would like to adopt babies born locally rather than engage in overseas adoption due to the risks, legal problems and ethical issues involved in overseas adoption. I believe many are also willing to pay for the medical, delivery and post-natal care costs for birth mothers as a gesture of gratitude and honour.

But there is an information gap that separates would-be birth mothers and adopting parents. Single women with unwanted pregnancies do not have the full information available to make the proper decision to abort or to carry the foetus to full term for adoption. Some may be aborting due to financial concerns related to full-term pregnancy and delivery. All these reasons reduce the opportunities for prospective adopters to adopt Singaporean babies.

The promise of state support for medical, delivery and post-natal care costs could help bridge the gap. Actually, to call the support “subsidies” may be wrong, as the costs could be clawed back through an adoption fee charged to prospective adopters who are willing to pay in the first place. Needless to say, this will help boost our country’s birth rates.

I recognize there may be psychological implications and other issues for would-be birth mothers and prospective adopters, so this suggestion should be thoroughly studied with the well-being of the child as the central concern of policy.

Improving Lasting Power of Attorney – Dennis Tan

I declare my interest as a practising lawyer.

In recent years, the Government has been encouraging people to sign Lasting Power of Attorneys (in short, LPAs). LPAs are to be executed before an LPA certificate issuer who can come from three categories of professionals:

(1)        Medical practitioners who are accredited by the Public Guardian;

(2)        Registered psychiatrists;

(3)        Practising lawyers.

I would like to suggest that there should be a clause in the LPA Form 1 where both the donor and donee declare to their best knowledge, at the time of the execution of the LPA Form 1 by the donor, (1) whether the donor has any known prior medical condition and (2) whether they are aware of any medical reports issued in respect of the donor, which relates to the issue of whether the donor has the mental capacity to execute the LPA.

This will encourage donors and donees to be more forthright and make any relevant declaration before they sign the LPAs.

It will also help to protect the LPA issuers in cases where donees may deliberately withhold such information when the LPA issuer is approached to witness the execution of the LPA. Failure to make the relevant disclosure should provide the LPA issuer with some protection in cases where the LPA is disputed by another relative or by way of adverse inferences drawn against say any donee with questionable intentions.

The qualifications and training of the three types of professionals who are authorised to be LPA certificate issuers are different. Having such a clause will also provide further assistance to the LPA issuers in their assessment whether a donor is in a position to execute the LPA.


Diversity in Early Childhood Education – Leon Perera

Sir, during the debate on the Early Childhood Education Centres Bill, I opined that when forming and enforcing regulations, we should recognise that diversity in early childhood education is one desirable objective. Regulations should be enforced flexibly so as not to erode the viability of smaller centres that are providing good quality care. We are still learning things about early childhood education. There should be sufficient space for innovation, research and experimentation, within reasonable limits to ensure minimum standards. This is the context for my questions and suggestions, which are as follows.

Firstly, I would like to ask for an update on the pace of licensing by ECDA under the Bill passed in 2017. Anecdotally, it appears that the pace is slow.

Secondly, I would like to ask how many centres have been unable to secure licensing.

Thirdly, how many how many preschools have closed down or been acquired or merged since the Act was passed?

Next, will children with high-functioning or borderline special needs have their needs met in the remaining schools? My assumption is that many boutique or niche schools have had to change their operations significantly to cope with the requirements of the new Act. Is the government monitoring outcomes on this front and what are the results so far?

Next, what is the situation for insurance for pre-school centres catering to children with special needs? Some insurers do not cover children with special needs. So, preschools may seek to reduce their liabilities by not accepting children with special needs. This should be looked into.

Lastly, it has been over 6 years since the Starting Well study by the EIU, commissioned by the Lien Foundation, ranked Singapore 29 out of 45 countries studied in terms of early education sector quality. How has Singapore fared on such international benchmarks recently and is this something the government monitors to obtain regular independent assessments of early education outcomes? It should be.