Sunday 20 December 2015

Record $116 million disbursed under ComCare to help the poor in 2014

Figure a 14% jump from the year before; biggest jump was in short- to medium-term payouts, which rose to $68.7m last year
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2015

A record sum of $116 million in social assistance payments was made to the poor in the last financial year, ending March this year.

This was a 14 per cent jump from the previous year and almost double the $61 million given out five years ago.

This money was used to help 91,093 individuals last year, up from 54,041 five years ago.

ComCare is a key social safety net for low-income Singaporeans, and it 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.

• Kindergarten and student care subsidies for children.

• A portion of the money - $68.5 million - came from interest generated by the Community Care Endowment Fund, set up by the Government in 2005 to help needy families get back on their feet.

The rest came from the budget of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

The biggest jump last year was in short- to medium-term payouts, which rose from $55.7 million in 2013 to $68.7 million last year, said the latest ComCare annual report. Five years ago, such payouts amounted to $16.6 million.

One reason could be the rise in the number of people who live alone and therefore need more support.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin noted that one- and two-person households receiving short- to medium-term assistance rose from 51.4 per cent in 2012 to 55.8 per cent last year.

Households given such assistance can receive vouchers for transport and rent, monthly cash grants, medical assistance and help in job search or training.

Spending on long-term help grew to $18.7 million last year, up from $17.3 million the year before. Data from the report showed that 65 per cent of households on such assistance were the elderly who lived alone.

They received cash handouts for daily expenses, and those with children had help with school expenses.

In a newly created blog called MSF Conversations, Mr Tan wrote: "The increase (in ComCare financial assistance) is not too surprising because we have increased our efforts in the last few years to bring help closer to those in need."

The 24th Social Service Office (SSO) that completed Singapore's social services network was officially launched in Taman Jurong earlier this week. SSOs administer ComCare assistance and plan social services in their neighbourhoods.

Mr Tan said: "We have also adjusted some of our income criteria thresholds so that more can be assisted."

Since July last year, the household income cap for short- to medium-term aid was raised from $1,700 to $1,900.

Associate Professor of Social Work at the National University of Singapore Irene Ng said: "Although economic disparity has improved somewhat over the past two years, we are still not past the problems of high income inequality, bottom wage stagnation, high costs of living and fast pace of growth that makes it harder for the less able to catch up."

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the number of people on short- to medium-term assistance is expected to rise further if "the economic situation negatively affects middle-aged, low-income or even lower-middle income people, leading to greater unemployment or underemployment alongside rising costs of living".

Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, said that although the number of people receiving such help may continue to go up in future, mindsets are changing.

He said: "We have moved away from looking at social assistance merely as social expenditures but to also recognise them as social investments."

MSF Singapore released the ComCare Trends report today, and I’ve shared my thoughts on these trends on government...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Quarter of those getting ComCare funds are employed
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2015

Taxi driver Terry Tan spends 12 hours a day on the road, earning about $2,200 a month for his family of five.

The 44-year-old has also been receiving Short-to-medium Term Assistance from the Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund for two years.

A total of 26 per cent of those receiving the money last year were employed, while the second-highest proportion of recipients (23 per cent) were job-seekers.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development released data on ComCare beneficiaries for the first time yesterday.

Most beneficiaries of short- to medium-term assistance were in their 40s and 50s, with 65 per cent not having passed their O or N levels. Four in 10 were married.

In a blog post yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin wrote: "If one is unemployed for one reason or other, I can understand the financial challenges faced. What we need to understand further is the group where the main applicants are employed, and yet still require financial assistance.

"Do we help them re-skill or even upgrade their skills so that they take on better jobs and earn higher wages? Do we strengthen Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model further?"

Ms Petrine Lim, principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said people with jobs may still need financial assistance for a number of reasons.

"Some cannot work for long hours because of back problems, other health problems, some are employed but lowly educated so they cannot support the family, some are big families with young children so one parent has to stay at home," she said.

For Mr Tan the taxi driver, his single income is compounded by health issues and he cannot go for Workforce Development Agency upgrading courses because these take place at night, when he is working.

"They advised my wife to work, but how to when we have three children?" he told The Straits Times.

Their youngest son, seven, also has mild autism and needs his mother's help to keep up in his mainstream primary school.

The family tried to live without ComCare - which gives them an extra $400 a month - for three months and managed to scrape by.

But things worsened in August when Mr Tan was diagnosed with high cholesterol alongside his existing hypertension, and needed to spend even more on medication. That was when the family went back to ComCare for help.

Now, Mr Tan is trying to sell his five-room flat to buy a smaller one so he will not have to pay housing loans and he can get off ComCare.

From 2012 to last year, men made up 65 per cent of ComCare Long Term Assistance beneficiaries, and seven out of 10 of the scheme's beneficiaries were single, while one out of 10 was widowed.

Those on long-term assistance were also older, with 86 per cent over 60. Most of them had no formal or primary education.

"We all know that our society is ageing, and we may see more vulnerable elderly among us," wrote minister Tan.

"The financial challenge is but one of several... Apart from ensuring that the financial support is effective, we need to also strengthen our overall eco-system to look after the elderly."

We have released the ComCare Trends Report today. Read about Minister Tan Chuan-Jin's thoughts on government financial...
Posted by MSF Singapore on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Who the beneficiaries are
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2015

Short-to-Medium Term Assistance

• 51 per cent were in their 40s and 50s.

• 64.6 per cent do not have N- or O-level qualifications.

• 26.2 per cent were employed and 24 per cent were seeking employment.

• 41.4 per cent were married.

• More than half had households of one to two persons.

• They lived in one- to four-room HDB flats.

• 58.3 per cent had elderly and/or young beneficiaries below 21 in the household.

ComCare Long Term Assistance

• Almost 90 per cent were aged 60 and above.

• More than three-quarters had primary or no formal educational qualifications.

• 71.3 per cent were single and 11.7 per cent were widowed.

• 64.9 per cent were male.

• Most lived in one- or two-room HDB flats and were one-person households.

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