Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Discombobulated about helping the poor?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Do more to help fellow citizens: PM” (Straits Times, Jun 17) and Lawrence Lien, CEO of NVPC’s letter “Individuals can help make S’pore a giving nation” (Straits Times forum, Jun 21).

The former states that “”It’s not possible to eliminate poverty completely. But we can and must do our best to help the poor, both to express our concern for fellow citizens and also to make sure that needy citizens are not left behind,” he said.

Complement what Government is doing? 

They (VWOs) complement what the Government is doing to help the poor, through community development councils, welfare programmes and grassroots organisations.”

I would like to suggest that everyone should also try to do more to help the poor.

Tote Board?

For example, I would like to suggest that the Tote Board donates more to Charity (Social Service) than the $185 million of Donations committed to Charity (Social Service) last year (note: Donations’ committed are not the actual amount donated in the year), and not to keep having huge surpluses for the year ($358 million for last year), and not to hoard $3.2 billion in its reserves.


Government should spend more than the $104 million under ComCare in the previous financial year (FY2011), according to the MCYS budget. $104 million is only about 0.03% of GDP – which may be one of the lowest in the world.

The number of families who apply for financial assistance under ComCare seems to keep increasing – 72,700 from 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

200,000 needy households qualify for a cheap mask, but only 27,910 get ComCare?

It took the haze to reveal that there are so many needy households (200,000?) – “Govt to give out free N95 masks to 200,000 needy households” (Straits Times breaking news, Jun 21). According to ComCare’s latest annual report for FY2011, published in July 2012 – “For the financial year of 2011, a total of $76 million was disbursed to support needy families under ComCare. As at end March 2012, there were 27,910 beneficiaries receiving ComCare assistance”.

72,700 applied but only 27,910 get assistance?

Since 72,700 applied – how come only “27,910 beneficiaries receiving ComCare assistance”?

The “Number of cases receiving ComCare assistance as at end financial year” reached a record high of 27,910 – even higher than the 25,166 in the last financial crisis of FY2009.

If you divide the total disbursements in the year of $76 million by 27,910 family beneficiaries, you get $2,723. So, does it mean that on the average, needy families only received about $227 a month? Of course, some families may only have received assistance for a few months (less than a full year) and some received continuing assistance for a full year or longer.

Breakdown how much assistance monthly?

So, in this regard, I find it rather discombobulated that there is no detailed breakdown of how much needy families actually received. For example – how many families received more than say $50 monthly per capita, $100, $200 and so on?

In this connection, in my view, the way the statistics are presented in the report, makes it very hard to figure out how much assistance families were actually getting monthly. For example, the number of households receiving Short Term Assistance was 4,329 (record high) and they received $12.52 million.

So, if you divide $12.52 million by 4,329, you get $2,892 or just $241 monthly.

The number on ComCare Medium term assistance (Also known as the ComCare Transition, CCT) was 3,289 and they received $10.49 million ($3,189 for the year or $266 monthly).

The number on ComCare Long Term Assistance (Also known as Public Assistance, PA) was 3070 (“The number of cases has remained stable over the years” – which means no increase in the last 5 years despite the increase in the population?) and they received $13.93 million ($4,537 for the year or $378 monthly).

The largest component (38 % of the total) of ComCare’s disbursements of 28.9 million for the year, was for Childcare and Kindergarten subsidies.

In other words, arguably the assistance (excluding preschool fees) was only $47.1 million for about 27,910 families. So, does it mean that the average assistance per family was only about $1,688 for the year or just $141 monthly?

Definition of the ComCare short, medium and long-term assistance schemes:

“ComCare short-term assistance is targeted at low-income families and individuals who may be
unemployed or earning a low income and need temporary financial support. The assistance may include cash grant and vouchers.”

“ComCare medium-term assistance is available to those who are temporarily unable to work (e.g. due
to illness, care-giving responsibilities), are financially needy and have little or no family support. The
assistance may include cash grant and vouchers.”

“ComCare long-term assistance (ALSO KNOWN AS THE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, PA) is targeted at the most needy who are unable to work due to old age, illness or disability, have limited or no means of income, and have little or no family support. Benefi ciaries
receive a cash grant for their daily living expenses. They may also be linked up to community-based
agencies for other assistance or services, such as home help, befriending and placement in day centres,
to support their living in the community”


We should disburse more from Medifund and Medifund Silver than the $112 million we disbursed in the last financial year ended March 2012, as it is only about 0.03% of GDP.

Healthcare charities?

Charities like the NUH Patient Care Charity Fund should spend more to help poor patients.

For the year ended 31 March 2011, its total incoming resources were $12.4 million, with total resources expanded of only $2.1 million, resulting in a surplus for the year of $10.3 million – only 17% was spent in the year.

Of this $2.1 million spent, 52% went to patients and 48% to medical education and training of medical professionals.

For the Tan Tock Deng Community Charity Fund, 53% ($2.3 million) of the total resources expended for the year ended 31 March 2010, were for the construction of an Emergency Diagnosis and therapy Centre.

Shouldn’t more funds be spent to help more poor patients instead?

MPs, CDCs competing for donations? 

On a side note to helping the poor, MPs should not be competing with VWOs for the charity dollar.

Since all CDCs’ MPs started canvassing for donations a few years ago, particularly from the corporate sector, some VWOs have found it increasingly different to get their usual corporate donations – some of which have gone to the CDCs (“Lim Wan Keng”s letter” Get corporations to help needy Singaporeans”, Straits Times Forum, Jun 19).

GST increased to help the poor? 

When GST was increased from 5 to 7%, the primary reason given was to help the poor.

To-date with the additional GST revenue of about $2 billion a year (I estimate), there has not been a full accounting as to how these additional revenue has been used to help the poor?

Huge Budget surpluses? 

Consequently, I fail to understand why MPs have to canvass for donations for the CDCs, when the Budget is in surplus for like every 9 out of 10 years.

If we use IMF fiscal reporting standards, I estimate that our Budget surpluses for the last 8 years were about $187 billion.


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