Friday 18 October 2019

ComCare cash assistance: $127 million disbursed to 37,400 households or 75,200 individuals in FY2018

30% seeking shorter-term government aid rejected
Applicants either had enough money, withdrew applications or could not be reached, says MSF
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

About 30 per cent of those applying for short-to medium-term government financial aid were rejected in the past three years, although almost all the requests for long-term assistance were approved.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) gave these figures to The Straits Times, and this is believed to be the first time such data has been made public.

Last Friday, it released its ComCare annual report for its 2018 financial year, which ended in March this year, but the percentage of rejected applications was not contained in the report.

ComCare is a key social safety net providing a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

About 37,400 families were on the various ComCare schemes in its 2018 financial year - the lowest in four years. In that period, some 72 per cent, or 27,122, of these families received Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA), while 11 per cent, or 4,261 households, were on Long-Term Assistance (LTA).

The MSF spokesman said it had approved about seven in 10 applications for the SMTA in the past three years. Applicants were rejected as they had sufficient income or savings for their basic living expenses, or they withdrew their applications or became uncontactable despite attempts to reach them, she added.

Last year, 10 per cent of the rejected SMTA applications, or 1,551 applications, were not approved because the family was deemed to have sufficient savings.

The MSF said those asking for financial help for the first time are typically assessed for the SMTA, where the amount given and for how long vary from case to case.

Its spokesman added: "Depending on the applicant's circumstances and needs, our Social Service Offices will recommend Long-Term Assistance to those who are assessed to be permanently unable to work and have little or no family support. The majority of LTA beneficiaries are elderly with limited family support."

Those on the LTA scheme are given monetary help each month for the long run. A one-person household, for example, on the LTA would receive $600 a month.

Meanwhile, those on the ComCare schemes have had less savings over the past three years.

Each household member in families who received the SMTA had an average of $246 in cash savings last year, down from $283 in 2017 and $335 in 2016.

The amount refers to the savings they had when they applied for help. This is also the first time the MSF has revealed this information.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave the information in a parliamentary reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong on Oct 7 as she had asked about the savings that ComCare applicants have, among other questions.

Mr Lee said the Social Service Offices look at the applicants' income, assets such as savings, and expenses. In considering their savings, the MSF looks at factors such as their savings for emergency expenses and their family size.

Mr Lee said about the applicants' savings: "There is no hard threshold and the Social Service Offices can exercise flexibility, taking into account the applicants' circumstances and needs."

Like those on the SMTA, the savings for those on the LTA scheme have been falling as well.

The average cash savings of each household member for those on the LTA was $907 last year, down from $982 in 2017 and $1,000 in 2016.

Social workers interviewed say they are unsure why these families have less savings, but they point out that those on the LTA scheme are generally better off than those on the SMTA scheme.

Mr Pepsi Zewet, centre head of Fei Yue Family Services Team at the Social Service Office@Taman Jurong, said those on the LTA scheme are often the elderly who have to support only themselves. And the financial help they get covers most - if not all - of their living expenses.

He added: "They also get other help, like free meal delivery services and they also get red packets during festive periods, which those on the SMTA scheme may not get. So those on the LTA scheme are better able to save money."

Social workers say those on the SMTA scheme often suffer from a host of problems, ranging from health issues to family woes. They have blue-collar jobs, such as cleaners and security guards, and often earn between $1,000-plus and $2,000-plus a month.

Many also have a few children to feed on a single income.

'Without financial aid, I wouldn't know what to do,' says mum with health issues
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

Madam Maniseh Mustapah, 43, is beset by a host of problems.

She has multiple health woes and a son who is mildly intellectually disabled. She also had a violent husband whom she has now divorced.

She has been certified temporarily unfit to work by doctors, and depends on the $850 a month that her family receives from the ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance scheme to survive.

She said of the financial aid: "Without it, I wouldn't know what to do."

She suffers from diabetes and asthma, has heart problems and used to work as a cleaner earning $1,000 a month. But she had to stop about two years ago due to a leg problem, which causes her pain.

About two months ago, she also had a mild stroke.

Like her, her 10-year-old only son is not in the best of health. He has digestive problems and still requires diapers.

The two of them live in a two-room flat, which costs them $138 a month to rent.

Like many other poor people who are on financial aid, Madam Maniseh borrows from her friends and relatives to get by, such as to pay utilities arrears. She has no savings and has debts amounting to $1,000-plus.

She eats rice with ketchup on days when her wallet is empty. At other times, she is able to afford meat and vegetables.

Besides the $850 from the Government, she also receives $300 a month from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and other aid, such as to pay her son's school fees.

She said: "I want to work but I can't work. I'm always worried - if anything happens to me, what will happen to my son? I tell myself, even if I cannot cope, I must also try."

ComCare Annual Report FY2018: Fewer households require government financial aid in 2018, lowest in 4 years
Number which received govt financial assistance, amount disbursed at 4-year low
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2019

The number of households receiving government financial assistance and the amount given out by the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) both reached a four-year low last year.

About 37,400 households benefited from the various ComCare schemes last year, a dip from 2017, according to ComCare's latest annual report released yesterday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). The numbers also decreased for those receiving short-to medium-term assistance and long-term assistance.

The amount of money disbursed last year was about $127 million, down from $131 million in 2017.

ComCare, launched in 2005, is a key social safety net providing a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

The decrease is due to various factors, said those familiar with the social sector. They cite the setting up of all 24 social service offices (SSOs) from 2013 to 2015 as a key reason.

The SSOs work with voluntary welfare organisations and community partners in each area to better coordinate the various social services offered and link up residents in need to the relevant helplines.

Mrs Tan-Wu Mei Ling, executive director of Shine Children and Youth Services, said: "After 2015, the outreach from social service offices and community partners has been largely there, and people who need help know where to seek specific help."

Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan pointed out that the numbers for ComCare schemes reflect only those who require financial help, as compared with other schemes targeted at specific needs.

Those who need help may now be supported by those schemes instead, Prof Straughan said, leading to a decline in demand for ComCare. She added: "The decrease in those on short-to medium-term assistance is actually good news, as most of those applicants, who are in their 40s and 50s, are usually still able to find employment. It shows they were able to re-enter the job market and support themselves."

The decrease in those on long-term assistance - a reversal of the trend in previous years - could be due to a newer cohort of people aged 65 and older who have saved more for retirement, compared with past cohorts. They are hence more self-sufficient, she said.

However, a segment of society, such as elderly singles who live alone, will continue to need help, she added.

It was a point made by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in a statement commenting on the ComCare data yesterday. "As our population ages and family size gets smaller, ComCare will continue to play an important role in supporting vulnerable elderly and low-income families," he said.

"While the number of households on ComCare has stabilised, some of them face more challenges due to old age and less family support.

"This is why we are growing more partnerships between our community and government agencies to strengthen coordination and provide more comprehensive support to such families."

Mrs Tan-Wu said the possible economic downturn that may lead to retrenchments may also see more come on board to receive short-to medium-term assistance.

ComCare gives 63-year-old a leg-up in difficult period
Once homeless and broke, 63-year-old now wants to work so he doesn't have to be on handouts forever
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2019

After about 10 years sleeping on the streets after his divorce, Mr Swee Peng Chye, 63, finally has a roof over his head to call his own.

A divorcee with five children, he moved into a rental flat in Jurong East at the start of October, sharing the small space with another elderly man.

Before that, he spent about five months at a shelter in Ang Mo Kio after much persuasion from social workers who had first found him sleeping on a bridge in Chinatown.

The social service office at Kreta Ayer eventually helped him find lodging, where he and his flatmate pay $99 a month for rent.

He is also currently on government financial aid, receiving $350 a month from the short-to-medium-term assistance scheme given out by the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare).

"It's really enough for my rent and bills, and I am very thankful," said Mr Swee in Mandarin.

But he still needs some help while he is unable to work to cover daily expenses such as transport and food, and he hopes to have some savings, he added.

While four of his five children are in contact with him, only one gives him money, about $30 several times a month, said Mr Swee, who added that the ties with his children are strained after a complicated divorce.

"I don't want to keep asking, or he will say I treat him like an ATM," he added.

In 2017, while he was on the streets, he felt a sharp pain in his chest, and called an ambulance.

He later underwent surgery for his heart, as doctors told him three blood vessels were blocked. Since then, he still experiences pain in the area and is in and out of hospital regularly.

Mr Swee said he also has diabetes, which results in his legs being weak, and depression. He takes 14 pills a day for his medical needs.

As a result, Mr Swee, who was doing odd jobs in the 10 years on the streets, said he is unable to do physical work.

But he now hopes to find a job by April or May next year.

"I don't want to live on handouts forever, I just really need help for this current difficult period. I want to be able to support myself someday," said Mr Swee.

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