Sunday, 11 December 2016

ComCare aid to needy hit record $130 million in FY2015

Amount for 40,000 households is 10% higher than year before, and triple that a decade ago
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2016

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 of money given out a decade ago.

The money was distributed to some 40,000 households.

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

ComCare is a key social safety net for low-income Singaporeans and 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 the number of beneficiaries over the years can be attributed to "policy enhancements, greater accessibility to help and the economy slowdown in recent years".

Observers put the rising amount of aid paid out to a growing number of people down to several factors.

"At first blush, the increasing numbers might seem to suggest a deteriorating social situation," said former Nominated MP and Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

"But it is 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," he added.

A portion of the money - $68.4 million - came from interest generated by the ComCare Endowment Fund. The rest came from the MSF's budget.

The biggest jump last year was in short- to medium-term payouts, which rose 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.

"One trend that caught my attention is that we are seeing more households with older persons or retirees requiring social assistance. This could be due to smaller families and an ageing population," Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin wrote on Facebook yesterday.

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

Associate Professor Tan said the amount of money disbursed via ComCare is likely to rise, given economic restructuring and demographic changes, with the rate of increase stabilising in the years ahead.

Some observers have described this as a government "shifting to the left".

Associate Professor Irene Ng from the department of social work at the National University of Singapore thinks that the country's social welfare policy is heading in the right direction.

"We do have to give more. However, it is true that the erosion of self-reliance is currently a real problem in the design of our schemes," said Prof Ng, who is also director of the Social Service Research Centre.

As more types of help are offered, she said, beneficiaries start to have knowledge about the schemes and some change their behaviours in order to qualify for the schemes.

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

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

Observers said it was important to work towards helping aid recipients move out of the schemes.

"The key is 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," said senior lecturer Walter Theseira of the School of Business at SIM University.

However, he noted that families who deserve and need the help should receive it readily because it can be more harmful in the long run if the families make poor decisions about medical treatment or education because of a lack of funds.

"That is penny-wise and pound-foolish for society," he said.










Who received assistance

ComCare short-to medium-term assistance

• 35 per cent were aged 55 and above

• 40 per cent were married; 32 per cent were divorced, widowed or separated

• 41 per cent had primary-level education or below

• Close to half (47 per cent) lived in one- or two-room flats

• 59 per cent had households with young and/or elderly beneficiaries


ComCare long-term assistance

• 12 per cent were aged 55 to 64; 78 per cent were aged 65 and above

• 70 per cent were single; 23 per cent were divorced, widowed or separated

• 74 per cent had primary- level education or below

• 68 per cent lived in one- or two-room flats

• 63 per cent were aged 65 and above and living alone





More retirees seeking financial assistance
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2016

More retirees, even after decades of working, are applying for social assistance.

The proportion of retirees who applied for short- to medium-term assistance from the Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund increased from 9.9 per cent in 2012 to 12.9 per cent last year.

The proportion of people aged 55 and above who applied for such help also rose during the same period: from 29.4 per cent to 35.2 per cent.


This was revealed in a ComCare trends report released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development yesterday. It gave figures on the breakdown of citizens who received financial aid from the state in the last four financial years.


This is the second time that the ministry has released such a report. It previously did so last year.


In a Facebook post yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said the trends of more households with elderly people and retirees requiring social assistance "caught (his) attention". He added that his ministry will continue to monitor the trends closely, and reach out to vulnerable elderly people and families.


Experts in the social service sector said the rise is likely due to an ageing population, compounded by retirees not having enough savings to cope with rising living costs.


Short- to medium-term financial help is targeted at low-income people who are looking for work or are temporarily unable to work, perhaps due to illness. It is also for people who have little or no family support or savings to meet their daily needs.


Retirees seeking such help probably fall under this group, said social workers.


Ms Petrine Lim, principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said the retirees who apply for financial aid are likely to have previously held blue-collar jobs with low wages.

Medical costs and other living expenses have risen over the years, she added.



Mr Ng Koon Sing, head of Comnet Senior Services at AMKFSC Community Services, noted that some low-income elderly people have strained relationships with their children, who may not be offering them financial support even if they have the means to do so.

He said the Government has been giving financial help to needy seniors in recent years, through policies such as the Pioneer Generation Package and Silver Support Scheme.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan suggested that more be done to spur people to have financial literacy and plan for their retirement.

Retired cleaner Tan Cheng Yan, 61, has a monthly Central Provident Fund payout of $700 but hopes to receive ComCare help too.

"I stopped work because of my heart problems. My three step-children have their own families and are not willing to help, while my wife does not get much income as a kitchen help. So it would help if my ComCare application could be approved," he said.



Related
$130 million disbursed under ComCare in FY2015

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