Low-income, vulnerable individuals will be proactively identified to help tide them over uncertain times amid COVID-19 pandemic

Netizens call it an election move to win votes.

In order to help low-income and vulnerable Singaporeans go through the current uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a “more integrated and proactive safety net” will be formed, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Tuesday (2 June).

“We want to make sure that there’s integration of support for families who face not just financial challenges but also anxiety, family issues, social emotional issues in a complex web that’s interlinked,” said Mr Lee in an interview conducted online via Zoom.

To reach out to these people, volunteers and partners from the SG Cares Community Network, which include the People’s Association, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, will start off by contacting people staying in rental flats first.

The outreach initiative will begin by sending SMSes to nearly 50,000 rental household over the next few weeks in order to notify them the availability of hotlines and help. Volunteers will also get in touch with households that are “not known to social agencies” to find out how they are coping with the current situation.

“If we encounter families that are in distress, the front-facing outreach will then move to (provide) coordinated support among the social service agencies and government departments, depending on what the issues are,” Mr Lee noted.

If necessary, officers and volunteers will also pay a visit to households to provide them with any needed assistance.

Mr Lee explained that the outreach will take place in phases, where it will first start with communities with large numbers of rental units. The estimation time for the process to complete will probably be around “three to six months”.

“We aim to establish contact, get to know them and then this becomes an ongoing relations that we have,” the Minister said.

He added that the platform hopes to reach as many individuals as possible, and this includes those from low-income households as they are more vulnerable to the impact of a crisis as well as Singaporeans who have “plunged into uncertain territory of economic difficulty” due to the pandemic.

“We need a network out there to look out, to listen and to reach out, through this very proactive organised effort,” he added.

Coordinated platform for all donors

Since the COVID-19 outbreak started in Singapore beginning this year, many ground-up initiatives and donors have come forward to help Singaporeans who are struggling to make ends meet. Supports came in for them in the form of food and financial aid, however, it had difficulties reaching the affected individuals.

“Many of them have asked if there’s someone who can help to signpost where the needs are, who can weave us into families that have been identified as vulnerable and can benefit from their support,” Mr Lee said.

As such, this integrated network aims to be a rallying point for all these organisations or individuals who want to lend a helping hand to those in need.

“This becomes a platform for the givers in order for the resources to be better marshalled and for collective social impact.”

Mr Lee also went on to state that a more coordinated approach among these groups that want to donate will make sure there is as little wastage as possible and prevent duplication of efforts.

“Of course, they’re entirely free to continue giving autonomously,” the Minister said.

He added, “But they can be assured that if they come together with other charities, secular or religious organisations and government departments who are part of this network, they will be reaching out to households – starting with the more vulnerable.”

Call for more volunteers to participate in outreach effort

Mr Lee stated that reaching out to needy Singaporeans via calls and visits will be a “major effort”.

“We have to bring in lots of people, to train them, make sure they follow safeguards and respect the needs of the families and the dignity,” he explained.

This is in addition to the increase in the number of manpower that is in the social service support.

For instance, the amount of staff and volunteers at SSOs had “almost tripled” as it needs to meet the demand to process COVID-19 public support grants and ComCare applications, which have also increased, said Mr Lee.

If that’s not all, the number of people calling the 24-hour National CARE Hotline have also escalated since it started seven weeks ago.

In April, the hotline was handled by only 500 volunteers, but it has now increased to 726 individuals. So far, the hotline received 16,000 calls, and 60 percent of it is redirected to other relevant organisations for follow-up.

“We had people who exhibit anxiety, depression or signs of depression, some potential risk of self harm,” said Mr Lee.

As such, Mr Lee called for more volunteers to join the SG Cares Community Network’s outreach efforts.

“We also encourage members of the public to volunteer for our outreach effort. Download the SG Cares app (https://bit.ly/36kH1I1) to sign up for the SG Cares Community Network Outreach volunteering opportunities listed,” he said in a Facebook post.

He continued, “By rallying together to show care and extend help for the vulnerable and those hit hard by the pandemic, we will emerge stronger and more resilient.”

Netizens say it is an election gimmick

Over on social media, netizens said that this outreach effort is done to gain more votes as the General Elections is around the corner. Penning their thoughts on the Facebook page of Channel News Asia, they added that this “kind of actions should have been done long time ago” and not when the election is approaching.

Others pointed out that they are glad that the Government finally realised that the low-income and vulnerable groups need help. “Finally, the MSF wake up from slumber and realises the low-income and vulnerable households’ predicament which lingers for a long time since,” an user wrote.

However, they also hope that this help will continue even after the GE, and not done just for the sole purpose of vote buying.

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