By Invitation

$500 a month on cable TV and cigarettes and this family still wants aid?

What should social workers do with a family that spends $500 on cigarettes and cable TV, yet applies for financial aid? Questioning the poor on their needs and choices is part of helping them.

In a recent article, sociologist Teo You Yenn painted a bleak picture of the conditions rental flat dwellers live in (Let's talk about meeting needs, not just equality of opportunity; ST May 30). She argued, among other things, that insufficient space can lead to children being open to negative influence and that the process of getting help can cause families living in rental flats to lose their dignity because they are often asked demeaning questions.

As a practising social worker of 32 years, I started my career working with disadvantaged families. In the last five years, my team of social workers and I have worked at the Housing Board's Bedok Interim Rental Housing (IRH) project, also called P4650 after the two blocks the families lived in. These are our experiences with them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2018, with the headline 'Helping families find hope and courage to change'. Print Edition | Subscribe