Why It Matters

Plugging gaps swiftly for needy

When families find themselves in sudden financial difficulty, it usually takes a few days - or weeks - for them to get help from grassroots and community groups. This often leaves them without cash for food, transport or other immediate needs, especially after the death or retrenchment of a sole breadwinner. And children tend to be hit hardest.

Hence, initiatives like Toa Payoh East-Novena's Quick Action Aid programme to provide immediate support to families that have experienced a sudden change in circumstances are timely.

Grassroots leaders had noticed the plight of such families, and the time taken for aid to be disbursed, due to paperwork and other checks. Some families would also not have qualified for financial aid.

So they banded together and raised about $50,000 to provide immediate support - within 48 hours - to affected families with children. An affected child will get about $150 a month for between two and six months to cover day-to-day expenses before other agencies or voluntary organisations step in.

Besides financial aid, the scheme links affected families to neighbours with similar experiences, as a form of social support.

As Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat noted, there is a short gap between the time a family's circumstances change and when agencies step in. He said: "The fund tries to minimise that so that children, especially, will not experience too big a disruption, which can affect them greatly and permanently."

Similar schemes have been rolled out by grassroots and other groups in other constituencies.

During a visit to Toa Payoh East-Novena ward on Sunday, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said ground-up efforts like Quick Action Aid complement existing schemes.

What is needed next is better coordination to avoid duplication of services and enable better allocation of resources. Social Service Offices already coordinate the work of various helping hands on the ground with a localised touch. More can be done by various groups to work together and, more importantly, plug gaps for those who need help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'Plugging gaps swiftly for needy'. Print Edition | Subscribe