Budget debate: MPs call for more support for caregivers

Suggestions include providing career counselling for caregivers to start and return to work. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - MPs on Thursday (Feb 25) called for more support for caregivers, the majority of whom are women who have made sacrifices to look after children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

On the second day of the Budget debate, various suggestions were put forward to help this group, including providing career counselling for caregivers to start and return to work, tapping community resources to reduce caregivers' workload, and giving them more mental health support.

Figures from the Report on Labour Force in Singapore 2019 showed that about 133,500 people in the resident population cited caregiving responsibilities as the main reason for having to leave the workforce, noted Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC). Nine in 10 of them were women, and the majority of the women were aged between 40 and 59 years old. Almost seven in 10 were out of the workforce for more than five years.

"Some of the most common problems that women caregivers experienced is a setback in their own health and career," said Ms Ng, who added that female caregivers also struggle with uncertainty over their future and financial adequacy in their old age.

She welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's announcement that a new Singapore Together Alliance for Action for caregivers of those with disabilities will be formed, and called for this to be expanded to female caregivers.

The alliance, which will co-create solutions to improve support for caregivers, will be formed by the National Council of Social Service and SG Enable. Ms Ng called for the partnership to be expanded to include the Agency for Integrated Care and Workforce Singapore to address social, health and employment issues faced by caregivers.

Career counselling, guidance and training support should also be given to caregivers who would like to return to work or start work, including taking on part-time or flexi-work arrangements, said Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

"In addition to self-actualisation, work is important to one's sense of dignity and identity. Earned incomes contribute to household finances and retirement adequacies, and improve the quality of life for families," she said.

Ms Pereira also called for more mental health professionals to be trained to help those facing mental health issues, and to help maintain caregivers' mental health.

Caregiving services can also be made more accessible to families, said Ms Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC). For instance, those who can provide part-time caregiving services can be connected to families living near them, which can help workers to balance family care duties while supplementing their income at the same time.

Others who wish to volunteer and contribute through ground-up initiatives should also be able to do so without being unnecessarily encumbered by regulatory frameworks, said Ms Chan, citing a recent case of a Ghim Moh resident who set up a community library for children at the lift landing in front of her HDB flat.

"It not only highlights the value of kindness and giving, but also strengthens neighbourliness and instils the love for reading at a young age. Such is the society we hope to build. One that gives and one that cares by supporting one another within the community," she said.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story attributed the data on those in the resident population who cited caregiving responsibilities as the main reason for having to leave the workforce to a 2020 report. It should be a 2019 report instead.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.