The number of households receiving government financial assistance and the amount given out by the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) both reached a four-year low last year.
About 37,400 households benefited from the various ComCare schemes last year, a dip from 2017, according to ComCare's latest annual report released yesterday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). The numbers also decreased for those receiving short-to medium-term assistance and long-term assistance.
The amount of money disbursed last year was about $127 million, down from $131 million in 2017.
ComCare, launched in 2005, is a key social safety net providing a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.
The decrease is due to various factors, said those familiar with the social sector. They cite the setting up of all 24 social service offices (SSOs) from 2013 to 2015 as a key reason.
The SSOs work with voluntary welfare organisations and community partners in each area to better coordinate the various social services offered and link up residents in need to the relevant helplines.
Mrs Tan-Wu Mei Ling, executive director of Shine Children and Youth Services, said: "After 2015, the outreach from social service offices and community partners has been largely there, and people who need help know where to seek specific help."
Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan pointed out that the numbers for ComCare schemes reflect only those who require financial help, as compared with other schemes targeted at specific needs.
Those who need help may now be supported by those schemes instead, Prof Straughan said, leading to a decline in demand for ComCare. She added: "The decrease in those on short-to medium-term assistance is actually good news, as most of those applicants, who are in their 40s and 50s, are usually still able to find employment. It shows they were able to re-enter the job market and support themselves."
The decrease in those on long-term assistance - a reversal of the trend in previous years - could be due to a newer cohort of people aged 65 and older who have saved more for retirement, compared with past cohorts. They are hence more self-sufficient, she said.
However, a segment of society, such as elderly singles who live alone, will continue to need help, she added.
ComCare gives 63-year-old a leg-up in difficult period
After about 10 years sleeping on the streets after his divorce, Mr Swee Peng Chye, 63, finally has a roof of his own over his head.
A divorcee with five children, he moved into a rental flat in Jurong East on Oct 2, sharing the small space with an elderly man.
He had spent about five months at a shelter in Ang Mo Kio after much persuasion from social workers, who found him sleeping on a bridge in Chinatown.
The social service office in Kreta Ayer eventually helped him find lodging, where he and his flatmate share the $99 monthly rent.
It also helped him apply for government financial aid.
From this month onwards, he receives $350 a month from the short-to medium-term assistance scheme given out by the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare). Mr Swee said in Mandarin: "It is really enough for my rent and bills, and I am very thankful."
But he still needs some help while he is unable to work to cover daily expenses, he added.
While four of his five children are in contact with him, only one gives him money - about $30 several times a month - said Mr Swee, who said that his ties with his children are strained after a complicated divorce.
Mr Swee, who did odd jobs while living on the streets, said he is unable to do physical work due to several medical ailments such as diabetes. But he now hopes to find a job by April or May next year.
"I don't want to live on handouts forever, I just really need help for this current difficult period. I want to be able to support myself some day," he said.
Goh Yan Han
It was a point made by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in a statement commenting on the ComCare data yesterday. "As our population ages and family size gets smaller, ComCare will continue to play an important role in supporting vulnerable elderly and low-income families," he said.
"While the number of households on ComCare has stabilised, some of them face more challenges due to old age and less family support.
"This is why we are growing more partnerships between our community and government agencies to strengthen coordination and provide more comprehensive support to such families."
Mrs Tan-Wu said the possible economic downturn that may lead to retrenchments may also see more come on board to receive short-to medium-term assistance.