4% dip in families getting short to medium term government financial aid

Mr Maswadi Sujaie, 63, suffered a stroke in July and was unable to work. He gets $350 a month from the Short to Medium Term Assistance scheme for six months. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - After rising for four consecutive years, the number of families receiving short to medium term financial aid from the Government fell last year.

In the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) last financial year, which ended in March 2017, 28,409 households were on the short to medium term assistance scheme, down 4 per cent from 29,511 households the year before (FY 2015).

The data was contained in the ComCare Trends Report released on Friday (Dec 8).

The Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare Fund) is one of the key social safety nets for poor families and most of the households receiving Comcare help are on the short to medium term assistance scheme.

The length and amount of aid given for this scheme depends on the applicant's needs, said the MSF spokesman. But social workers interviewed said the sum given can range from $300 a month and upwards, often given for between three and six months.

The scheme is meant for those who are temporarily unable to work, for example due to illness, to tide them through difficult times.

The dip reversed the upward trend which saw more families get onto the scheme mainly because of two tweaks. The monthly household income cap was raised from $1,700 to $1,900 in 2014, so more families qualified for help. In 2013, the MSF started a network of Social Service Offices to provide more accessible and coordinated social aid to needy Singaporeans.

The MSF continued to monitor this trend and assess if it stabilised, after the entire network of 24 social service centres was rolled out in 2015.

However, social workers interviewed said the dip could just be part of a fluctuating trend.

One trend, however, was that more of the heads of households under this scheme were not working. They rose from 48 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in its last financial year. Many of them were medically unfit for work or retired, the MSF said.

Ms Tan Bee Joo, director of the Singapore Children's Society Yishun Family Service Centre, added that some were unemployed as they were retrenched and could not find a new job or they had problems holding onto a job.

Mr Maswadi Sujaie, 63, is unable to work after he suffered a stroke in July. The divorcee used to work as a part-time courier earning about $400 to $500 a month. His only daughter gives him $100 a month and he receives $350 a month for six months under the Short-to-Medium Term Assistance scheme.

Mr Maswadi, who lives in a rental flat, said: "The sum is enough to pay for my makan ("meals" in Malay), rent and electricity. If it's not enough, I have to stretch it until it's enough."

In its last financial year, the MSF gave out $130 million in Comcare help schemes to about 83,000 beneficiaries. The sum given out has increased from $106 million in its 2012 financial year.

Besides the short to medium term assistance scheme, there is also the long-term assistance scheme for the destitute who are permanently unable to work and have little or no family support under the ComCare Fund. There is also the student care fee assistance scheme, which gives subsidies to children from low-income families to go to a student care centre.

The numbers on the student care fee assistance scheme almost doubled from 4,889 households in 2012 financial year to 7,942 in the last financial year.

The MSF spokesman said more families qualified for help as the gross monthly household income ceiling was raised from $3,500 to $4,000 in January last year. Besides, there has been an expansion of student care centre places.

Associate Professor Irene Ng of the National University of Singapore Social Work Department said that the numbers who need financial aid will increase, given the economic challenges that are making low-skilled jobs more precarious and pulling down their wages. The cost of living also keeps rising.

She said: "Elderly persons will be more badly affected by these trends."

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