Do poor people exist in Singapore and what can we do about it?

By November 8, 2018Current

TL;DR – Is financial assistance enough?

What someone mentions Singapore, what comes to mind? Our glitzy Marina Bay Sands, skyscrapers at Shenton Way, Michelin-starred hawker food and recently, Crazy Rich Asians. Poverty is probably not one of the things you’d associate Singapore with, and I can understand why. We don’t witness much extreme poverty in this country, which is a good thing by the way, but to call a spade a spade, there aren’t no poor people in Singapore either.

You might have already known about various assistance programmes in Singapore that provide monetary relief to low-income families.

One such programme is the NTUC U Care Fund which was established in 2009 to help low-income union members and their families.

Eligible union members who have dependents in the same household, and who have a total monthly gross household income of S$3,400 and below — or per capita income of S$850 and below can apply for the U Stretch Voucher and U Care Back to School Voucher that help to stretch their dollar on daily necessities and defray the cost of their children’s school expenses for the new school year.

Each U Stretch voucher shaves S$2.50 off every S$5 bill at NTUC FairPrice supermarkets, NTUC Foodfare food courts and coffee shops, as well as NTUC Unity pharmacies while the U Care Back To School vouchers worth about S$125 for each child can be used to buy school-related items from authorised school bookshops and Bata shoe stores.

But is financial assistance enough?

Research has shown that there is lasting impact and cost of poverty in the early years on one’s life. Living in poverty has a serious impact on children’s lives, negatively affecting their educational attainment, health, and happiness as well as having long-term adverse consequences into adulthood.

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Poor children, compared with their middle class peers, have been consistently shown to have significantly more psychosocial difficulties.

There is hence an important need to address poverty in a child’s early years.

As part of this year’s President’s Challenge, the labour movement is taking steps to not only help the low-income worker-parents upskill and eventually land a better job with better pay, they also want to identify families with children whom they can help.

One programme that will be supported by the $10 million set aside by the President’s Challenge is the NTUC Lift-Up Pathfinder.

Through the partnership between the President’s Challenge and NTUC, some 5,000 low-income union members and their families will benefit each year from both the Lift-Up and Lift-Up Pathfinder programmes. The Lift-Up Pathfinder is an enhancement to the ongoing Lift-Up programme launched under the NTUC-U Care Fund in 2016.

 

Under the new Lift-Up Pathfinder programme,

  1. NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute), together with training providers, will undertake the training of the beneficiaries.
  2. The training will last four to six months and will touch on areas such as communication, digital and financial management and even emotional resilience.
  3. There will also be volunteers to help provide support and guidance to the beneficiaries.
  4. Low-income union members will get to attend enrichment workshops to promote family bonding and broaden experience in fields of interest such as photography and entrepreneurship.

The pilot initiative will see 50 low-income families undergo customised training to improve their employability, skills and resilience.

Mr Chua Kim Guan is a Branch Official of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union (SISEU) and a U Care Ambassador. He hopes to move together with the family he is partnered with the best of his abilities and help them to achieve more in life.

More importantly, union leaders who will already trained in soft skills on how to help low wage workers have been roped in as U Care Ambassadors to buddy the beneficiary families for six months as the parents go for courses to potentially land themselves in better jobs with better pay and prospects to scale upwards.

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And children from these families will also be supported with different programmes and workshops to stretch their minds about their future and choice of careers. Each child will be equipped with at least $200 to attend classes and workshops. Older school-going children will also be invited to learning journeys to companies, or to suitably qualified events, including those by nEbO, the junior membership arm of NTUC.

Moving up the ladder

Mdm Chan, 46, is senior patient service associate with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and her family has signed up for the Lift-Up Pathfinder programme.

With a monthly income of slightly more than $2,000, she hopes the new programme can help her family improve on their current situation.

Her husband is currently in-between jobs, and they have a son aged 18, and two daughters aged 15 and 2.

“It is a challenge to find the time and the right courses to upgrade myself. My son wants to be an entrepreneur and the talks we have attended under the Lift-Up programme often encourage him to think big and pursue his dreams. My daughter is studying hard in the hope of becoming a lab technician. I hope Lift-Up Pathfinder can offer more customised support that can help point my children in the right direction, bolster their career aspirations and bring them better-paying jobs,” said Mdm Chan.

Let’s hope that there will be a difference made to the lives of Mdm Chan and the rest of the beneficiaries when we check back in six months.

 

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Flora Isabelle Lim

Author Flora Isabelle Lim

On a constant quest to be a really professional internet person.

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