High cost of excessive gatekeeping in social services delivery can be better direct to those in need, says CRT head Lim Jingzhou

High cost of excessive gatekeeping in social services delivery can be better direct to those in need, says CRT head Lim Jingzhou

Resources may be better diverted directly to those who need it the most if there was less gatekeeping in the social services sector, said Cassia Resettlement Team (CRT) head and co-founder Lim Jingzhou.

In a Facebook post on Saturday (27 February), Mr Lim discussed how the excessive gatekeeping within the social services sector incurs a cost that might be better channelled in a different way.

Mr Lim recounted how he had spent most of his working hours that day processing three financial assistance applications for a programme by one of the social services agencies that CRT is collaborating with.

The work, he said, involved explaining to people what the programme is, how it works, interviewing them for the data required, collecting information, and uploading everything into the system.

This particular programme gives out up to S$4,560 over 12 months per approved household.

“As I trudged on with the all the administrative work, I asked myself whether this is ‘worth it’,” write Mr Lim, asking whether all the time spent putting through the application and the “level of gatekeeping” is worth is.

“I regularly ‘argue’ that sometimes we gatekeep ‘excessively’ to the extent that we forget that gatekeeping incurs costs,” he said.

“And it’s incredibly difficult to have the conversation on how costly gatekeeping is, simply because there seems to be little effort to track it. Or if the data is available, there is great reluctance to share it transparently,” he added.

In order to try and quantify the cost of this “gatekeeping”, Mr Lim argued that the labour cost for him to put up three applications is about S$100—based on his last drawn salary. Then there’s the person who reviews the application on the other end as well, which Mr Lim pegged at S$100 as well.

On top of that, there’s the monthly review component of this programme which takes up about an hour per household, according to Mr Lim’s estimate. He calculated that to cost about S$11 per month per household for him to process. Again, double that to include the cost incurred by the reviewing agency.

“That makes it approximately $60 (one-time) plus $22*12=$264, which in total adds up to $324 to gatekeep an assistance package worth $4,560 a year for one household,” explained Mr Lim.

“The estimated human cost of gatekeeping this amount of benefit amounts to 7% of the total benefits that goes directly to the intended ‘beneficiary’,” he continued, adding that the real cost would often be higher as “bureaucracy is inefficient”.

As such, he rounded up the cost to about 10% for just labour.

Mr Lim went on to argue that with many low-income households applying for an array of schemes, programmes and benefits, “the amount of resources spent on gatekeeping” adds up.

“This is an inevitable, perhaps intended (?), consequence of ‘many helping hands’ approach,” he mused.

Mr Lim said that while most would agree that there is value in multiple stakeholders coming together to provide different services and harnessing a diversity of talent to support those in need, he feels that there is “absolutely very little logic” in this “many helping hands” approach in delivering such resources.

“Do you have any idea exactly how many schemes are out there, either by the Government or funded significantly by the Government, and how much time it takes to apply for them, and how much labour costs we incur to administer these schemes and ‘gatekeep’?” he asked.

When thing reach a point where there are too many schemes and services, the “problem” then becomes that there is a need for an integrated and coordinated social services delivery.

However, he questioned is that is actually tackling the crux of the problem.

Mr Lim asserted, “So all this is really an absolute nightmare, and in many ways invite us to question the failures and problems with charity and our existing social welfare paradigm.”

A matter of culture, paradigm and ideology

Mr Lim then briefly touched on the high salaries of CDC mayors.

“I suspect the reason why many are questioning (note: not exactly against or completely rejecting, but simply questioning) the roles of CDC and mayors is this: we pay you so much taxpayer monies, to create more programmes and schemes, but to what end? To incur more costs to administer and gatekeep?”

He wondered why the money cannot simply be channelled directly to the “needy” and “low-income people” that the mayors and CDC serves. In fact, he also suggested staffing the CDCs with these people in need who are trying to find a job as a more direct way of helping.

“After some preliminary attempt at quantifying, through my own case study, the labour costs incurred when we have too many schemes and programmes, too much gatekeeping, I can only say that the doubts and questions about CDCs and mayors continue to intensify and deepen,” said Mr Lim.

Going back to the main discussion, Mr Lim said: “If we could do away with some unnecessary or excessive gatekeeping, my hope is that these resources can be better diverted to better places, like to people-in-need directly.”

Acknowledging that he is part of the problem, he notes that while it is time to reflect on how to transform internal practices, systems and policies, there is more than need to shift in terms of culture, paradigm and ideologies.

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