Parliamentary Question: 8 May 2019
Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) in addressing inequality and social mobility which are inter-agency issues, what is the reason for the difference in income ceilings for ComCare Assistance ($1,900/$650 per capita), the Public Rental Scheme ($1,500), the Workfare Income Supplement ($2,300) and the financial assistance scheme for education ($2,750/$690 per capita); (b) how are these different ceilings derived; and © what is the minimum cost of living that is used as a guide for our social policies.
Mr Desmond Lee: Our social assistance schemes meet different needs and have different target groups. ComCare supports basic living expenses. The Public Rental Scheme provides highly-subsidised rental housing. The Workfare Income Supplement Scheme tops up the incomes and CPF savings of lower-wage workers to incentivise employment and retirement savings. The MOE Financial Assistance Scheme supports the schooling expenses of children from lower-income families.
Agencies incorporate data and information from multiple sources when formulating these schemes and design the eligibility criteria taking into account not just income but also other factors relevant to the particular scheme. For example, ComCare Long-Term Assistance considers whether a person is unable to work due to old age, illness or disability, and has little or no family support. Flexibility is also exercised when applying the criteria. For example, HDB exercises flexibility to allow those with household incomes above $1,500 to live in public rental housing based on their circumstances.
The different criteria for different schemes also reflect our policy priorities. For example, education subsidies tend to be set higher — both in their income ceiling and subsidy quantum — because we strongly believe in the importance of education in opening doors to opportunity, addressing inequality, and uplifting social mobility.
There is another advantage of having eligibility criteria separately tailored to the different schemes. This way, we avoid creating a single critical income threshold, which when crossed causes families to simultaneously fall out of all the assistance schemes. Such a cliff effect would strongly disincentivise families to upgrade themselves and rise out of poverty.
Together, the various assistance schemes form a social safety net that provides help to Singaporeans in need and more help to those who need it more.
To further strengthen social service delivery, MSF is spearheading a whole-of-government effort to ensure that support is comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated. For example, we have been streamlining assessment protocols. ComCare clients will be automatically assessed for MOE financial assistance and HDB public rental rates. We will expand this arrangement progressively to cover more schemes and agencies. Social assistance schemes and criteria are also continually reviewed to ensure that their objectives are being met.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)
The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and volunteerism in Parliament.
She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).