Monday, 14 January 2013

More seeking social assistance at CDCs

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 12 Jan 2013

Singapore's five Community Development Councils (CDCs) have seen an increase in the number of social assistance cases coming to them for help in 2012.

A key reason for this uptrend is the revision in the criteria to qualify for such help under the ComCare scheme.

The scheme was revised last year.

Among the changes - the income criteria for short and medium term assistance schemes have been revised and there are more pre-school and student care subsidies.

There are four key challenges which will shape the work of the CDCs in 2013 - an expected slowdown in economic growth in Singapore coupled with economic restructuring, preserving social mobility, a rapidly ageing population and the continued costs of living pressures.

For cleaner Tay Kheng Leong, a sole breadwinner earning about S$700 a month, schemes from the North East CDC have come in very handy for him to meet his daily and medical expenses for his family members, who live in a two-room rental flat.

Mr Tay said CDC has been giving him S$300 every month for more than a year. His children get free textbooks and school uniforms. He provides for his children's pocket money.

Between January and September 2012, the CDCs received close to 44,900 applications for help, an increase of 8.2 per cent compared to 2011. In 2011, there were 41,500 applications for the period between January and September.

Teo Ser Luck, mayor of North East CDC said: "There is the lower middle income (group) that we have to help. Based on the rising costs of living, some of them may be struggling, some of them may have a one-time expenditure which they could not handle or afford. These are the ones we look out for. 

"But we have to make our schemes more readily available on the ground and accessible. That is why more resources would be put into the community, engaging the residents and helping the residents this year."

Dr Teo Ho Pin, mayor of North West CDC added: "This year we have set aside a budget of about S$3.5 million in our CDC funding to support the needy. What we want to do is to provide a more holistic approach to help the needy families to achieve self reliance.

"In the areas of social assistance services, we will be decentralising some of our service points. Secondly we will be improving our processing time. Today we are processing 99 per cent of our cases within four weeks. We are going to do it within two weeks, so that we can respond faster."

Dr Amy Khor, coordinating chairman of the mayors' council, feels more can be done to improve the accessibility and delivery of social assistance.

"The CDCs are also actually working to further enhance and improve the efficiency and effectiveness as well as accessibility of social assistance and social assistance delivery," said Dr Khor, who is also the mayor of South West CDC.

"We are looking at a standard referral form and protocol, as well as working closely with our partner agencies to ensure that no one falls through the cracks and that they can get targeted assistance which is needed, relevant and useful to them."

Sam Tan, mayor of Central Singapore CDC said: "In the past, there were many who lived in the one and two-room rental flats, they may not be able to read the newsletter, internet and so on. We have done a lot of outreach activities like doing home visits, working closely with the VWOs (voluntary welfare organisations), the seniors activity centres, asking them to recommend the probable and suitable (potential beneficiaries) so that we can get in touch with them."

But there may still be some who do not qualify for the schemes and who need some interim help.

"In our case we always take a more generous approach in that we always exercise flexibility for people who may just marginally, or for some reasons may have exceeded the criteria a little bit more," said Mr Tan.

"We always look at their family background to find if there are other justifying factors or reasons so that we can have reasons to offer the assistance to them, even though they may have exceeded the criteria."

"Definitely there are applicants who may not qualify, but they come forward. Some of them may know that outright they do not qualify," said Dr Khor.

"They may suffer pay cuts but they expect to maintain their standard of living. That can be a problem and so we need to counsel and explain to them. In some cases when they really do not qualify because of their income criteria, we may still assist them through our own local schemes, in various ways, may not be in cash assistance but other ways, in terms of training where they can get other jobs. Or for instance in terms of looking at their needs of their children."

The next focus area for the CDCs is the elderly, and a pilot programme is underway in Marine Parade to assess their needs.

Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, mayor of South East CDC explained: "Marine Parade is where we pilot the concept of a city of all ages where we want to help the seniors ensure that they are able to age successfully with the younger generation.

"So we assess all the abilities of the elderly, whether they are wheelchair bound, whether they have visual difficulties. The whole of Marine Parade is assessed physically and at the same time they also look at the social infrastructure of Marine Parade to respond to the varying needs of senior citizens there. Hopefully if Marine Parade succeeds we will try to expand it to other towns."

When it comes to employment assistance, the picture at the CDCs is slightly different. The CDCs say the number of people coming to them for job referrals and employment matters has dipped slightly in 2012 compared to 2011. And one key reason for this fall in numbers is the tight job market in Singapore last year.

Between January and November 2012, the number of people approaching the CDCs for training and employment assistance was 24,500, a 3 per cent drop compared to the same period in 2011.

The success rates of those being placed into employment has also been higher in 2012. 11,800 were placed into jobs between January and November 2012, compared to 10,100 for the same period in 2011.

But if Singapore faces a recession, the mayors say they are ready with their help schemes, having gained from the experiences in 2003 and 2008.

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