SINGAPORE - The number of individuals receiving financial aid from ComCare, a key social safety net for low-income people in Singapore, was the highest in its last financial year since it was set up in 2005.
A total of 96,040 beneficiaries were on the various Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare Fund) schemes in its last financial year, which ended in March. This is a 22 per cent increase from the 78,580 people in the year before.
The second-highest number was in the financial year that ended in March 2015, when there were 91,093 beneficiaries.
ComCare disbursed $236 million in financial aid in its last financial year, a 56 per cent jump from the $151 million the year before and the largest sum given out since its inception.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) released the ComCare annual and trends report on Wednesday (Oct 13).
The increase in the numbers was largely due to the significant rise in the number of people on ComCare's Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA) scheme, which provides temporary financial aid and other forms of help to tide recipients through tough times as they are looking for a job or are ill, among other reasons.
A total of 80,449 individuals were on the SMTA scheme in its last financial year, a 25 per cent rise from the year before.
This is due to the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and the flexibility exercised by Social Service Offices to provide ComCare aid to those in need, said MSF.
For example, MSF automatically extended the duration of support of existing ComCare beneficiaries whose assistance ended between May and October last year by a further six months to help them through the pandemic.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said: "Many families and individuals have been affected by the social and economic repercussions of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is why we have made it easier for them to access financial support and bounce back stronger."
An MSF spokesman told The Straits Times that the mean sum a month given to recipients of the SMTA was around $600 per household last year.
The majority of these beneficiaries are either single-person or two-person households. This cash assistance is provided in addition to aid for rental, utilities and other forms of government assistance and subsidies the family could be receiving, such as subsidised rental housing and financial assistance for school fees, the spokesman said.
About two in three households on the SMTA scheme had no one in the family who was employed in the last financial year. Such families formed the largest group of households on the scheme, according to the ComCare report.
Meanwhile, the number of individuals on another ComCare scheme, the Interim Assistance Scheme, which gives immediate financial aid to those who need urgent and temporary relief, also rose by 21 per cent to 9,359 in its last financial year. The jump is also due to the pandemic, MSF said.
The number of children receiving Student Care Fee Assistance rose by 3 per cent to 9,952 in its last financial year.
This increase is due to the expansion of the scheme's income eligibility in July last year to enable more families to qualify and schools' efforts to proactively enrol children who may benefit from after-school care, MSF said.
The only ComCare scheme to buck the rising trend is the Long-Term Assistance scheme, which is also known as Public Assistance.
This scheme is for the destitute who cannot work as a result of old age or illness and have little or no family support. A single person gets $600 a month and receives other help, such as with medical bills.
There were 4,263 individuals on the scheme in its last financial year, 3 per cent fewer than the year before. Many of them are elderly men who are not married.
Dr Terence Yow, divisional director of care and integration at AMKFSC Community Services, said its social workers are seeing more people seeking financial help after losing their jobs or taking significant pay cuts as a result of the pandemic. They include workers in the food and beverage industry and cleaners.
The older workers also find it harder to find a new job or transition to gig economy jobs as they are not as technologically savvy as the younger workers, he said.
"Many of them are living from hand to mouth and they have no or very little savings to buffer them," said Dr Yow, adding that the financial woes "also worsen existing tensions at home", resulting in family violence and psychological distress.