Some Singaporeans wonder if ethnic self-help groups are still relevant given that these may perpetuate polarisation between different races and reinforce separate racial identities. The role of such groups, which had been called into question in the past, came under scrutiny again recently as people discussed issues of race and racial discrimination in Singapore. Such groups may indeed be irrelevant in a hypothetical post-ethnic society, but as things stand, removing racial classifications or ethnic self-help groups would not remove the fact that differences exist across races in Singapore. Indeed, as the Government has noted, the groups perform a useful function.
Far from polarising society, the use of race-based classifications and the existence of self-help groups give the authorities a good sense of relative outcomes and performances so as to better channel resources. Collectively, the groups help all segments of society because they are not limited to helping only specific races. In particular, groups such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, provide an important source of assistance for low-income families because they are in a good position to customise programmes most relevant to their beneficiaries. Other such self-help groups are Mendaki, the Singapore Indian Development Association and the Eurasian Association, Singapore.