Budget 2023: $300m to help low-income families, more support for early education of needy children

Additional support will be given to lower-income families to help them achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility, said DPM Lawrence Wong. PHOTO: STFILE

SINGAPORE - The Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund will get a top-up of $300 million to help low-income families cope with high inflation.

In his Budget speech on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said the top-up will ensure that the key national social assistance scheme ComCare, which helps needy individuals and families, continues to stay funded.

Additional support will also be given to low-income families to help them achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility.

Specifically, social service officers will be the common touchpoints to deliver support schemes from different government programmes. More details will be announced during the debate on the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s budget plans.

“We know that the issues that lower-income individuals and families face are complex and multifaceted. We therefore need a family-centric approach to provide these families with holistic and comprehensive support, and help them make lasting changes in their lives,” Mr Wong said.

This integrated effort will build on the one-stop-shop programme ComLink, rolled out nationwide over the past year to serve 14,000 families with children living in rental housing.

Under ComLink, volunteer befrienders support the families by working closely with social service officers, who coordinate family interventions as well as access to social programmes.

Singapore is making progress as income inequality has been steadily declining following the roll-out of the Workfare Income Supplement, Progressive Wage Model and Silver Support Scheme.

But helping lower-wage workers get better income is just one part of the equation, Mr Wong said. “Beyond inequality, we must also sustain social mobility across generations.”

He noted that more must be done to close the early gaps in children’s lives.  

Specifically, the programme KidStart, which assists in the development of children from low-income families up to age six, will be expanded nationwide. The scale-up is expected to support 80 per cent of eligible children in lower-income families, starting with children born in 2023.

“There are early indications that children in the programme had better pre-school attendance than their peers of similar socio-economic backgrounds,” he said.

“Parents and caregivers on the programme also said they were better supported in their parenting journey.”

Mr Wong noted that the Government has made significant investments in the early childhood sector, with spending growing six times from $320 million in 2013 to about $1.9 billion in 2022. 

Lower-income families pay as little as $3 a month for full-day childcare in an anchor-operated pre-school, he said.

Anchor operators include PCF Sparkletots, My First Skool and MY World Preschool. 

These investments have had an impact, with the pre-school enrolment rate of children aged five to six residing in public rental flats now comparable with the national average. 

But for children aged three to four residing in public rental flats, the pre-school enrolment rate is 80 per cent, lower than the national average of about 88 per cent, said Mr Wong.

He said the Government will work with anchor operators over the next two years to create 22,000 more full-day childcare places and expand the number of Ministry of Education kindergartens, which will support higher pre-school participation rates across the board, especially among lower-income families.

Mr Wong added that charities, social service agencies and community organisations play critical roles in looking after the vulnerable and mobilising Singaporeans to support those who are in greater need.

The Government has also completed a review of social service sector salary benchmarks, and will work with the social service agencies to raise salaries to better attract and retain talent in the sector.

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