Ensure those who need help get it, say grassroots leaders

Budget dialogue sees calls to make sure those who need Silver Support but do not meet criteria are not left out

As they go about volunteering in their estates, grassroots leaders often come across elderly individuals in need of help with living expenses.

So while they welcomed the introduction of a new scheme to help poorer citizens aged 65 and above, several grassroots leaders yesterday raised concerns over the criteria to determine who qualifies.

Some felt that the criteria to identify eligible seniors - lifetime wages, housing type and the level of household support - might still leave out those at the bottom in dire need, while others felt those who may be better-off would still get help as they live in smaller flats.

They were at a dialogue organised by the People's Association and Finance Ministry to discuss the Budget delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on March 24.

Mr Heng had said the Silver Support scheme, first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, is a "major new feature" of Singapore's social security system and will see over 140,000 seniors get their first payouts in July.

The scheme aims to support the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans 65 and above, with a smaller degree of support extended to cover up to 30 per cent of seniors.

Those who qualify will get automatic cash payouts of between $300 and $750 every three months.

Eligible recipients must live in a one- to five-room Housing Board flat. Those in a five-room flat must not own it to qualify for the scheme.

But several participants said those who own their five-room homes may have large families, or had scrimped in their younger years to afford their homes but now faced financial difficulties.

Others said they had elderly neighbours in three-room flats who drove expensive cars.

Senior Minister of State for Finance Sim Ann acknowledged the difficulty of setting criteria that ensures help goes to those who need it, but that does not get too complicated to administer. "At the end of the day, people do feel some sort of wealth measure, such as size of property, should be taken into account," she said, adding that the views raised will be considered.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had said an annual review will determine whether seniors continue to qualify, or if there are other seniors who need more support.

Ms Sim also explained to the 200 grassroots leaders some of the key schemes introduced in past Budgets, like the Pioneer Generation Package, Medishield Life and SkillsFuture. The 2016 Budget cannot be viewed in isolation, she added.

Taken together, these constitute "very substantial momentum in providing help to families", she said.

Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng grassroots leader Ho Cheng Pheng, 58, said the dialogue helped put various policies in context. He also said it was good "the Government remains prudent" so that a sense of entitlement does not develop.

Parliament will sit for nine days, starting tomorrow, to debate the Budget as well as the plans and policies of various ministries.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure those who need help get it, say grassroots leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe