No-win choices for the poor when resources are limited

As a social worker, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the recent discussion on the decisions low-income families make (Bad choices, factors beyond their control keep some poor; July 1).

For many low-income families, the problem is not poor decisions, but poor options.

When resources are so limited, no matter which option they choose, some needs will not be met and there is a sacrifice.

I know of a young mother working as a daily-rated teacher-assistant at a childcare centre.

When her child was discharged from hospital and on two weeks' MC, she had to decide between staying home to care for her child or keeping the income coming in.

The circumstances of being low-income also compel them to make "poor" decisions that further disadvantages them financially.

The families I work with often buy standard tickets for one-way trips on public transport instead of using an ez-link card.

This means they have to pay 10 cents more for each trip.

But they do so because the minimum top-up value for an ez-link card is $5 for children and $10 for adults, and they need the cash for daily expenses.

Social workers offer practical help, linking children and young people to self-help groups for tuition programmes, putting up applications for school pocket money, and encouraging the children to set personal goals.

But I am careful not to promise the children that things will be better if they work hard, because I know their efforts might not be enough to overcome the disadvantages in terms of intensity of tuition, access to assessment books, preparation for exams, and so on.

So we, as social workers, must also help to identify the barriers that low-income families face and share them, so that people will understand that poverty is not just an issue of "mindset".

Kevin See Yao Hui

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2018, with the headline No-win choices for the poor when resources are limited. Subscribe