Ms Tan Sze Wee
Friends and colleagues
1 A very good afternoon to all – both our guests onsite and those tuning in online. It is my great pleasure to join you. I would like to begin by wishing all social workers – Happy Social Work Day!
2 Today, we celebrate the key role that all social workers play, not only in Singapore, but also globally – in building a fairer, more inclusive, and caring world.
Tribute to Our Social Workers
3 But first and foremost, I thought to spend some time paying tribute to all Social Workers and social service professionals, for your pivotal role during the pandemic. Just as I did in Parliament last week. Because COVID-19 was a test not only of our healthcare system, but also our social structures and social support systems. We see how families are impacted, particularly the low-income and the vulnerable. There have unfortunately also been instances of domestic violence and persons grappling with mental health concerns.
4 Nevertheless, throughout the pandemic, our social workers bravely stepped up. Many went the extra mile. Made many sacrifices. To care for and to support individuals and families in need.
a. During my engagements with social service professionals over the past year, many of you had shared with me about your experiences on the ground during the pandemic.
b. Two things stood out to me. First, the deep compassion and concern that you have for those affected by the pandemic. And second, despite the challenges, many of you saw the crisis as an opportunity to transform the way we work, and to come up with new ideas to reach our clients.
c. For instance, many social workers creatively pivoted to using video conferencing to conduct group work and to engage our clients. This ensured that they received timely interventions, despite the restrictions for physical engagements. While we may be a high-touch profession, technology can certainly complement our work, as an enabler.
d. Even community work continued – albeit in new and innovative ways. For example, during Hari Raya last year, AMKFSC Community Services had mobilised home bakers to make kueh and distribute them to their neighbours, embodying the spirit of giving back.
e. Our Medical Social Workers also went the extra mile – going beyond their scope of work. Many supported our healthcare professionals with the running of COVID-19 facilities, especially when manpower was tight. Exemplifying the tenacity and resourcefulness of our social workers.
5 Throughout the pandemic, you held the forts at the frontlines - supporting and providing timely aid to families in need. You have played a pivotal role in our nation’s fight against COVID-19. Hence, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you – our Social Workers. Thank you for the many sacrifices that you have made. Today, we want to honour you.
Role of Social Workers Amid a Changing World
6 Next, I would like to speak about the broader trends, globally and domestically, and what these mean for us as social workers and social service professionals.
7 Globally, many advanced economies have seen wages, especially for those at the bottom, stagnate. Inequality within countries has widened, and the less well-off feel that opportunities are being closed off. This has consequently eroded social cohesion and in some countries, a backlash against globalisation that is seen to be moving good jobs overseas.
8 At the same time, our planet faces a wicked problem of climate change. A pressing and existential issue, especially for small island nations like Singapore.
a. Just like the pandemic, it could exert great strains in the long term, especially for those in need. For example, it may lead to increased costs of living indirectly through higher energy costs. Changing weather patterns will also disrupt food production and result in higher costs of basic necessities.
b. More recently, a neighbouring country faced severe floods. They had to swiftly deal with the aftermath of the floods, especially to extend immediate support to families whose homes and livelihoods were impacted. An example of how an environmental issue can impact the vulnerable, directly, and suddenly.
9 Closer to home, even before the pandemic, Singapore has been facing several social headwinds. Our population is ageing rapidly. As our society matures, we also face risks of deepening inequality. At our FSCs, we are seeing cases that are more complex and high needs. These are but some of the challenges facing us as a sector and society.
10 As social workers, you are at the heart of our broader Social Compact and national effort to uplift individuals and families in need. Where we can, we want to enable them to bounce back on their feet with dignity.
11 In Singapore, this is achieved through our Social Compact, where the Government creates the conditions for growth and an enabling environment. Creating access to quality, affordable healthcare, housing, and education. As individuals, we work hard and pride ourselves in being self-reliant. Family members provide support through the ups and downs of life, as our first line of support. Finally, together, with the support of a caring community, the Government provides an extra hand to uplift Singaporeans in need – the low-income, the vulnerable, and persons with disabilities, among others.
12 This way of working together has brought us far as a nation. Today, home ownership is very high – even among the low-income, 85% own their homes. Wages have grown in tandem with our economy. We are doing more for low-wage workers by expanding the Progressive Wage Model. The Gini Coefficient has narrowed over the years due to deliberate social policies. Intergenerational mobility is also higher than in North America and Europe. At the same time, we are intervening earlier, though quality early childhood and a nationwide scale up of KidSTART.
13 But we recognise that there are others who are in need and face multiple stressors. Many are families whom social workers like yourself journey with daily, through the many highs and lows. We celebrate together with our clients, whenever they make good progress towards their goals. But there are also times when progress seems far away. But we will and we must continue to uplift them. And most importantly, to enable them to participate and benefit from our society of opportunities. Because we care.
Supporting Our Social Workers
14 Likewise, we want to support our social workers in the good work that you do. It starts with building strong organisations and their capabilities.
a. Therefore, NCSS will lead a refresh of the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts (or 4ST) this year. This roadmap will set out the sector’s commitment to building more future-directed capabilities over the next 5 years.
b. From next month onwards, Social Service Agencies (or SSAs) can also tap on the Community Capability Trust (or CCT) to fund their capability- and capacity-building efforts. For example, in digitalisation or organisational development. I encourage all SSA leaders to make full use of the opportunities under the CCT.
15 Within the social work fraternity, we also launched the Joy @ Social Services movement. Our goal was to raise awareness among our SSAs on supporting staff well-being. Through this, we aim to create a more supportive organisational culture and to address issues leading to burnout.
16 In closing, I would like to reiterate the transformational role that social workers play in uplifting and enabling Singaporeans in need and strengthening our social compact. I would like to thank you once again for being at the frontlines and playing an instrumental part of our nation’s fight against COVID-19. Let us continue to nurture and to build lives together, for a more caring, inclusive and resilient Singapore.
17 Thank you and Happy Social Work Day!