Why It Matters

Training a way out of poverty

For the first time, the Government has released data on citizens who receive financial aid from the state.

It is easy to assume that those on assistance are not working - perhaps due to illness - or are out of a job temporarily. But, in fact, more than a quarter of those on short- to medium-term assistance from the Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund are employed, based on a report released on Thursday. To qualify for this support, an individual has to earn a per capita income of below $650.

How is it that a person could be working, and still not be making enough money to get by?

Social workers cite a number of reasons: Poor education and very low income, big families on a single income or medical conditions that allow very few hours of work. Indeed, almost 65 per cent of those receiving short- to medium-term assistance do not have N- or O-level qualifications.

The data highlights the need for workers, especially the less educated, to upgrade their skills and improve their chances of landing better jobs.

Efforts have been made in recent years to help low-income workers help themselves.

For example, the Workfare Training Support Scheme was started in 2010 to aid Singaporeans aged above 35 who earn less than $1,900 a month. It subsidises 95 per cent of course fees, gives a training allowance to those without employers' support and pays out cash incentives for completing training.

This is on top of the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme, which supplements the income of older, low-wage earners with cash payouts and Central Provident Fund contributions four times a year.

The progressive wage model introduced by the National Trades Union Congress last year for the cleaning sector got companies to pay cleaners more based on skills training. That model has spread to industries such as landscaping and security.

Under SkillsFuture, which aims to help Singaporeans pick up industry-relevant skills, those aged above 25 will get $500 each from the Government to sign up for courses from next month.

If these measures bear fruit, more people could escape from the poverty trap.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Training a way out of poverty'. Print Edition | Subscribe