TL;DR – Surely we can do better.
A Straits Times article reported that the number of families that received short-to-medium term help from ComCare (the Government’s help for low-income and needy Singaporeans) grew by about 43% from 20,572 in 2012 to 29,511 in 2015. The numbers are from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and you find the report here.
That seems like a significant increase. Does that mean that there are so many more families struggling to make ends meet?
No. We think that’s not necessarily what it means. Why?
Eligibility criteria eased
Before 2012, in order for a family to qualify to receive assistance from ComCare, the family’s income must be less than $1,500 a month. But in March 2012, the monthly household income cap for ComCare assistance was raised to $1,700. Then in 2014, the monthly household income cap for ComCare assistance was further increased to $1,900.
In other words, in 2014, a family earning a monthly income of more than $1,500 but less than $1,900 would be able to qualify for financial assistance from ComCare. This family wouldn’t have qualified for financial assistance from ComCare in 2012.
Therefore, the increase in number of families who are benefitting from ComCare may not be because more families are falling into financial distress. Rather, it’s probably because the government has eased the qualifying income criteria such that families with higher monthly incomes can also benefit from financial assistance from ComCare.
Not only that, since 2013, MSF has rolled out a network of Social Service Offices (SSOs) to provide more accessible and coordinated social assistance to Singaporeans in need. There are now 24 SSOs island-wide, serving specific HDB towns, making help more accessible to vulnerable families.
This means that more vulnerable families who in the past may not know about ComCare or found the process of applying for assistance from the ComCare can now find out more about ComCare and apply for assistance more easily.
So, rather than wringing our hands in worry and scolding the government, perhaps we should be thankful that more families are now able to benefit from ComCare assistance. It’s like… make it difficult for families to benefit, we complain. Make it easier for families to benefit, we also complain. How can we satisfy Singaporeans, really?
Of course, better if no one needs assistance from ComCare
Maybe Singaporeans will be satisfied if all Singaporean families have sufficient incomes to lead comfortable lives even without assistance from ComCare. Indeed, that would be a good ideal to work towards. After all, surely all Singaporeans would rather be able to earn their own keep than depend on handouts from the government, right?
But is that ideal achievable? Probably not. But if we are even to get close to that ideal, then at least two things must happen.
1. Economy must grow, but in a very different way from the past
Our economy needs to grow. But the nature of growth must be different from the past. The economic growth cannot just be fuelled by growth in labour. Why? Given that Singaporeans are not having enough babies, the resident labour force won’t grow. If our labour force is to grow significantly, the only way is to bring in more foreigners.
That will eventually lead to a situation where we have as many, or more foreigners than there are Singaporeans in our labour force. That would result in an unstable society. So that is something that is most unlikely to happen. As it is, we are already slowing the intake of foreigners into our labour force. So our labour growth will likely stagnate.
That means that our economy needs to grow because of improvements in productivity.
In other words, our economy must grow by becoming more innovative. We need to transform existing businesses in Singapore to be more productive. We also have to look at building large local enterprises into globally competitive companies. All these so that we can continue to create and re-create many more quality jobs.
2. Singaporeans need to be equipped with the skills
Efforts to create and re-create quality jobs would be in vain if Singaporeans don’t have the necessary skills to take those jobs. Those jobs would just end up being vacant. That’s why it is imperative that Singaporeans are equipped with the right skills and mindsets to be able to fill those jobs.
It won’t be easy. Especially for people in their middle-age and have families to look after. They will find it particularly difficult to go for the training needed to move into different sectors with better prospects while they’re still busy in their current jobs. Because training takes time. And these people may not be able to afford the time.
That’s why the government has come up with a whole suite of programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative. These include programmes like the Attach and Train, Place and Train, and Work Trial programmes. These programmes are meant to cater to the entire spectrum of workers, from the rank and file type of workers, who typically earn lower wages, to the PMEs, who typically earn higher wages.
That’s the best welfare for Singaporeans
The aim of all these programmes is for all types of workers to be able to upgrade their skills and improve their ability to get better jobs with better pay. These programmes and efforts are still being developed and fine-tuned. Hopefully all these efforts will bear fruit and we will see fewer Singaporean families needing financial assistance from ComCare.
Because the best welfare for Singaporeans isn’t financial assistance. But good jobs, with good pay.
Since it’s May Day today, here’s a video from the Labour Chief, Chan Chun Sing, sharing his thoughts about a Representative and Relevant labour movement.