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Closing speech by Mr Desmond Lee at MSF Committee of Supply 2018

"STRENGTHENING THE SOCIAL COMPACT"

Chairman,

1       I thank members for their valuable thoughts and comments.

2       Our work at MSF covers a broad range of complex issues,

  • like strengthening families,
  • providing social safety nets,
  • giving children from all backgrounds a good start,
  • enabling people with disabilities and special needs,
  • as well as protecting the vulnerable among us.

Responding Collectively to Future Challenges

3       One area of our work is to tackle the challenge of income inequality. This is part of concerted and coordinated efforts among Government Ministries to ensure social harmony for Singaporeans, as highlighted by PM recently.

4       Over the years, we have put in place support schemes and networks on the ground. This has ensured broad-based social uplifting through employment, sustained income growth, and universal access to education, housing and healthcare. These mutually reinforcing economic and social policies have been at the core of our success in strengthening our social compact, and moving the whole of society forward.

5       Most members of this House would have had this experience of visiting the modest homes of our seniors. Because of a lack of opportunity in the early years, they had lower educational qualifications, but worked hard for many decades in lower paying jobs, such as factory workers, cleaners or hawkers. On the walls of their flat, however, would usually be a family portrait taking pride of place. Their children can often be seen wearing mortar boards and graduation gowns. They would have done better in life, because of the broader opportunities they had, which their parents had not.

6       I met one such couple - an elderly Indian couple, who worked in low wage jobs before retiring. One of their sons was sent by his company to head their operations overseas, while the other two are professionals. Social uplifting for these families took a single generation.

7       Recently, I met some families that used to get financial help and bursaries for their children. For various reasons, the middle aged parents didn't do so well when they were growing up, and needed help with arrears, health problems and unemployment. Their parents were low-income, and they too remained low-income. But they have since stopped approaching social service agencies for help, because their children have recently graduated from university, polytechnic or ITE, and found good jobs. For these families, it took yet another generation.

8       So our broad based policies continue to keep the engine of social mobility strong.

9       Having said that, as society develops, it tends to settle and stratify, and those who remain at the lower end of the income spectrum face the risk of remaining there, for a variety of intractable reasons - health, disability, family problems, incarceration, addiction, unemployment, and many other reasons.

10       And because of economic and technological disruption, families that have been doing well all along may suddenly find themselves in dire straits, for example, because the main breadwinner has been made redundant or retrenched. What this means is that we must focus even harder on targeted interventions, over and beyond our broad based social policies.

11       Members asked about MSF's specific role in tackling this issue. We have made deliberate moves to strengthen social mobility by providing early, upstream support and more targeted assistance to lower income Singaporeans.

12       Education has been key in the Government's efforts to improve social mobility. MSF's touchpoint starts much earlier, before the formal schooling years. As shared by my colleague, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal, we will continue to expand the provision of affordable, accessible and quality preschool places, so that every child can have a good start in life.

13       For children from low-income families, we embarked on the KidSTART pilot in 2016 to proactively identify them early and support them intensively, through early access to health, learning and developmental support. Early feedback on KidSTART's impact on child outcomes has been promising.

14       We have also steadily strengthened our social support system. Since 2013, we have progressively set up Social Service Offices or SSOs to bring more accessible and coordinated social assistance to Singaporeans. In the past few years, we have enhanced the coverage of ComCare assistance by expanding the income criteria, and increased the cash amount of Long-Term Assistance. And as I shared in my opening speech, we are continuously seeking to improve our schemes and social service delivery, so that we can maximise the impact of social services and community resources.

15       Our other recent initiatives are in the same spirit - involving stronger collaboration with other agencies and VWOs, and listening even more actively and intently to the community. For example, we have set up an inter-agency committee, comprising government agencies and VWOs, to see how we can all work much closer to tackle offending, re-offending, and to support offenders to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community.

16       We have also set up a Youth Advisory Group, comprising 12 young people, some of whom have been through very, very difficult times, to help us review and test our policy ideas and better implement policies and programmes, so as to reach out to vulnerable youths-at-risks.

17       To support vulnerable seniors with multiple or complex needs and facilitate planning, SSOs will continue to work closely with the Agency for Integrated Care, AIC and other community agencies to strengthen the Community Networks for Seniors.

18       Some VWOs I spoke to highlighted the importance of upstream preventive work that could enable us to identify and intervene at the start, where families or individuals shows signs of need. We will work closely with them to do so.

19       Mr Seah Kian Peng rightly pointed out that our shared values lie at the heart of our social compact. Our policies to improve social mobility are motivated by our conviction to build a Singapore where all of us can lead lives with dignity and meaning, and participate and contribute in our own ways. This is not only about enabling personal responsibility, but about society collectively stepping in to play a part.

20       At the National Day Rally in 2013, Prime Minister articulated the new way forward, where the community and Government do more to support individuals, especially vulnerable groups like the low-income, elderly and persons with disabilities.

21       We will continue to support individuals to be self-reliant. This is where we do not just provide a safety net, but a trampoline to help people to bounce back up where possible. This requires a whole network of support, to break the cycles that have led to the situation. It is not just about referring and providing someone in need with the right assistance, but more importantly, about showing empathy to fellow Singaporeans and banding around to lend support.

22       Collective responsibility and personal responsibility are not trade-offs. The community and the Government doing more, does not mean that individuals are disempowered to play their part. If we each put in our bit and work together, we reinforce one another and multiply our ability to tackle challenges manifold.

23       So we must continue to make space for the community to contribute, alongside the Government, to help those who need help to regain their footing. And as we do so, we must be careful not to erode the dignity and resolve of the individuals in wanting to improve their own and their family's life.

24       Chairman, I would now like to say a few words in Mandarin.

25       各位国会同僚,如何营造一个充满爱心、具包容性的社会,是社会及家庭发展部的重点工作之一。过去几年,我们投入了不少资源,并且不断地寻找新方式,让社会支援体系能更好地应付国人的需求。

26       自2013年以来,全岛各个市镇已陆续设立了社会服务中心,共24家,让有需要的国人能更轻易地寻求援助。

27       接下来,社会及家庭发展部要重点探讨的,是如何坚持"以人为本"的理念进一步加强援助机构之间的密切协调与配合,以更全面地帮助有需要的人。

28       我们将力求做到为求助者提供更简单、方便的"一站式"援助服务从而为有需要的国人提供更及时的支援,帮助他们重新站起来。

29       求助者到援助机构申请援助,将能更轻易地获取各项援助计划的基本信息,以及必要的转介服务。

30       援助机构也将进一步简化求助者申请各项援助的过程,包括互通及共用求助者所提供的资料,让求助者无需向不同单位重述同样的遭遇,或在不同的表格上填写相同的资料。

31       我深信,只要援助机构之间更密切地协调与配合,陷入困境的新加坡人就能真正受惠。

32       50岁的石女士就是一个例子。石女士是个单亲妈妈,与两个儿子以及离了婚的年迈父母同住。体弱多病的石女士因为需要定期接受治疗而无法工作养家;两个儿子也不幸患病,再加上年迈母亲喜欢在家里囤积物品,除了需要经济援助,更需要有人帮助打理、改善居住环境。

33       于是,兀兰社会服务中心就与建屋局、飞跃家庭服务中心、医院的社工、工艺教育学院,以及人民协会的基层组织一起、商讨帮助石女士一家的解决方案,携手为石女士申请到了经济援助,给予石女士一家长期的辅导,还把屋子打扫干净。

34       石女士16岁的小儿子已开始在工艺教育学院上课,26岁的大儿子也开始部分时间打工。

35       这足以证明,只要协调、配合得好,我们就能够更全面地帮助有需要的新加坡人,让每一个人都可以自食其力,生活得更好。

Supporting Vulnerable Groups

36       This whole-of-society approach runs through MSF's continued efforts to improve outcomes for vulnerable and at-risk groups. This includes our work on children and young persons, and even individuals who sleep rough in the open.

Protecting vulnerable and at-risk children and young persons

37       Ms Sylvia Lim asked for an update on whether we will be raising the age in the Children and Young Person's Act or CYPA to 18 years old. Our review of the youth justice system is ongoing with the CYPA being one component.

38       Our approach towards youth offenders is premised on gradated intervention. Where possible, we do not want youths to enter the criminal justice system. Since 2016, we have stationed social workers at police divisions to assess the risks and needs of youth offenders up to 19 years of age. Where suitable, youths are referred to attend diversionary programmes to address the risk of re-offending. Nonetheless, some youths may require firmer intervention when the offence is more serious, or when family support is unavailable. These youths would tend to be heard by the Community Court, which adopts a more restorative and rehabilitative approach compared to the adult courts. Our aim remains the same - to ensure youth offenders receive in Singapore appropriate help to re-integrate into society .

39       Mr Murali Pillai suggested for the CYPA to protect children beyond serious physical harm, including children with persistent school-absenteeism issues. Irregular or non-school attendance can be a manifestation of complex underlying family issues, such as marital, financial or health challenges. Statutory intervention and legal enforcement cannot be the only or "go-to" approach. The use of legislative levers is insufficient on its own. And so our approach must continue to be to work with community partners to provide a range of help options to holistically and sustainably address the family's needs. As to Mr Murali's specific case he was dealing with, we will work with partners on the ground to solve the case.

Homelessness

40       Another issue that will benefit from Government-community partnership is rough sleeping or homelessness. Dr Lily Neo asked if we could reduce the number of Singaporeans sleeping rough in the open and about the available shelter options for them.

41       MSF assists around 300 reported cases of homelessness each year, and this figure has remained stable over the past five years. This is a segment of cases we encounter, where persons sleep in public places instead of returning to their homes due to family conflicts, disputes with co-tenants, cluttered homes, and so on.

42       Sleeping in the rough puts their welfare, health and safety at risk, and also impacts the immediate neighbourhood. MSF officers regularly engage persons sleeping rough, in Chinatown and other locations to provide assistance that may be needed to address the challenges they face.

43       We need a more coordinated, whole-of-society approach to address the underlying issues and needs of these individuals. MSF works closely with other frontline agencies and the community to reach out, and coordinate the help that they need. This may include admission to a shelter, financial assistance, or counselling for social or family issues. Or for us to work with MOM, to give their employers a call if they are foreigners, for instance, sleeping rough to be close to their workplaces.

44       MSF has also established referral protocols and platforms between SSOs, Family Service Centres and HDB to assist persons facing complex social and housing issues. We can do more and will continue to strengthen inter-agency coordination and information sharing, to enable clients to secure stable housing.

45       Individuals who are unable to work, and have no financial means and family support, may be admitted to Welfare Homes. For those who are work-capable, the Welfare Homes will work towards reintegrating them into the community. Individuals who have exhausted all housing options may be supported by Transitional Shelters which provide temporary accommodation. During their stay, individuals can continue to work or receive assistance to seek employment, and access social services and other assistance to address their needs.

46       We are blessed that there are community groups which are reaching out to befriend these individuals and encourage them to seek assistance. We have been engaging these groups, to see how we can work even more closely together and welcome more to partner us on this journey. Members of the community can also play their part by looking out for those in need, and rendering assistance or referring them to MSF.

Strengthening the Social Service Sector

47       Mr, Chairman, I now move on to speak about the social service sector.

48       The sector and those who work in it are vital and indispensable partners in our mission to tackle income inequality, lift families and individuals, protect the vulnerable, and ensure that no one is left behind. As I hear more about the work that social service professionals do each and every day, I am humbled and inspired by the deep care and concern they show towards fellow Singaporeans.

49       But the social service sector is not immune to the challenges that affect other sectors - an ageing workforce and slowing workforce growth, and the need to upgrade skills and innovate work processes. In addition, our future social needs are growing in complexity and intensity, and will inevitably demand more from the sector and our professionals.

Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts

50       It is therefore timely to reflect on how the sector can be better prepared for future demands and challenges, to sustain and also to multiply the impact.

51       In 2016, NCSS and social service partners laid out a vision and roadmap for the sector through the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts or 4ST. This is a strategy developed for the social service sector, by members of the social service sector. It highlights three key areas:

52       The first is empowered individuals, families and communities. The social service sector believes in treating everyone, especially the vulnerable, with dignity and care. The way help is given to individuals and families should empower them, enable them to take personal responsibility for their lives, and build resilience.

53       The second is effective VWOs that deliver quality, innovative and sustainable solutions. VWOs deliver more effective and impactful services when they are well-run, healthy and innovative. Good organisations can create more impact with the same amount of resources.

54       The third is a caring, collaborative and impactful social service ecosystem. The social service sector does not exist in isolation, but seeks to work with the wider community, bringing everyone together to contribute our skills, time and resources to care for the vulnerable. The impact is not only on those being helped, but also in transforming the nature and character of society.

55       So I am very glad that VWO sector partners and NCSS have come up with this shared vision. Many VWOs have already rallied behind that vision, and exemplify it in their work. I hope this remains a good guidepost to shape the work of the sector towards stronger collective impact.

56       Sir, for our VWOs to be effective, we need to continue to get good people to join and stay in the sector.

57       Our social workers, therapists, psychologists and teachers all work to improve and shape the lives of their beneficiaries, with many of them going the extra mile.

58       One such dedicated professional is Ms Teo Yafen, a speech and language therapist at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance of Singapore. She helps adults with disabilities overcome speech impediments so that they can better integrate and contribute to society. She has been actively advocating the importance of speech therapy for her clients, as she believes it improves their health, safety, and ability to communicate. For example, speech therapy services ensure that any early signs of swallowing difficulties in persons with cerebral palsy are recognised and managed, preventing complications such as chest infections.

59       Ultimately, Yafen believes in a Singapore where persons with disabilities are fully integrated, and can contribute to the community.

60       Many of those who work in the social service sector do not do it for the remuneration. They see it as a calling. Nonetheless, they deserve to receive a fair and competitive wage and have their contributions duly recognised.

61       Every three years, MSF reviews salary norms for Government-funded programmes. After this year's review, the salary norms will increase by up to 12 per cent across the various funded social service professions and job levels. For example, a senior teacher trained in early special needs education may expect an increase of about 8 per cent after the revision.

62       Accordingly, MSF's recurrent funding to our VWO-run programmes will increase by about $11 million, or 5 per cent, in FY2018. The updated norms form the basis for NCSS's Salary Guidelines for the social service sector. And I urge VWOs to use these guidelines to guide your wage adjustments.

New Work-Learn Programme for Social Work

63       In line with the SkillsFuture movement, we will create more developmental pathways and build up the skills of those who work in the social service sector.

64       Earlier, Minister Ong Ye Kung had shared that SkillsFuture Singapore, SSG, Singapore University of Social Sciences, SUSS and Nanyang Polytechnic, will be introducing a new Work-Learn Programme, the WLP in the second half of this year.

65       Under this programme, diploma graduates with less than two years of work experience will undertake studies in Social Work while working as social work associates. Students will take courses from Nanyang Polytechnic's post-Diploma programme during the first year, followed by a 2-year part-time Bachelor in Social Work programme at SUSS to become qualified social workers.

66       SSG will also provide course fee subsidies and incentives to participants, and grants to help participating employers defray costs of running the programme in their organisations.

67       The Work-Learn Programme is part of a wider effort to open up pathways for individuals to fulfil their professional aspirations and also to support employers in training their employees.

Skills Framework for Social Service

68       Social service professionals need to be equipped with the requisite skillsets to be effective and to be prepared for future demands. We will be launching the Skills Framework for Social Service later this year. This framework is developed jointly with SSG, our VWOs and social service professionals to help professionals better plan their careers and proactively develop their skills to meet the demands of the sector. It will have information on career prospects, skills required for key professions, as well as the learning platforms to develop these skills.

69       These and other initiatives support VWOs in attracting and grooming good people. I hope that employees and employers will make full use of them, so that we become stronger as a sector and fulfil our mission in social service.

70       Even as we work to build up the social service sector and skillsets of our social service professionals, I am very much aware that the work you do demands a lot of you and from you. I would like to thank everyone in the sector for your commitment, your hard work and your sacrifice.

Philanthropy and Volunteerism

71       The social service sector would not be where it is today without the strong support of the community over the years.

72       I draw back again to the fundamentals driving the SG Cares movement. SG Cares is about helping the vulnerable and less fortunate in our society. It is equally about a transformation in our national spirit. When we work to change the lives of others, we also change our own lives for the better. We become not just individuals concerned with our own interests, but part of a larger community of giving - and these activities becomes a vital and intrinsic part of our identity and social fabric. We become better people, and collectively a better society.

73       The Government, therefore, should play a role to coordinate, facilitate and make best use of the community's efforts and energies.

74       Earlier, Ms Tin Pei Ling asked about volunteerism. We are working to redesign volunteer roles to best match the needs of the organisation and the busy schedules of volunteers. For example, NCSS partners VWOs to identify their needs, before matching them with corporates located ideally in close proximity, and encourages them to volunteer regularly to meet these needs.

75       We are building up the capacity and capability of our VWOs to ensure that volunteers are meaningfully deployed and engaged while volunteering.

76       We are helping our VWOs to develop volunteer management frameworks to enable them to recruit, engage, and retain volunteers more effectively, to foster sustained volunteering. We are also training and developing the competencies of volunteer managers.

Extension of SHARE As One Scheme

77       Sir, we will continue to support sustainable giving by corporates and individuals. In last year's debate, we spoke about SHARE as One, which is a grant scheme introduced in 2016 to encourage individual and workplace giving, and create more volunteering opportunities.

78       Under SHARE as One, the government provides dollar-for-dollar matching for new and incremental donations to the SHARE programme above 2015's level. Under SHARE, employees donate regularly to the Community Chest through payroll deductions, GIRO or by credit card.

79       Businesses can use a portion of the Government matching grant to organise Corporate Social Responsibility and volunteerism activities, and the rest will be channelled to a fund managed by ComChest to build the volunteer management capabilities of VWOs.

80       ComChest plays an important role in supporting about 80 VWOs in fundraising, so that they can better focus on caring for the disadvantaged. Programmes supported by SHARE include family service centres and day activity centres for adults with disabilities.

81       SHARE as One has successfully brought in about a million dollars more in new and incremental donations in 2016. As announced by the Minister for Finance, the matching grant for SHARE as One will be extended from 2018 till 2021. ComChest is working to implement an opt-out contribution system for SHARE in the public sector. Public sector agencies have responded well. We are also looking to extend this to the private sector, and I hope businesses will enrol for this initiative.

82       SHARE as One, as well as ComChest's other efforts, will make giving more sustainable and stable. The sum total of regular and long-term giving by many individual goes a long way into helping VWOs and the beneficiaries that they serve.

Closing

83       Mr Chairman, I have chosen to round off my replies by talking about our social service sector, because the dedication of those who work in this sector and the sacrifices that they make deserve our respect and support.

84       I am heartened by the generous contributions of donors and the tremendous efforts of volunteers. Because this giving is precious, and because so much heart goes into it, we must make sure that it does not go to waste. We can and will make our efforts count, and maximise our impact on the lives of Singaporeans.

85       Many of the initiatives I have spoken about today contribute to this drive, to build up and better channel resources and services, from the Government, community and corporations, to those who need it most.

86       In providing these services and resources, we want to uplift these vulnerable individuals and families, and give them the opportunity to take charge, improve their lives and fulfil their aspirations.

87       We wish to build, in the words of our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, I quote, a "fair, not welfare, society", where everyone has an equal shot at success.

88       This is the kind of inclusive and caring Singaporean society we aspire to be.

89       Thank you.

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Published On Wed, Mar 7, 2018
Last Reviewed On Wed, Mar 7, 2018

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