Ways to ensure needy do not fall through the cracks

A Harvard economist and a Princeton psychologist have argued that the underclass is severely handicapped by a mental "bandwidth tax" ("Helping the needy: 5 fresh fixes"; March 21).

The bandwidth tax, or mental scarcity, refers to the overly taxed mental capacity of the underclass caused by the myriad of challenges imposed upon them.

This leads them to take unwise decisions or actions, or worse, no action, thus sinking them deeper into hapless situations.

This bandwidth tax phenomenon could have led to the underutilisation of our many social assistance schemes, or the various grants or rebates provided to help the less fortunate.

To help the needy overcome their bandwidth tax and level the playing field, I offer a few suggestions:

••Instead of the needy having to look for the various schemes, the agencies or ministries designing these schemes should look for and contact the intended recipients.

•A central agency and clearing house should be tasked and equipped to develop accurate profiles of the intended recipients and create an online assistance account for these recipients.

This "bandwidth tax" phenomenon could have led to the underutilisation of our many social assistance schemes, or the various grants or rebates provided to help the less fortunate.

These target recipients must be proactively contacted by this central agency and be informed of this account.

All the assistance schemes which the recipients are entitled to should be presented as an easily accessible list or menu for the intended recipients.

With all the schemes and options in full view within the recipients' account, they will have to focus only on deciding whether or not to apply for a specific assistance scheme.

The IT-challenged needy must be assigned IT-literate government proxy-staff to help them navigate the account through computers at community centres.

•The design of assistance schemes should be client-centric instead of scheme-centric.

Having identified the different categories of needy profiles, all schemes available and new schemes to be developed should be aggregated with them.

The suggestions leverage insights from behavioural sciences and technology at our disposal.

We should design our social safety nets to overcome whatever constrains the needy or the disadvantaged from seeking help, so that no one is left behind.

Lim Teck Koon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Ways to ensure needy do not fall through the cracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe