Saturday, 6 October 2018

More families depending on public assistance from Government; $131 million in ComCare cash assistance to about 79,500 beneficiaries in FY2017

Number on government Long-Term Assistance scheme last year up 24% from 2013, with more seniors unable to work and lacking family support
The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2018

Increasing numbers of seniors who cannot work due to old age or illness and who lack family support are behind the steady rise in the number of families receiving long-term financial aid.

There were 4,409 households on the government scheme run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in the 2017 financial year, up from 4,387 families in the preceding 12 months.

The 2017 figure was 24 per cent more than the 3,568 families on the Long-Term Assistance scheme in 2013.

Social workers and sociologists told The Straits Times that the increase in those needing long-term support was due to a range of factors, from Singapore's ageing society to more people remaining single to shrinking family sizes.

Elderly folk on the scheme used to hold low-paying jobs and may now be in dire straits as they fall ill or cannot work due to old age.

Their children themselves could also be struggling to cope financially, and it is harder for these elderly people to get much support, said Mrs Tan-Wu Meiling, executive director of Shine Children and Youth Services.

Besides, the elderly tend to have fewer children to depend on as well. That forces many of these seniors to turn to the Government for aid.

The latest data was contained in the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare Fund) annual report for the 2017 financial year, released yesterday by MSF.

The ComCare Fund gave out $131 million to 79,470 individuals in the 12 months to March 31 this year, a slight increase over the $130 million disbursed to 83,353 beneficiaries in 2016.

ComCare is a key social safety net. Its assistance programmes provide a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

The Long-Term Assistance scheme, also known as public assistance, is meant for destitute individuals who permanently cannot work due to old age or illness, and who have little or no family support.

A person on the scheme gets a monthly sum of $500, while two-person households get $870. They also enjoy other aid such as free medical treatment at polyclinics.

Most people on this scheme are poorly educated, elderly singles who live alone.

Social workers and sociologists had mixed views on whether the numbers on the scheme will rise.

While some told The Straits Times that more seniors will need long-term help as the population continues to age, others said the future generation of elderly folk is more likely to stay healthy and employed, given the Government's push to get people to mind their health and remain employable, among other factors.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "All things being equal, future seniors are likely to be better educated, more employable and employed. They perhaps have a longer healthy life expectancy."

Meanwhile, the number of households on the ComCare student care fee assistance scheme has also risen. The scheme helps low-income families meet the cost of student care centre fees for children aged between seven and 14. Families get subsidies of up to 98 per cent of fees.

There were 8,413 families on this scheme in the 2017 financial year, up from 7,942 in 2016 and 6,000 in 2013.

The rise is due to the growing number of places in school-based student care centres. The income criterion was also revised so that more families can qualify.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in a statement yesterday that ComCare continues to be a key social safety net, with ComCare assistance increasing over the years.

Sole breadwinner gets temporary aid to tide family over
The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2018

It was only a minor operation, but it left Madam Rani, her family's sole breadwinner, unable to return to work. The 37-year-old had a cut on her arm that became infected and she needed surgery to fix it.

She could not continue working as a cleaner, which meant losing her $1,500 monthly income that supported her four children, aged between 11 and 19, and her mother, who suffers from diabetes, asthma and the effects of a mild stroke.

Madam Rani (not her real name), who is divorced, told The Straits Times: "It is very hard having to take care of so many people on my own."

Her family is one of thousands on the ComCare Short-to Medium-Term Assistance scheme. As its name implies, the scheme provides temporary aid - financial and in other forms - to help tide poor families over tough times due to illness or other factors.

Madam Rani is unsure how much financial aid she will get as her application was just approved by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which administers the programme.

There were 27,986 households on this scheme in the 2017 financial year, which ended on March 31 this year. This was down from 28,409 families in 2016 and 29,511 in 2015. The steady fall in numbers comes after a few years of increases. There were 24,319 families on the scheme in 2013 and 27,461 in 2014.

An MSF spokesman said more families have qualified for the scheme since 2014, when the monthly household income cap was raised from $1,700 to $1,900. In 2013, MSF also started opening social service offices, which provide assistance like ComCare aid, and stepped up its outreach to help those in need. By 2015, the full network of 24 offices had been set up, which could have helped to stabilise - and in recent years, reduce - the numbers on the scheme, the MSF spokesman said.

About 70 per cent of households on ComCare in the last financial year were on the Short-to Medium-Term Assistance scheme. Social workers said the sums disbursed started from a few hundred dollars a month.

The MSF spokesman said there is no cap on how long aid is provided. About a quarter of those on the scheme last year were working and about one in five was looking for a job. The rest included retirees and those who are not working due to medical reasons.

Long-term assistance a lifeline for elderly diabetic living alone
The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2018

Alone, in poor health and with little savings, 66-year-old diabetic Goh Hee Seng was in dire straits after he had to have his right foot amputated in 2016.

The bachelor used to earn about $700 as a cleaner, but was told not to return to work by his supervisor after surgery. And having lost contact with his three siblings, Mr Goh did not know who else to turn to.

A friend told him that he could get assistance from the Government, and Mr Goh wrote in to a Member of Parliament for help. He was eventually put on the Long-Term Assistance scheme in December 2016.

Mr Goh was among those from more than 4,000 households which received financial support under this scheme in the last financial year. According to the Community Care Endowment Fund annual report released yesterday, this number has been steadily climbing in the past five years.

Mr Goh receives about $500 every month to pay for his rent and daily meals. His medical bills are also covered by the scheme, and he visits the doctor once every two months to check on his health as he also has high blood pressure.

"The money is not a lot, but I've got enough to eat, and that's good enough," said Mr Goh in Mandarin.

$131 Million In ComCare Assistance Benefitted About 79,500 Individuals In FY2017 -4 Oct 2018

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