Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Early action to break cycle of poverty in Singapore: Tan Chuan-Jin

Disadvantaged children will get a leg up as pilot scheme KidStart is made permanent
By Priscilla Goy and Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

A pilot scheme KidStart, which aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged children, will be made permanent in a bid by the Government to break the cycle of poverty in Singapore.

It is among a series of moves that the authorities want to make to intervene earlier to prevent social problems, such as inequality and family dysfunction, from becoming entrenched, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

Another is to develop early intervention programmes for at-risk youth and adults.



The shift upstream to tackle social challenges comes as Mr Tan expressed concern about intergenerational poverty in Singapore.

While the Gini coefficient shrank slightly from 0.463 in 2015 to 0.458 last year - suggesting that the rich-poor gap is narrowing - it remains stubbornly among the highest in developed countries. Some children from poor families find it tough to move out of the poverty trap, said the minister.

"Certainly, anecdotally we see that (intergenerational poverty) happening," he said. "For certain family circumstances, we know it is challenging and the probability of perhaps poorer outcomes for the children as they grow up will be higher. So we want to make sure that we intervene."

Last year, his ministry piloted KidStart, a three-year scheme to help 1,000 disadvantaged children aged up to six. Mr Tan said he wants to expand it beyond the five locations where it is now in place even before the pilot ends, depending on resources available.

The Government is also stepping in earlier to help workers and families who are showing signs of financial struggle yet would not usually qualify for ComCare aid.

Last year, nearly half of approved applications for short- to medium-term aid were granted to such beneficiaries, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Some were offered a higher cash quantum or had their period of aid extended if they still could not find jobs.

Mr Tan said such flexibility is especially important today when many Singaporeans are finding their livelihoods affected by disruption due to technology. "I think we will continue to see this affecting us for years to come. Some jobs will disappear from the market."

Social service experts welcomed the move to go further upstream.

Singapore Children's Society lead social worker Gracia Goh said: "A good outcome of preventive work is that there is no problem, and that may make it harder to justify its importance. It requires moral courage to invest resources before a social problem gets worse, or even starts."











Online pleas for aid: Govt may step in with details, says Tan Chuan-Jin
It will set record straight if those seeking help online give misleading or one-sided accounts
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

The authorities will be stepping in earlier to set the record straight - including by disseminating information about cases - should individuals give what they deem misleading or one-sided accounts when appealing for donations online.

"We may desensitise the information, perhaps anonymise it somewhat, without going into too many details, to help the public understand the context," said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

This comes at a time when individual appeals online, especially those with heartrending circumstances, have managed to garner six-figure sums in donations.

In April, a single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer raised $771,962 from 7,419 people for her medical bills. That month, a daughter's plea for donations to medically evacuate her father from Japan, where he had a heart attack, raised $239,047 from 3,029 people. Both appeals were made on crowdfunding website Give.asia.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) stepped in to clarify facts when a 20-year-old woman shared on Give.asia in May about having to be the breadwinner for 11 family members, as her cancer-stricken father could work only part-time as a security guard, saying a social worker provided her family with only dry rations. MSF said it had been assisting the family for 51/2 years, and they also get ComCare and other aid.



In January, MSF also made public details of aid given to a homeless man seen at a Bugis fast-food outlet when an article by website All Singapore Stuff claimed he was denied aid by Social Service Office staff and other agencies.

Mr Tan said his ministry has the right to come out and highlight details when individuals misrepresent and exploit a situation, or when public officers are attacked online for doing their duty, such as removing children from abusive homes. Sometimes, there are also questions about whether donated funds are used properly.

"We're also evolving the way in which we want to approach this... You will see more contestation on this front, a lot more issues being played up. The encouraging thing is Singaporeans are very generous and do want to step forward and help. So in a way, it's a good problem," said Mr Tan.

Still, he acknowledged a balance must be struck to protect a person's privacy. "We are also very wary because some of this is information that's confidential," he said.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director of social work and programme development at Touch Community Services, said it is useful for the Government to clarify any misrepresentation. She added: "Ultimately, netizens can learn to be more discerning and do more research before they respond to the appeals. Perhaps concerned members of the public can be directed to an agency or call in to seek verification of the legitimacy of the story."











Tan Chuan-Jin undeterred by online comments
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

With posts of anything ranging from photos of the cinnamon buns his daughter baked to thoughts on why some working adults still need financial aid, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has one of the most prolific online presences among Singapore's Cabinet ministers.

He can also laugh at himself - in a post in April, he called himself a "suaku" ("country bumpkin" in Hokkien) for having not tasted Chinese preserved olive vegetables before.

But his candid nature has put him in a spot at times. For instance, in 2015, critics branded him insensitive for saying that some elderly people collect cardboard, not to earn a living, but to get extra income or as "a form of exercise and activity, rather than being cooped up at home".


In an interview with The Straits Times last week, Mr Tan said: "Actually - and not just on that particular issue - many things I have said were taken out of context, twisted... Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to change.


"It's not just happening here, it's happening everywhere else. People sometimes don't always read the articles themselves - they just see the headlines and get angry."


Despite this, he does not intend to simply keep quiet either.


"Does it mean that we (should) become afraid to say anything, because the best thing is not to say anything, then we won't get caught up in any controversy whatsoever? But these are issues which I feel very strongly about and I do think that we need to reach out."


Regarding his comments on cardboard collectors, he said he was encouraged then to see youth volunteers befriending the collectors to understand their challenges.


He said: "The key message really was: Please talk to them, find out, let us know so that we can follow up.


"The point I made was that there are various reasons (why people collect cardboard). Some of them need help, and some are people whom we are already helping but prefer to continue for various reasons."



When asked if he personally monitors certain websites or Facebook pages, he said he does not.

"I just read what pops up in my Facebook news feed, or when people send me links and say, 'Did you see this? They attributed it to you'. Then you read it and get horrified and just sigh. What to do?" he said.

There will be some people who think he is "completely out of touch", he noted, despite his efforts to understand challenges and craft policies to address these.

But he remains undeterred.

"If all people look at is just one reference point and judge you on that, well, that's life in a public space. It can't be helped, but that should not put us off from wanting to understand situations better and being involved, which is fundamentally important, because you can't create policies in isolation."





Tan Chuan-Jin on workfare, income inequality and flats for unwed mums
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

Here is an edited excerpt from some of the questions posed to Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, and his responses.


Q AMONG THE YOUNG POOR, SOME ARE WORKING YET STILL NEED FINANCIAL AID. ARE YOU LOOKING INTO EXTENDING WORKFARE (WHICH TOPS UP THE INCOME OF LOW-WAGE WORKERS) TO PEOPLE AGED BELOW 35? WHY IS THE CUT-OFF AGE 35?

A Young people's employability is better, so there isn't a great need to augment that.

We have quite a lot of jobs, so I think people believe they can find jobs, but I'd urge them to try securing a job before quitting. Some young people don't, and they come under some financial duress as a result.

But right now, going by data that we see, there's no need to lower the cut-off age.


Q A RECENT WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM REPORT SHOWED THAT SINGAPORE HAD THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF NET INCOME INEQUALITY AMONG 30 ADVANCED ECONOMIES (IT SCORED NEAR THE BOTTOM IN THREE AREAS: ACCESS TO EDUCATION AND SKILLS; HOW CONCENTRATED WEALTH IS; AND SOCIAL WELFARE). WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

A There are many surveys out there. This survey was done by business leaders, and I think it was for them to fill up the survey based on what they think. I'm not sure whether the report necessarily reflects what the reality is, and whether the respondents were fully au fait with the help schemes available.


Q ON UNWED MOTHERS NOT BEING ELIGIBLE TO BUY SUBSIDISED HDB FLATS: PEOPLE SAY IT COMPOUNDS PROBLEMS AS HOUSING AFFECTS WHERE KIDS STUDY. IS THERE SCOPE TO RELAX THIS POLICY? IS THE WORRY THAT DOING SO WILL ENCOURAGE HAVING KIDS OUT OF WEDLOCK?

A I agree housing is a fundamental building block... But we need to look at every specific circumstance because some unwed mums can stay with their families. We have supported those who need housing, but there are others who don't quite need it. I've looked at all the cases surfaced and sometimes it isn't always apparent they actually have other housing options too.

The criteria we have today allow for even unmarried individuals to exercise options: If they are above 35, they can buy. So there are no plans to change that policy now because we do believe there's enough space. I know it's challenging, I know some of them do feel the stresses. But the stories aren't always fully complete.


Q AS FAMILY SIZES SHRINK, ARE YOU LOOKING INTO EXTENDING POLICIES TO INCLUDE EXTENDED FAMILY MEMBERS AS ELIGIBLE NEXT OF KIN?

A It is complex because not everyone feels that they should provide for their aunts, for instance. Some would say, "She's not quite my mum or my immediate sibling. Should we be expected to carry that burden?"

But it's something that we would probably have to look at, whether we want to expand the definition of "family" to include relatives.


Q YOU'VE SAID YOU USED TO HAVE BEER AND COFFEE WITH THE FOURTH-GENERATION LEADERS. IS THAT STILL ONGOING?

A I think it's important for us to build a relationship not just among a few, but the entire team, so I think that's something that we've got to continue to do. And because there's a lot more cross-ministry work together, we're also developing that relationship on that front.


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