Budget debate

Social safety nets 'no substitute for caring hearts, helpful hands'

For years, retiree Lee Ah Keow shut herself up in her Jurong West flat, preferring not to venture out to meet friends or take a walk.

The 70-year-old had weak knees and having fallen before, was afraid of getting injured if she fell again.

But Pioneer Generation ambassadors who visited her last August saw that she was at risk of social isolation, and flagged her case.

An entire network of community-based groups was activated to help - case managers from NTUC Health's Cluster Support checked in on her, the Housing Board installed subsidised grab bars in her home, and befrienders from the Reach Community Services Society began visiting her and taking her to the nearby fitness corner.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat recounted Madam Lee's case in Parliament yesterday to emphasise the importance of community involvement.

He said: "There are functions that the Government is best placed to perform - such as legislation and the provision of public goods and services. And there are areas where we can achieve more, much more when we all work together."

Community action is particularly critical when it comes to "providing last-mile social service delivery" and customising assistance for vulnerable groups, he said.

"Even the strongest social safety nets are no substitute for the caring hearts and helpful hands of neighbours," he added. "We want a close partnership among individuals, communities and Government, because this is an end in itself... a society where Singaporeans help fellow citizens in each way we can."

The Government will play its part, by doing more to foster stronger partnerships between groups.

Mr Heng noted that the Community Network for Seniors, a pilot project in three neighbourhoods which he announced in last year's Budget, has helped 380 seniors with multiple needs, engaged 5,000 seniors in active ageing and recruited more than 180 volunteers.

"It is a small start, but at the same time it is rewarding to see how community and Government work together to touch lives," he said, adding that the Government will review suggestions on how to better help the elderly.

Mr Heng also said he was heartened by a growing spirit of enterprise in the social sector, and encouraged groups to keep on building capabilities to serve their communities.

This year's Budget provides additional funding, through the VWOs-Charities Capability Fund, to support their efforts, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Social safety nets 'no substitute for caring hearts, helpful hands''. Print Edition | Subscribe