Budget debate: MPs call for more support for vulnerable groups

While respite care options exist, they may not be affordable for certain families.
While respite care options exist, they may not be affordable for certain families.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - MPs on Wednesday (Feb 24) called for more support for the vulnerable within the community, such as low-income families, women who bear heavy caregiving burdens, and those who struggle with digital literacy.

During the first day of the Budget debate on Wednesday (Feb 24), they put forward various suggestions such as to streamline assistance scheme applications, provide all low-income households with free broadband connections, give assessments of online literacy, and create a public registry of professional caregivers who can be tapped for short-term respite care.

Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) proposed a better use of data technology to cut the administrative work and processing time for social assistance applications.

One way is to share social service offices' records with schools so that children in need do not have to separately apply for the financial assistance and school pocket money fund schemes, he said. Medical records stored in the National Electronic Health Record can also be shared with the social service offices so that adults unfit for work and unable to find jobs can get the necessary help quickly.

"Many of the applicants are frustrated as they have problems navigating the variety of programmes and initiatives," he said.

Mr Wee also called for more nutrition and homework support for children from low-income families, and childcare support for parents who work night shifts but have no alternative childcare arrangements.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) also spoke on more support for the vulnerable, such as those who are less digitally literate and may fall prey to online scams, as well as low-income families who may not have adequate computers and a Wi-Fi connection for their children who have to study from home, especially amid the pandemic.

He noted that low-income families can currently apply for subsidised computers and free broadband through the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

"But owning a PC is not enough. We need to make sure that families have devices that are functioning at a high enough standard for good online learning," said Mr Seah.

He also noted that there is scope for further improvement in Singapore's efforts to become "a kinder, more caring and inclusive society".

"Can we ourselves be more considerate before we demand others to be so? Can we cut everyone some slack, especially when they get it right most of the time? Can we be less entitled?" he asked.

He brought up two examples of "complaining": a resident living in a $6 million house who demanded to know why she was not eligible for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme payout meant to support self-employed persons impacted by the pandemic, and another resident who, "without fail, will on a regular basis" send him photos of how a particular staircase in his block is littered with tissue paper.

Said Mr Seah: "We must notice mistakes, we must raise our voices, and we must hold each other to the highest standards...But I ask today for us to consider whether we have gone too far in the other direction - to feel every pinprick as a broken bone, to raise our voices and abuse our fellow countrymen, especially those in the public services, and on the front line, as if they are in our debt."

Ms Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) spoke on the need to better support women in areas such as achieving their full potential and having fulfilling careers, relieving their caregiving burdens, and ensuring a safe workplace environment free of harassment.

She suggested that a geography-specific registry of professional caregivers who can help with eldercare, childcare, and cleaning services be created for women to more easily access short-term, in-community respite care.

She noted that while respite care options exist, they may not be affordable for certain families that already carry the burden of expensive medical bills and daily expenses.

"Thus, it presents itself as necessary for there to be additional subsidies to help primary caregivers relieve the financial burden of seeking assistance," she added.

Ms Yeo, who is also NTUC director in charge of its women and family unit, also proposed that a Singapore Centre for Working Women be set up.

She painted a picture of what is possible: "Imagine, a single resource centre for women... where women can come to explore new livelihood options, air grievances, seek mentorship, access best practices, apply for support, seek redress, form alliances and, of course, to assist and guide other women along."