Record $116m disbursed to help the poor

Data from the the latest ComCare annual report showed that 65 per cent of households on long-term assistance were the elderly who lived alone. Spending on long-term help grew to $18.7 million last year, up from $17.3 million the year before.
Data from the the latest ComCare annual report showed that 65 per cent of households on long-term assistance were the elderly who lived alone. Spending on long-term help grew to $18.7 million last year, up from $17.3 million the year before.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Figure a 14% jump from the year before; biggest jump was in short- to medium-term payouts, which rose to $68.7m last year

A record sum of $116 million in social assistance payments was made to the poor in the last financial year, ending March this year.

This was a 14 per cent jump from the previous year and almost double the $61 million given out five years ago.

This money was used to help 91,093 individuals last year, up from 54,041 five years ago.

ComCare is a key social safety net for low-income Singaporeans, and it provides three broad types of assistance:

• Long-term help, largely for the elderly poor.

• Interim as well as short- to medium-term help for those facing crises such as illness or retrenchment.

• Kindergarten and student care subsidies for children.

• A portion of the money - $68.5 million - came from interest generated by the Community Care Endowment Fund, set up by the Government in 2005 to help needy families get back on their feet.

The rest came from the budget of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

The biggest jump last year was in short- to medium-term payouts, which rose from $55.7 million in 2013 to $68.7 million last year, said the latest ComCare annual report. Five years ago, such payouts amounted to $16.6 million.

One reason could be the rise in the number of people who live alone and therefore need more support.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin noted that one- and two-person households receiving short- to medium-term assistance rose from 51.4 per cent in 2012 to 55.8 per cent last year.

Households given such assistance can receive vouchers for transport and rent, monthly cash grants, medical assistance and help in job search or training.

Spending on long-term help grew to $18.7 million last year, up from $17.3 million the year before. Data from the report showed that 65 per cent of households on such assistance were the elderly who lived alone.

They received cash handouts for daily expenses, and those with children had help with school expenses.

In a newly created blog called MSF Conversations, Mr Tan wrote: "The increase (in ComCare financial assistance) is not too surprising because we have increased our efforts in the last few years to bring help closer to those in need."

The 24th Social Service Office (SSO) that completed Singapore's social services network was officially launched in Taman Jurong earlier this week. SSOs administer ComCare assistance and plan social services in their neighbourhoods.

Mr Tan said: "We have also adjusted some of our income cri-teria thresholds so that more can be assisted."

Since July last year, the household income cap for short- to medium- term aid was raised from $1,700 to $1,900.

Associate Professor of Social Work at the National University of Singapore Irene Ng said: "Although economic disparity has improved somewhat over the past two years, we are still not past the problems of high income inequality, bottom wage stagnation, high costs of living and fast pace of growth that makes it harder for the less able to catch up."

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the number of people on short- to medium-term assistance is expected to rise further if "the economic situation negatively affects middle-aged, low-income or even lower-middle income people, leading to greater unemployment or underemployment alongside rising costs of living".

Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, said that although the number of people receiving such help may continue to go up in future, mindsets are changing.

He said: "We have moved away from looking at social assistance merely as social expenditures but to also recognise them as social investments."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Record $116m disbursed to help the poor'. Print Edition | Subscribe