SINGAPORE - Madam Tan Bee Lian, 47, has been out of work since November last year due to an illness that causes severe pain in her bones and joints and occasionally leads to numbness in her legs.
But she still has to pay her monthly mortgage for her three-room Housing Board flat, and feed herself and her children. She has three sons, aged 23, 21 and 20, but the eldest one does not stay with them. She is divorced and does not receive maintenance from her former husband.
She is among about 64,400 individual beneficiaries receiving ComCare short- to medium-term assistance in FY2019, a 5 per cent increase compared with the year before.
The ComCare annual report for the financial year between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, was released on Friday (Oct 9) by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Madam Tan received $480 a month from January to June 2020 to help with her expenses. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the assistance was automatically renewed for July to December 2020, with a higher payout of $1,320. She also receives government subsidies for household bills such as utilities.
"We are really grateful. With this we can buy a little bit more food, we can pay for household items like soap and shampoo, and can buy some new clothes too," said Madam Tan, who used to be a cleaner. She is on medical leave till November this year.
"I'm really glad that the Government recognised the plight of us lower-income families, to extend the ComCare automatically. It really helped a lot of lower-income families to tide over this period. It really saved my family," she added in Mandarin.
Households like Madam Tan's, with no employed individuals, remained the largest proportion of households assisted on short- to medium-term assistance.
The number of households on short- to medium-term assistance living in one- to two-room flats has also increased, according to the annual report.
In 2018, such households made up 51.3 per cent (13,913) of the total of 27,122 households. In 2019, the proportion was 52.1 per cent (15,008) of 28,807 households.
The ministry said that this increase is likely to reflect the early economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as more households experienced unemployment and salary loss.
Additionally, more households would have become eligible for ComCare after adjustments to ComCare assessment criteria.
The assessment criteria are based on households' income and their basic living expenses. In July 2019, MSF raised its benchmarks of household expenditure on basic living expenses, allowing more households to qualify for ComCare.
The ministry, together with SG Cares community partners and volunteers, has also been proactively reaching out to low-income and vulnerable groups, including those living in public rental flats, said MSF.
"Volunteers have referred some 2,300 of the 6,300 households engaged so far to relevant agencies for further assistance," it said.