System not perfect but has uplifted life of majority

We refer to Dr Ng Kok Hoe's letter (Social workers also tackle structural conditions that lead to poverty; June 27) in which he suggests that systems and structures have created the conditions for poverty and imposed barriers for the low-income.

Our system is not perfect. But as we strive to improve it, we must first accurately take stock of where we are.

Our policies and programmes in education, healthcare, housing, skills training, employment and social support have uplifted the majority of Singaporeans, while providing additional support for the low-income.

No child misses out on a quality education because they cannot afford it. Nine in 10 Singaporeans own their homes. Those buying smaller flats receive bigger subsidies.

The Fresh Start scheme gives families in rental flats another shot at home-ownership. Healthcare is heavily subsidised, especially for the low-income.

Poverty has varied and wide-ranging causes. Sometimes it is due to personal decisions. Other causes, such as illness, retrenchment or disability, are beyond the family's control.

Social workers partner these families and work with government agencies and the community.

Where families do not qualify for a support scheme, we assess if exceptions should be made for them, or if other assistance can be provided.

We continually review our policies to better help those in need, and improve social service delivery.

Dr Ng argued that material goods offer a semblance of normalcy for marginalised families, and questioned who decides what are bad decisions.

When public funds or charity dollars are spent, the Government and voluntary welfare organisations have a duty to ask relevant questions and impose suitable conditions.

The way questions are asked, and the sort of conditions imposed, should respect and uphold the dignity of those being helped.

Our approach is a collective one with many helping hands. It demands individual effort, alongside government support in partnership with families, the community and social workers.

We welcome further conversations on practical ideas to help the poor.

We will listen to alternative views and weigh the pros and cons of different systems.

But we must understand the values and systems that have successfully uplifted many Singaporeans and reduced poverty.

We share the same aim: To give every Singaporean the opportunity and support to reach their full potential, while upholding their worth and dignity, whatever their circumstances may be.

Karolyn Poon (Ms)

Press Secretary to the Minister for Social & Family Development

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'System not perfect but has uplifted life of majority'. Print Edition | Subscribe