Social media posts about vulnerable people may not correctly reflect circumstances: MSF

File photo of an elderly man in Rochor Road on June 23, 2020. The Ministry of Social and Family Development said posting about those in need on social media may lead to further distress for them.
File photo of an elderly man in Rochor Road on June 23, 2020. The Ministry of Social and Family Development said posting about those in need on social media may lead to further distress for them.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has weighed in on a social media post on the plight of an elderly worker, which drew attention to how much she was paid.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday (July 29), the MSF said that while it appreciated the efforts of the public in helping those in need, posting about them on social media may lead to further distress for them, and may also not correctly reflect their circumstances.

"Building an inclusive and a caring society is a collective effort. We appreciate the effort of members of the public in reaching out to those who seem to be in need," it said.

"However, posting and sharing their circumstances on social media may lead to further distress for these vulnerable groups of people and their families. Such posts may not correctly reflect the circumstances of vulnerable groups of people, who may be elderly, or may not share all the details accurately because of the stressors they are facing."

The MSF encouraged the public instead to link individuals up with a Social Service Office (SSO) or Family Service Centre, to seek help.

On Monday, a social media user posted on his public Twitter account his encounter on the train with an elderly woman who works as a cleaner. Mr Koh Meng Shuen quoted her as saying that she was seeking additional employment to earn a living.

According to his post, she said she earned just $5 per hour working as a cleaner at the hawker centre at Our Tampines Hub.

She also told him she lived with two friends in a flat, and struggled to make ends meet after losing both her husband and only son.

MSF said that SSO officers identified the woman, whom they called "Madam L", and visited her on Tuesday to see what help or support they could render.

It added that she "indicated she was unaware of being photographed or that her comments and photo would be shared in public on social media".

The Ministry said Madam L has a younger son and lives in a five-room flat with his family.

"The family has a domestic helper. Her son provides her with food and shelter but she works to supplement her other expenses."

 
 

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) confirmed that Madam L's elder son, a regular warrant officer, died during a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) freefall training session in South Africa in May 2009.

"Full compensation was paid out to his family. Mindef and the SAF extend their deepest condolences to the family," said MSF in its post.

Before the Covid-19 circuit breaker kicked in on April 7 this year, Madam L had received a monthly gross salary of about $1,300, excluding Central Provident Fund (CPF) deductions, the MSF said.

"Due to reduced business volume, her employer had arranged for her and other full-time employees to work part-time as a way to retain staff. She is currently paid $675 for working part-time in 4-hour shifts (or about $6.50/hr)," said the Ministry.

"We understand from her employer that when business improves, they will review and reinstate the cleaners' part-time employment to full-time."

To help with her lost wages during this period, the MSF is assessing her eligibility for the Covid-19 Support Grant, which provides between $500 and $800 monthly.

Madam L is a permanent resident (PR) and has not applied for Singapore citizenship before, so she does not qualify for schemes like the Silver Support or Workfare, MSF said. However, she receives benefits like the Solidarity Payment that are also extended to PRs.

"In addition, we will support her in other ways. Grassroots organisations will support her with $120 food vouchers monthly for the next six months. We are also arranging for her to get some help for her medical expenses," it added.

On Wednesday evening, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin urged members of public to stop going to find Madam L at her home or workplace.

Mr Tan said in a Facebook post that some of the SSO officers who located Madam L, told him she has been "harassed at home" ever since the post went up.

 
 

"Lady is distraught by all the attention the post has brought to her. The manager at the hawker stall there has stopped any further contact with her," he said.

"I know many of you mean well. But please stop going to her place of work or approaching her and her family. They are in significant distress."