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Uniquely Singapore, F1 or F9 – helping the poor?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Second shot at ComCare for needy families” (ST, Jan 13), and media reports about the setting up of a ComCare Supervisory Committee to reconsider borderline cases that do not qualify for ComCare assistance.

The report said that since 2005, the Citizens Consultative Committee ComCare funds have spent close to $4 million helping 24,481 needy cases. Each case received an average of $136 a month.

I think there appears to be something wrong with the statistics, as $136 a month times 12 months, multiplied by 24,481 needy cases is $40 million. And "since 2005”, means that the total for the last three years should be $120 million. This is 30 times the $4 million figure.

Govt assistance declining?

Why is it that Government Development Expenditure on Community Development, Youth and Sports, has dropped by 46 per cent from $120 million to $65 million from 2005 to 2006, according to the MCYS web site’s “Singapore Social Statistics In Brief” (MCYS)?

Also, why has Government Operating Revenue over Government Operating Expenditure on Community Development, Youth and Sports, declined from 2.921 per cent in 2005 to 2.896 per cent in 2006 ?

Despite record job creation, lower unemployment rate, record investments, and higher economic growth, from 2005 to 2006, the Number of Kindergarten Financial Assistance, Student Care Fee Assistance, and Home Ownership Plus Education Scheme cases, grew by 20, 5 and 5 per cent, respectively.

In contrast, the Number of destitutes in Government Funded Homes and the percentage of Employed Among Total Employable Disabled Registered with Bizlink, declined by 0.5 and 24 per cent, respectively.

The above statistics may raise the question as to whether the 8.2 per cent growth in GDP from $194 to $210 billion from 2005 to 2006, has filtered through enough to lower-income needy Singaporeans.

Homeless Singaporeans

I was also quite alarmed and saddened to read in media reports, that the homeless accounted for 10 per cent of the 4,157 calls received by the new ComCare hotline, in November and December, according to MCYS.

How many Singaporeans are homeless ?

Since the launch of the unofficial shelter for the homeless spearheaded by MCYS and the HDB last year, how may Singaporeans have been housed by it ?

According to the Straits Times article, "Help the kids of families in distress" on 18 January, 2008, there are no homeless people in Singapore, because the state provides shelter for them :

"For example, no one is homeless in Singapore, because this society long ago decided that all Singaporeans should have a roof over their heads, regardless of ability to earn an income. The state builds and funds shelters for those who have nowhere to live".

At the announcement of the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $ 40 million in assistance. ("New fund to keep the needy afloat - Govt to channel aid through CDCs as they know the ground best", ST, Jan 20, 2005")

Why is it that it would appear that about two years later in 2006, according to MCYS, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent, against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families?

In September 2007, a press statement from the CDCs, in conjunction with its tenth anniversary, said that they managed to give out $45.7 million in the form of food rations, vouchers and bursaries to help the less fortunate last year. In the same year, more than 51,000 families and individuals received social assistance via the CDCs – more than four times the number of cases assisted in 2001.

MCYS vs CDC statistics - why the discrepancy?

With reference to the article "ComCare has spent $68m to help 90,000 individuals, families" (ST, Feb 7, 2007), which said that: "So far, 90,000 individuals and families have benefited through ComCare and a total of $68 million has been committed to help the country's disadvantaged”, why does the MCYS past statistics appear to be different from the CDCs' current statistics - $68 million to 90,000 beneficiaries (MCYS) against $45.7 million to 51,000 beneficiaries (CDCs) ?

The per beneficiary financial assistance as computed from the above statistics is $1,143 a year in 2004, $756 in 2006 according to MCYS data, and $896 in 2006 according to CDCs' data.

In this connection, about 3 months after the CDCs data was announced in conjunction with its tenth anniversary, the MCYS "numbers made available to The Straits Times show", according to the article:

"Govt aid for the needy triples to $140m: Amount, up from $50m six years ago, is likely to be raised further given the rising cost of living", (ST, Jan 25).

And:

"The amount the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports spends on the needy has increased nearly threefold over the past six years - from about $50 million in March 2002 to about $140 million now".

Since "Thanks to a greater diversity of schemes, the number of individuals and families helped also soared from 15,000 in 2002 to 64,000 early last year", the assistance per beneficiary person or family was $1,047 ($67 million divided by 64,000 beneficiaries) last year.

This amount ($1,047) is lower than the amount ($1,143) computed from the data announced at the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005. So, despite more help for the needy and inflation, why does the average assistance amount appears to have declined by about 8 per cent from 2004 to 2007?

I am quite confused - MCYS's announcement reported in the media last year was $68 million to 90,000 beneficiaries - and now it is $67 million to 64,000 beneficiaries?

Even using the latest available figure of 64,000 beneficiaries, it means that spending still only increased by 346 per cent against an increase of 327 per cent from 2002 to 2007.

GST hike to help the poor?

I also refer to the article "GST hike adds $990m to govt revenue so far" (BT, Jan 23) and media reports about the Parliamentary debate on 22 January, 2008.

If "about 180 destitute persons are "committed to welfare homes annually", why is it that according to MCYS's "Singapore Social Statistics In Brief", the "number of destitutes in government funded homes" declined from 1,738 to 1,726 from 2005 to 2006?

Also, since "there are now about 1,750 residents in the 10 welfare homes", why is it that the number of destitute residents appears to have increased by only 24 persons (1,726 to 1,750), from 2006 to 2007?

Since inflation started to rise rapidly almost immediately after the GST was increased in July, why is it that after about 6 months, "A review is currently ongoing and is to be completed at the end this year"?

Since the PA sum was not pegged to inflation rates - and MCYS was monitoring the impact of escalating costs on Singapore's poor – the ministry monitors the cost of items which the typical PA recipient will need, and a review is currently ongoing and is likely to be completed this year, why is it taking so long to do a "currently ongoing review" when "the Ministry was monitoring the impact of escalating costs on Singapore's poor" all along?

I would like to suggest that this review be given a sense of greater urgency, as the financial plight of these PA receipients may by rising by the month, with inflation hitting a 25-year high.

As to "For the first nine months of last year, $1.1 million was disbursed to 6,514 cases", does it mean that only an average of $169 ($1.1 million divided by 6,514 cases) was disbursed to each case for 9 months?

Does it mean that there was an average of about 2 cases (6,514 cases divided by over 3,000 PA receipients) of PA receipients requiring extra help?

One year for review to increase PA by $23?

Against the estimated $1.98 billion a year from the two-percentage point hike in Goods and Services tax, , for which the reason given for the hike was to help the poor, acceding to MPs Seah Kian Peng and Halimah Yacob's request to increase the PA allowance by only $23 a month from $290 to $313, is only 828,000 ($23 x 12 months x 3,000 PA receipients), which is only 0.04 per cent of the $1.98 billion.

In other countries, schemes for the needy are almost invariably always adjusted for inflation.

In this connection, I would like to suggest that our financial assistance schemes be automatically indexed for inflation, just like public transport fares are adjusted for inflation in the fare increase formula.

When was the last time the $ 1,500 monthly household income criteria generally used for financial assistance revised ?

I try to put myself in the shoes of the over 3,000 Singaporeans on Public Assistance, and I think they may find it hard to understand why it takes more than a year to conduct an “ongoing review” to pay them just $23 more a month, when they are reeling from the effects of high inflation.

Read more of Sze Hian’s writings on hi website Leongszehian.com

Additional pictures from vnc2005.

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