By Leong Sze Hian
Mr. Ang K.T, 59, has been the “sole pillar of support for his three school going children”. This has been going on ever since his wife passed away from cancer in February last year. Mr. Ang has his “hands full caring for his 20 year-old daughter who is intellectually disabled and attends a Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore facility”.
Mr. Ang works as a part-time painter but has to rush home to “cook and do housework before tending to his children after school”. His other two children are 14 and 19 – a son in secondary school and a daughter studying in the Institute of Technology. It is due to the extra time taken from work to manage his household that he only able “hold down only a part-time job, paying $850 a month”.
Take-home pay lessened
Mr. Ang’s take-home pay after his employee CPF contribution is $740. Having to “barely able to make ends meet”, he has been obtaining financial assistance from the South West Community Development Council for the past few years. It is stated that he gets “$350 monthly under the ComCare Work Support Scheme”.
This would mean that his total income, including the $350 from ComCare, is only $1090 a month. This seems rather tight for his family of 4. Other than the fact that he needs to pay the school fees for his son in secondary school and daughter in ITE, his 20-year-old daughter requires more financial assistance as she studies in a special school.
Did the ComCare support remain stagnant at $350 or has this increased over the last few years?
With regard to his utility bills, it has been stated that “a portion of his other expenses, such as utility bills and service and conservancy charges (S & CC), is also being paid for”. It is uncertain exactly how much is the “portion” but according to real-life references, if he is living in a 3-room HDB flat, the S & CC rebates for 2013 was only for 2 months. This is probably made worse considering the fact that 7 town councils increased their S & CC in late 2012.
According to the MOF web site – “Those living in 3- to 4-room HDB flats can offset up to 4 months of utilities bills on average” – does he get additional utilities rebates in view of his circumstances?
There is a question as to whether or not Mr. Ang got additional S & CC rebates in view of his circumstances – there is no mention of it in the report.
Tough application process
Mr. Ang has also expressed the difficulty in “getting the extra money”. Whenever the applications need to be made, he has to “take leave and take a bus there”. “It takes half an hour but I have to take the day off, and if I don’t work for that day, I don’t get paid,” said Mr Ang in a mix of Mandarin and Hokkien.
It was only when a Social Service Office (SSO) that administers the national ComCare scheme opened up a few blocks from his home last month that a load was taken off his shoulders. Now, it is just “a two-minute walk away” from his home.
Exactly how often does he need to go to the office to make applications? Given his situation, it is probably about every 6 months to review the assistance provided for him.
Making applications by going to the office seems to be of an inconvenience for Mr. Ang – there should be an option to do this application by post or through online sources. Additionally, with ComCare offices only open during office hours, it would be difficult for Mr. Ang not to miss work when applying for the assistance. There is a need for offices to cater to such workers.
The cost of setting up SSOs
In last year’s Budget, the SSOs were one of the measures announced with the “aim of strengthening the social safety net for the vulnerable”. The aim was to “set up 20 SSOs in HDB towns island wide so that together with the current 43 Family Service Centres islandwide, the network formed will put help within 2km of where 95 per cent of needy residents live or work”.
It can be said that significant costs will be needed to build these SSOs, so exactly how much more will this setting up of 20 SSOs cost? There was no mention of the cost needed.
There is a need to evaluate the merits of spending more for SSOs against giving more assistance to people like Mr. Ang.
Mr. Ang hopes that this year’s Budget will provide him with some “extra money for a rainy day”. “My biggest worry is what will happen to my special needs daughter when I am not around,” he frets. “I have depleted my savings over my wife’s chemotherapy sessions.”
It is worrying to know that his savings were used to pay for his wife’s chemotherapy sessions. With the current plans of MediShield, Medisave, Medifund assistance, why were these not activated to help him cover the wife’s chemotherapy expenses?
This story of Mr. Ang came in time for the Budget, most likely to to promulgate the propaganda that we are helping Singaporeans in a big way. But looking at the budget that has been just released, would his problems be alleviated in any way?
Given the number of unanswered questions and flaws in the article, is it any wonder that our Press Freedom ranking has just dropped another notch to 150th?