Wednesday 23 November 2011

Singaporeans should decide for themselves if they need CDCs help: MCYS

Respect wishes of those who refuse help: Halimah
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2011

POOR Singaporeans who do not want to seek public assistance should have their wishes respected, said Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports.

'We need to respect the desires of people - even though they may be in the bottom 20 per cent - to have ownership of their lives,' she told the House yesterday.

She was replying to Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC), who asked what could be done for people who refuse public welfare.

It led Madam Halimah to recount her childhood experience in a low-income family. Her father had died when she was eight years old.

Teachers would tell her to ask her mother to apply for social assistance.

But her mother was horrified by the suggestion. Madam Halimah said: 'My mother said that so long as she has two hands and two legs, we will all survive.'

She also disclosed that, in a survey her ministry did of 2,000 low-income families this year, six out of 10 said they preferred to be self-sufficient and did not need help.

Earlier, she gave the House examples of the amounts three typical families on public assistance might receive.

A family of four with a sole breadwinner who has lost his job could get $600 a month, as well as additional vouchers and preschool subsidies.

A couple where the sick husband has stopped working temporarily but receives some help from their children could get $300 a month and assistance with utility bills.

A needy elderly person without support might receive $400 a month, vouchers and free treatment at polyclinics.

Madam Halimah gave the examples to make the point that it was not meaningful to give an average figure, as aid packages are tailored to each individual's or family's circumstances.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam had asked how much was given each month to the 61,500 ComCare beneficiaries last year, when a total of $61 million was handed out.

Madam Halimah also described how help for the poor is coordinated via nine ComCare Local Networks, which bring together community development councils (CDCs), voluntary welfare organisations and bodies such as schools and hospitals.

Still, her ministry is looking at 'more coordinated and integrated service delivery', she added.

She was responding to Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), who asked if the ministry would survey different agencies to identify areas of best practices and improvement in their coordination.

The ministry conducts smaller-scale surveys regularly, but a more comprehensive one is a possibility, replied Madam Halimah.

Coordination was also a worry for Mrs Chiam, who suggested setting up a one-stop assistance centre, and Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC), who called for an integrated database of help-seekers that would be accessible to CDCs and grassroots organisations.

Replying, Madam Halimah said a one-stop centre could become a bottleneck. Also, help should be offered across the island. So the Government is looking at developing service hubs in specific locations, she added.

She also said a database of help-seekers exists and her ministry is looking at ways to improve it.

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