Is the Public Assistance scheme adequate for elderly folks?

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Report by AFP, earlier this year, of an elderly S’porean woman making a living collecting cardboards.

Leong Sze Hian

When the question was last asked in parliament as to the rejection rate for applications for the Public Assistance  scheme, the answer was that about 50 per cent  were  rejected.

As there are only about 3,000 Singaporeans receiving public assistance, the question that needs to be raised is whether the criteria to qualify is too strict?

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports’ (MCYS) website says:

“If you are unable to work owing to old age, illness or disability and have no means of subsistence and have little or no family support you may seek help under the PA scheme”.

Thus in Madam Chung’s case (featured in the video report above), where she appears to be able to “work”, she may not qualify for PA.

The tens of thousands of elderly toilet cleaners, food court cleaners, used drink cans and used cardboard collectors, etc, I believe may also fail to meet the PA scheme criteria.

If the elderly lady earns more than $12 a day, she may be actually better of being a rubbish scavenger, as recepients of the PA scheme are not allowed to work.

I also understand that if you own a flat, or have working children, it is also very difficult to qualify. Would you prefer to stay in your own home – instead of having to sell it and use up the proceeds, in order to get $360?

Medifund I understand cannot be used for polyclinic out-patient treatment. I spoke to a 81 year-old toilet cleaner who earns just $600 a month, and she told me that her biggest worry is that everytime she goes to a polyclinic about every three months, she has to pay about $98 for her three-months medicine and consultation.

As I understand it, the criteria to qualify for Medifund is confidential. As far as I am able to find out, the patient and family members must all have nothing in their Medisave, very little in their bank accounts, hardly any extra monthly disposable income, in order to get Medifund subsidy. Also, getting Medifund does not mean free, it may just be a subsidy for part of the medical cost.

I also understand that about 20 per cent of Medifund applications are rejected.

Members of parliament should know what are the rejection rates for Public Assistance, Financial Assistance and Medifund in their own constituencies. I suggest that these statistics be made public.

Compare Singapore to any developed country, and the number of only 3,000 public assistance recipients against the total citizen population, may be the lowest “welfare per capita” in the world.

To get the whole picture, perhaps what we need are the statistics. For example, according to the latest Department of Statistics data available, the bottom ten percentile of employed households have a  per capita monthly income of only $360.  What about unemployed households and retiree households?  How many of the 116,600 unemployed as at June 2009 have zero or very low per capita income?

How many Singaporeans  earn less than $800?  The latest data say that 292,800 residents (Singaporeans and PRs) earn less than $1,200,  and about  126,800 work part-time for a median income of $600 which has remain unchanged from 1999 to 2008.


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