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Uniquely Singapore, F1 or F9 – helping the poor?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 26, 2008

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Second shot at ComCare for needy families” (ST, Jan 13), and media reports about the setting up of a ComCare Supervisory Committee to reconsider borderline cases that do not qualify for ComCare assistance.

The report said that since 2005, the Citizens Consultative Committee ComCare funds have spent close to $4 million helping 24,481 needy cases. Each case received an average of $136 a month.

I think there appears to be something wrong with the statistics, as $136 a month times 12 months, multiplied by 24,481 needy cases is $40 million. And “since 2005”, means that the total for the last three years should be $120 million. This is 30 times the $4 million figure.

Govt assistance declining?

Why is it that Government Development Expenditure on Community Development, Youth and Sports, has dropped by 46 per cent from $120 million to $65 million from 2005 to 2006, according to the MCYS web site’s “Singapore Social Statistics In Brief” (MCYS)?

Also, why has Government Operating Revenue over Government Operating Expenditure on Community Development, Youth and Sports, declined from 2.921 per cent in 2005 to 2.896 per cent in 2006 ?

Despite record job creation, lower unemployment rate, record investments, and higher economic growth, from 2005 to 2006, the Number of Kindergarten Financial Assistance, Student Care Fee Assistance, and Home Ownership Plus Education Scheme cases, grew by 20, 5 and 5 per cent, respectively.

In contrast, the Number of destitutes in Government Funded Homes and the percentage of Employed Among Total Employable Disabled Registered with Bizlink, declined by 0.5 and 24 per cent, respectively.

The above statistics may raise the question as to whether the 8.2 per cent growth in GDP from $194 to $210 billion from 2005 to 2006, has filtered through enough to lower-income needy Singaporeans.

Homeless Singaporeans

I was also quite alarmed and saddened to read in media reports, that the homeless accounted for 10 per cent of the 4,157 calls received by the new ComCare hotline, in November and December, according to MCYS.

How many Singaporeans are homeless ?

Since the launch of the unofficial shelter for the homeless spearheaded by MCYS and the HDB last year, how may Singaporeans have been housed by it ?

According to the Straits Times article, “Help the kids of families in distress” on 18 January, 2008, there are no homeless people in Singapore, because the state provides shelter for them :

“For example, no one is homeless in Singapore, because this society long ago decided that all Singaporeans should have a roof over their heads, regardless of ability to earn an income. The state builds and funds shelters for those who have nowhere to live”.

At the announcement of the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $ 40 million in assistance. (“New fund to keep the needy afloat – Govt to channel aid through CDCs as they know the ground best”, ST, Jan 20, 2005“)

Why is it that it would appear that about two years later in 2006, according to MCYS, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent, against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families?

In September 2007, a press statement from the CDCs, in conjunction with its tenth anniversary, said that they managed to give out $45.7 million in the form of food rations, vouchers and bursaries to help the less fortunate last year. In the same year, more than 51,000 families and individuals received social assistance via the CDCs – more than four times the number of cases assisted in 2001.

MCYS vs CDC statistics – why the discrepancy?

With reference to the article “ComCare has spent $68m to help 90,000 individuals, families” (ST, Feb 7, 2007), which said that: “So far, 90,000 individuals and families have benefited through ComCare and a total of $68 million has been committed to help the country’s disadvantaged”, why does the MCYS past statistics appear to be different from the CDCs’ current statistics – $68 million to 90,000 beneficiaries (MCYS) against $45.7 million to 51,000 beneficiaries (CDCs) ?

The per beneficiary financial assistance as computed from the above statistics is $1,143 a year in 2004, $756 in 2006 according to MCYS data, and $896 in 2006 according to CDCs’ data.

In this connection, about 3 months after the CDCs data was announced in conjunction with its tenth anniversary, the MCYS “numbers made available to The Straits Times show”, according to the article:

“Govt aid for the needy triples to $140m: Amount, up from $50m six years ago, is likely to be raised further given the rising cost of living”, (ST, Jan 25).

And:

“The amount the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports spends on the needy has increased nearly threefold over the past six years – from about $50 million in March 2002 to about $140 million now”.

Since “Thanks to a greater diversity of schemes, the number of individuals and families helped also soared from 15,000 in 2002 to 64,000 early last year”, the assistance per beneficiary person or family was $1,047 ($67 million divided by 64,000 beneficiaries) last year.

This amount ($1,047) is lower than the amount ($1,143) computed from the data announced at the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005. So, despite more help for the needy and inflation, why does the average assistance amount appears to have declined by about 8 per cent from 2004 to 2007?

I am quite confused – MCYS’s announcement reported in the media last year was $68 million to 90,000 beneficiaries – and now it is $67 million to 64,000 beneficiaries?

Even using the latest available figure of 64,000 beneficiaries, it means that spending still only increased by 346 per cent against an increase of 327 per cent from 2002 to 2007.

GST hike to help the poor?

I also refer to the article “GST hike adds $990m to govt revenue so far” (BT, Jan 23) and media reports about the Parliamentary debate on 22 January, 2008.

If “about 180 destitute persons are “committed to welfare homes annually”, why is it that according to MCYS’s “Singapore Social Statistics In Brief”, the “number of destitutes in government funded homes” declined from 1,738 to 1,726 from 2005 to 2006?

Also, since “there are now about 1,750 residents in the 10 welfare homes”, why is it that the number of destitute residents appears to have increased by only 24 persons (1,726 to 1,750), from 2006 to 2007?

Since inflation started to rise rapidly almost immediately after the GST was increased in July, why is it that after about 6 months, “A review is currently ongoing and is to be completed at the end this year”?

Since the PA sum was not pegged to inflation rates – and MCYS was monitoring the impact of escalating costs on Singapore’s poor – the ministry monitors the cost of items which the typical PA recipient will need, and a review is currently ongoing and is likely to be completed this year, why is it taking so long to do a “currently ongoing review” when “the Ministry was monitoring the impact of escalating costs on Singapore’s poor” all along?

I would like to suggest that this review be given a sense of greater urgency, as the financial plight of these PA receipients may by rising by the month, with inflation hitting a 25-year high.

As to “For the first nine months of last year, $1.1 million was disbursed to 6,514 cases”, does it mean that only an average of $169 ($1.1 million divided by 6,514 cases) was disbursed to each case for 9 months?

Does it mean that there was an average of about 2 cases (6,514 cases divided by over 3,000 PA receipients) of PA receipients requiring extra help?

One year for review to increase PA by $23?

Against the estimated $1.98 billion a year from the two-percentage point hike in Goods and Services tax, , for which the reason given for the hike was to help the poor, acceding to MPs Seah Kian Peng and Halimah Yacob’s request to increase the PA allowance by only $23 a month from $290 to $313, is only 828,000 ($23 x 12 months x 3,000 PA receipients), which is only 0.04 per cent of the $1.98 billion.

In other countries, schemes for the needy are almost invariably always adjusted for inflation.

In this connection, I would like to suggest that our financial assistance schemes be automatically indexed for inflation, just like public transport fares are adjusted for inflation in the fare increase formula.

When was the last time the $ 1,500 monthly household income criteria generally used for financial assistance revised ?

I try to put myself in the shoes of the over 3,000 Singaporeans on Public Assistance, and I think they may find it hard to understand why it takes more than a year to conduct an “ongoing review” to pay them just $23 more a month, when they are reeling from the effects of high inflation.

Read more of Sze Hian’s writings on hi website Leongszehian.com

Additional pictures from vnc2005.

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7 Responses to “Uniquely Singapore, F1 or F9 – helping the poor?”

  1. Alex Har said

    How can we get correct statistics when there are so many agencies involved in providing benefits. The argument that grass root agencies can do a better job of handing out the dole as they know the ground(hopefully ground means people) best is theoretically sound, but I wonder how the implmentation is? As we all know as one goes further down the line, there will inevitably be less objectivity in assessments and relationships, cronyisms will have a stronger influence.

    Some people may perceive that the transfer of power to grassroot leaders is psoitve as it will allow them to solidify their position and hence assist them to beter influence and educate the grassroot. Given that grass-root leaders are all highly politicised in Singapore, this is of course may be perceived as a a political rather than a social strategem.

    With the large variety adn types of benefits.. subsidies, some may also be suspicious that the authorities are using variety to create the perception of quantity…when in fact the total amount of assistance given to the needy is really reduced. This can of course be solved by transparency in reporting which obvoulsy in absent based on Leong’s discussion. With so many Ministries viing to “give” to be popular…. I guess we need some kind of central agency to keep track and monitor the numbers, the process and the impact.

    What’s being discussed most at coffee shops is that the “givernment” is handling out sweets and candies to everyone to win popularity and not really focusing on determining which individuals need assistance most. The Health Minister has already declared that its too difficult to assess on an individual level…his solution is to assess by housing types. I wonder if we are all in agreement to this?

  2. LifesLikeThat said

    Mr Leong,

    “why it takes more than a year to conduct an “ongoing review” to pay them just $23 more a month

    I wonder how long the govt took to “review” their own pay before giving themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars pay rise.

    Makes me sick.

  3. agree said

    What is badly needed is an independent media in Singapore.

    Otherwise, these issues raised are just convenient ignored by those in authority. There is no voice for the needy. No voice ……

  4. sad said

    Mr Leong, Thank you for continually speaking up for the poor. While billions are thrown at citibank, merrill lynch, UBS, our finance minister, prime minister and MM (directors of GIC) continues to turn a blind eye to our poor. $245 for the poor vs $7 bil for the foreign banks. Uniquely Singapore.

  5. Ah seng said

    minister did a very good job running singapore. i have $2.76 in my piggy bank at home. you want ? take lah, if not you will leave the public service and i will suffer. i can also donate blood to you if you want.

  6. Robert HO said

    RH:
    1. Wow! Mr LEONG is a superhero better than Superman because he can really see through lead!

    2. Apparently, we can conclude from Mr LEONG’s analysis that LKY LHL PAP HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY REDUCING SPENDING ON THE DESTITUTE DESPITE RAPIDLY RISING NUMBERS OF THEM. Despite huge GST and other revenue leaps skywards. Thus, this can only be the work of the Devil and his disciples.

    3. LKY LHL PAP MEDIA LIE AND SPIN LIKE CRAZY. Like any public relations sheet/shit, they write nice-sounding soundbites and headlines that give the false impression that the govt cares and is doing something for the destitute when the opposite is true. Mr LEONG proves that the numbers don’t tally, that the numbers given out in these pr sheets are inconsistent with other, more objective calculations.

    4. EVEN GIVING OUT NOMINAL HELP TO THE DESTITUTE IS POLITICISED FOR MAXIMUM POLITICAL GAIN FOR LKY LHL PAP because PAP orgs are given the money to dispense out, not the govt itself, in most instances. Devilishly diabolical. We may have to come to the frightening conclusion that giving help is only for political and image-enhancing reasons and not because the govt is committed to let no Singaporean go hungry or roofless. And we are helpless to change the govt’s evil ways.

    5. It takes >1 year to conduct “ongoing reviews” to decide whether to add S$23 more to those lucky few who [very hard to] qualify for public assistance. IT TAKES MUCH SHORTER TO INCREASE MINISTERS’, JUDGES’, TOP CIVIL SERVANTS’ PAYS AND BONUSES IN THE MILLIONS EACH.

    6. Do I hear PAP apologists that LKY LHL PAP deserve millions for ‘progressing Singapore’? Then read ICONOCLASSING SINGAPORE GDP MYTHS here

    http://i-came-i-saw-i-wrote-it.blogspot.com/2008/01/iconoclassing-singapore-gdp-myths.html

    7. God help us. We are living in SATANpore and the Devil is completely in charge.

  7. […] “The government is reviewing the S$290 monthly public assistance (PA) allowance for needy Singaporeans to see if it should be increased. It is also conducting a separate review on the qualifying income limit for assistance, which currently stands at S$1,500 a month. The review is expected to be completed later this year.” (CNA) (TOC) […]

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