I am Ang Bee Lian, Director of Social Welfare and former head of the National Council of Social Service. I have worked in the government and with 400 community groups for 30 years to help vulnerable groups, including children and young persons, the poor, persons with disabilities, the destitute and older persons.
Mr President, we have improved our welfare provisions in firstly, the amount of help that they get; secondly, in giving them timely protection, which is so important when it comes to a vulnerable person; and thirdly, in ensuring that they feel safe in their environment.
Singapore has always helped the poor. The poor gets additional cash assistance above the broad-based subsidies available to all citizens for housing and education. To ensure that our cash assistance programme called ComCare is responsive to assessed needs, we have ensured that it is timely and flexible. We also consider the condition of the individual and the family, including their psycho-social needs.
We believe our approach is a better way than a single poverty line which has a “cliff effect” where those outside the line gets nothing. Our approach also addresses the problem of social isolation and protects their right to participation and inclusion. We do this with the help of volunteers and other community support groups.
We have 24 state run Social Service Offices and over 400 civil society organisations where people can get help early. These agencies work in close partnership and give regular feedback so that the Government can adjust its policies to match evolving needs.
Israel, Oman, Viet Nam and Bhutan have commented about policies for persons with disabilities. Our Enabling Masterplan (2012-2016) will make Singapore a friendlier and more accessible place for persons with disabilities. We have made our transport and infrastructure more wheel chair accessible. We have increased our spending in special education schools by 50 per cent in the last five years.
We remain strongly committed to our obligations under CEDAW. We will continue to support and advance women’s rights. We promote shared parental responsibilities. Fathers now get up to two weeks of paternity leave from work, and working mothers can share a week of their maternity leave with their husbands. We note the recommendations of Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago in relation to CEDAW. In advancing women’s rights, we build on the right that already exists in our Constitution that provides that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law”. However, we take a gender-sensitive perspective on issues that have differing impact on women and men. For example, recognising that women have different health needs compared to men, we have set up the Women’s Health Advisory Committee to promote the health and well-being of women. Bolivia, Bahamas and Algeria have asked about women’s participation in public life. We have made improvements in women’s representation in public life and in Parliament. The large number of women in our delegation today reflects that improvement.
We have lately detected an emerging need among vulnerable groups; so this year, we will add to our laws the Vulnerable Adults Act. This Act will allow us to intervene and protect adults who suffer from or who are at risk of abuse, neglect or self-neglect. We will also amend the Mental Capacity Act to further protect the dignity and interest of individuals who lack mental capacity to make informed decisions on their own.
Germany has asked about corporal punishment of young persons. Discipline of young persons takes many forms. Counselling is the first approach. Corporal punishment is the very last resort after counselling and alternative disciplinary methods have repeatedly failed. It is subject to stringent safeguards to protect the physical and mental well-being of the young person.
Montenegro has asked about harmonising our definition of a child with that of the CRC. We will consider extending the care and protection provisions under the Children and Young Persons Act from 16 to 18 years. This will mean that we can better protect and support, especially youths with special needs.
Singapore will continue to work with all stakeholders to build an inclusive society where vulnerable groups are not only not left behind but share fully in the fruits of development. In the coming years, we will increase support for care givers and use assistive technology to increase independence and inclusiveness. We look forward to learning from all of you on this journey.