'Strong support' for Vulnerable Adults Bill

Many positive responses in consultation held by MSF; Bill gives state more power to protect

A Bill that gives the authorities more power to protect vulnerable adults in Singapore has enjoyed "strong support", said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

In a public consultation from July 27 to Aug 23, the MSF received 43 responses, which were mostly positive, to the proposed Vulnerable Adults Bill expected to be tabled in Parliament by year end.

The responses were from individuals and groups, including family service centres, the Law Society of Singapore, the Singapore Medical Council and Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

"They acknowledged the Bill's importance in preparing for the country's ageing population, as well as the longer lifespans of those with disabilities. Many contributors felt that the Bill complemented the roles played by the family and community in looking after its vulnerable members," said the MSF in a press statement yesterday.

While the number of abuse cases involving vulnerable people has remained less than 200 a year, the authorities want to put in more safeguards as there will be more than 900,000 Singapore residents aged 65 and above by 2030.

The Bill will allow the state to enter private premises to assess a person's well-being, and to move vulnerable adults temporarily to safe places such as sheltered homes.

Currently, the community and government agencies can rely only on moral suasion to enter homes to provide assistance. A vulnerable adult is defined in the Bill as a person aged 18 years and above who, as a result of physical or mental infirmity, disability or incapacity, is incapable of protecting himself from abuse, neglect or self-neglect.

The Bill also proposes to raise the penalties by 11/2 times for those who abuse or neglect such adults.

While most were supportive of the Bill, some said that the Government should not take over the family's role in caring for vulnerable members of society.

The MSF said it will involve families where appropriate, and that statutory powers will be exercised only "when attempts to engage the vulnerable adult and/or his family members have failed, leading to deep and urgent concern for his safety".

The ministry said it agrees that the state's powers cannot be unchecked, thus the Bill has "sought a balanced middle ground".

Vulnerable adults who are mentally able must give their consent to state intervention. They may also refuse help.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin wrote in a blog post that he was glad that many had written in to support the Bill and even provide suggestions to improve certain aspects.

"With strong families and strong communities, we can help each (other) better, and earlier," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline ''Strong support' for Vulnerable Adults Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe