Leong Sze Hian
The media recently reported that those seeking financial assistance at the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) have increased by about 40 per cent. Comcare also dished out financial assistance to about 24,000 needy families, a 4 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2007.
The numbers are a little confusing. Do they refer to the 24,000 needy families for the whole of last year as reported in Parliament in February, or the 23,500 for the last six months of last year as reported now in March?
Since there were 40,681 applications for the various Comcare financial assistance schemes last year, does it mean that about 16,681 applications were unsuccessful? (Straits Times) (See chart below).
The ministry should perhaps tell us how many of the 24,000 needy families were new applications approved in the year - and how many were existing cases being given assistance since 2007?
In this connection, the latest data shows that there were 3,483 applications for the month of January 2009, compared to 2,470 in October 2008.
In reply to a question in the March parliamentary session, it was disclosed that about 50 per cent of applications for Public Assistance under the Public Assistance Scheme were rejected.
From data provided, it would seem that the amount spent on public assistance was $50 million.
This would mean that, for the 24,000 families, the average amount received per needy family per month was about $174.
According to the Department of Statistics data, the per capita household monthly income of the bottom 10 per cent of employed households was only $340. This 10 per cent constitutes an estimated 100,000 households. The 24,000 families under the Comcare scheme seem to be quite small in comparison.
Moreover, there may also be some unemployed households who may also need financial assistance. There were 73,200 unemployed residents in December 2008 and about 80,000 retiree households.
I think the Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, may have hit it right on the nail when she remarked that many may not be aware of Comcare’s financial assistance schemes.
Only about $1.57 million of the $6.25 million budgeted for the Comcare CCC Fund has been given out after nine months. (See chart below) Also only 31 per cent of the previous year’s budgeted amount was disbursed ("The needy still lack awareness of help schemes, CNA, Feb 3).
The above $1.57 million disbursed for the nine months from April to December 2008 was despite the substantial increase in Comcare funds. "Between July and December 2008, ComCare gave out 67 per cent more from its Citizens' Consultative Committee-ComCare Fund,” a report by Channelnewsasia said. “That is almost $400,000 more than the same period in 2007." (CNA, Mar 21).
I think the Comcare needy versus the demographic needy statistics, may indicate a need for the awareness of Comcare schemes to be made more widely known to needy Singaporeans.
I often see advertisements in the media encouraging Singaporeans to top-up their CPF, the importance of family ties, go for re-training under SPUR or PSP, etc.
Why not advertise about Comcare too?
Read also: Helping the poor.