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Lecture By Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development & Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration at Singapore Children's Society's 70th Anniversary Learning Festival on 14 October 2022

Type: Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Social Service Agencies & Partners, Social Service Professionals

Good afternoon Mr Koh Choon Hui, Chairman of Singapore Children’s Society, Prof Ho Lai Yun, Deputy Chairman, Ms Ang Boon Min, CEO, Board Members, colleagues ladies, and gentlemen.

I. Introduction

1 Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the work we are collectively doing to Strengthen Social Service Delivery.

2 But first, let me congratulate you on 70 years of good, meaningful work supporting our children and our families.

3 Many organisations celebrate anniversaries and milestones. The Children’s Society is one organisation where you mark your birthdays and milestones by having a learning festival – not just to celebrate but to celebrate learning as well. I think that sends a very good message to all who work with you. You are an important partner, and I would like to acknowledge your efforts over the decades.

a. But just in the past two years, while we grappled with the challenge posed by the pandemic, we have seen how you have stepped up to meet the needs of the community. For instance,

i. The Singapore Children’s Society championed the needs of our children by operating Tinkle Friend – and just before we entered this hall, we had a little bit more understanding on how Tinkle friend alerted you to some trends and concerns. Tinkle Friend is a national toll-free helpline to help support our young ones, and put together digital resources for parents to support their children.

ii. The FSC that you run in Yishun galvanised the local community for donations when your stock of basic supplies, such as diapers and milk powder, ran low during that period.

b. Your efforts have helped many vulnerable families ride out the worst of the storm, and for that, we are grateful and appreciative

4 While we have witnessed heart-warming efforts by our partners to support the community, especially over the last two years, the pandemic has also demonstrated that there are areas in which we have to do more, to meet future challenges.

5 So today, I hope to share with you

a. The efforts we are putting into working out the roles and responsibilities that we each play in supporting, shaping, and building our society. And we’ll do this through refreshing our social compact and charting our way into the future through Forward Singapore;

b. And secondly, I’ll speak a little bit about the outcomes we are trying to achieve in strengthening social service delivery, which is part of our renewed commitment to support vulnerable households; and

c. Lastly – we talk about the way forward, we talk about what we need to do to better provide services, and of course, reflecting on ourselves – the roadmap for our sector through the refreshing of the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts, or the 4ST strategy rolled out by NCSS So let’s begin.

II. Refreshing our Social Compact and Forward Singapore

6 During the COVID-19 pandemic, Singaporeans came together to work with the Government and to support one another. This was the social compact at work.

What is a social compact?

7 What is a social compact? It is an understanding between the people, community and Government of the different roles and responsibilities that each of us play in supporting, shaping, and building our society. For example, we believe

a. Every individual must continue to work hard to support himself or herself. And family is the first line of defence.

b. But the community’s role is to come in, strengthen social cohesion and provide an additional layer of support.

c. And the Government needs to create conditions for growth and community participation, and provide good support for those who need more help.

How has our social compact evolved?

8 Our social compact has evolved over the years

a. In the 1960s to 1980s, our pioneers focused on nation-building.

i. We were newly independent and were focused on survival.

ii. Our pioneers built a viable economy, strengthened our defences, and provided basic education, healthcare and housing.

iii. There was a strong emphasis on self-reliance and individual responsibility. Resources were scarce and limited, and many needs were competing with each other.

b. In the 1990s to mid-2000s, we adopted what would be familiar to you – the “many helping hands” approach.

i. During those years, we saw widening income gaps due to shifts in global markets, technology and labour mobility.

ii. The social compact was broadened to encourage a greater sense of collective responsibility and we provided more support for targeted groups. So not just support for everybody through basic provisioning of healthcare, housing and education, but more targeted support that tilted in favour of those who had less. This, we did through the launch of ComCare in 2005, and the introduction of Edusave, MediFund, CPF Housing grants, and more

c. For the last decade or so, we have been charting a new way forward, articulated by PM Lee during the 2013 National Day Rally.

i. Our society is evolving. Family sizes are shrinking, our population ageing. We recognised that the Government and the community needed to play a bigger role in social provision when individual and family efforts are sometimes insufficient.

ii. A Whole-of-Government approach has since been adopted towards social assistance

Through various institutions, the Government provides multiple layers of assistance.

Each layer supports specific, targeted needs of the people but is collectively comprehensive in support across various domains.

This complements individual responsibility and family support while laying the foundation for a caring community that helps the less fortunate and more vulnerable.

Launch of the Forward Singapore Care Pillar

9 It is opportune that we now take stock of where we are and look afresh at our social compact with Singaporeans, as part of the Forward Singapore exercise that DPM Lawrence Wong launched earlier this year to chart our roadmap for the next decade and beyond.

10 Just a few days ago, at a dialogue with social service practitioners, he shared how Government intends to build a fairer and more inclusive society, with stronger safety nets and collective support. He shared that we will do this by

a. First, uplifting the lower-income and sustaining social mobility,

b. Second, supporting our growing number of seniors; and

c. Third, strengthening families.

11 Today, I’ll just take this time to speak a little more on the issue of uplifting lower-income families who face more complex challenges.

a. Reducing income inequality and sustaining social mobility are key priorities for us.

b. We have already started putting efforts on these fronts. As DPM has shared, we have made significant moves through efforts such as raising the Local Qualifying Salary, expanding the Progressive Wage Model, and enhancing Workfare.

c. But we know that mature societies tend to stratify over time, and we are already seeing early signs of this. So at least on the MND side of the house, we know how societies stratify, even geophysically and geospatially, not just over time but in space as well. We put in the Prime Location Housing Model, to ensure that we are able to effectively put public housing in some areas that some may see as too prime, too premium – why put HDBs there? But we have to inject public housing into those places as well.

12 At the same time, the solution to helping lower-income families has to go beyond just financial support, as these families often face more complex needs and constraints. So what I’m describing is not mutually exclusive from the need to do more, in terms of substantive support, but how we provide that cushioning, scaffolding and support needs to improve as well.

III. Strengthening social service delivery

13 So how do we help uplift lower-income families that face more complex challenges, and empower them to make improvements in their lives? As a society, we want to be able to provide more effective support, and empower them to take control of their own future

a. First, stability in meeting their needs, provide stability in their families and their lives,

b. Second, self-reliance so they can better support themselves, more and more each day, and

c. Thirdly, social mobility so they can improve their circumstances. If not them, then their children.

14 Cross-cutting issues – especially those that are linked to each other, meaning that if you don’t solve one issue, you can never hope to address another – faced by families often cannot be comprehensively addressed by just one organisation or partner, neither government agency nor charity.

a. For instance, due to health issues or caregiver burdens, the breadwinner of a family may be unable to work.

b. And in turn, this may cause further problems for the family, such as financial difficulties where they are unable to pay their housing rent or mortgage, strains on family relationships at home, and difficulties faced in school.

c. The family would then have to seek help from various organisations to address the various issues that they face. For instance, they may have to approach MOH for help, or the AIC to help organise some caregiver support, the SSO for financial help, HDB for housing assistance or to deal with their arrears, the FSC for some help in family relationship issues, and MOE for schooling support, ECDA for grants, and so on.

15 But agencies often focus on one domain. We tend to be very organisation-centric, so it’s about the organisation – "come to us and we provide support within our framework”. Or we are programme-centred – we come up with a few programmes, a few grant schemes, a few subsidies, work around them – meet them – and they will be available to you. So MOH would focus on healthcare, and MOE would focus on education, and also charities would have their specific focus as well. You focus on a specific group, or a set of issues. This is natural and understandable, to facilitate organisations building domain expertise, and to make sure you have some focus in what you do.

16 But what this means for our families, is that it is difficult for one organisation to help them deal with the multitude of challenges that they face. So when we look at the family we see the individual, not the whole family; we see the issue that the family faces – especially the issue pertaining to our domain – but are not necessarily able to see the entire family, the confluence of issues that they face. And even when we can do so, we tend to be constrained to focus on a specific aspect of the challenges they face.

a. So as a result, the concept of information and referral is common. Families may be referred from agency to agency, from one charity to another, or may have to approach various agencies for assistance. This adds to the stresses and strains on them.

b. Each agency will then try their best to help the family within their ambit – within the scope of their programmes – but might not have a holistic picture of the family’s needs or the support being provided. Neither can they see the assets and strengths that the families themselves possess, or the assets and strengths that the community around them possesses. We tend to see the deficits, the gaps. Agencies may not be able to provide services in a coordinated manner.

17 We want to avoid delivering social services in such a piecemeal fashion, as we risk not addressing the fundamental underlying issues.

a. So, we need to reorganise ourselves – and have been doing so for the last few years – such that social services are delivered in a way that focuses on the needs of the family and builds on their strengths, rather than what an agency or programme is mandated to provide. And might I add, it’s not just the social services, it’s also the healthcare services – and you see in the healthcare sector, more and more healthcare professionals are talking about social prescribing and not just healthcare interventions, because the two are inter-related.

b. These services should come together to support families towards achieving basic Stability, and working towards Self-reliance and ultimately, Social Mobility.

18 We have therefore worked with partners, invested in people, processes and systems, in order to strengthen the social service delivery model, such that it is

a. Comprehensive

b. To be more Convenient; and certainly, to be more

c. Coordinated in the efforts that we put in.


19 We are working, for instance, towards making our services more comprehensive in order to address the families’ differing and evolving needs.

a. Families may approach an agency for a specific presenting issue, and we will assess their situation holistically, make linkages to other relevant schemes that they may require.

b. For instance, we have introduced ComCare Schemes Bundles, where clients either automatically qualify for or are internally referred to other help schemes across the Government. They need not submit multiple applications or undergo repeated means-testing.


20 We have also sought to make social services more convenient for families.

a. We enhanced the SupportGoWhere (SGW) Portal, which is an integrated directory covering more than 50 help schemes provided by the Government and 134 services offered by social service agencies. The recommended support feature enables individuals to identify schemes that may be relevant to their needs.

b. We also introduced the Help Neighbour feature on the OneService app in September this year, which enables the public to be additional “eyes” and “ears” on the ground and to help bring the needs of persons in need to the relevant social agencies.

21 We also want to provide system enablers to better support our agencies in delivering social services.

a. One Client View, or OneCV, for instance, provides a comprehensive view of clients’ circumstances, with their consent, which will ease the administrative burden of both officers and clients and service users.


22 Finally, we have increased coordination efforts across the Government and between the Government and our community partners, such as Children’s Society.

a. We have enhanced our systems to support case coordination in supporting families, through Case Connect. Within the system, government agencies and community partners such as FSCs can refer clients to each other for help, share assessments and updates, and better coordinate interventions. Since we launched Case Connect in July 2021, we have onboarded over 2,000 users to Case Connect and are continuing to onboard more.

b. We have also strengthened networks of support by galvanising the community to support households in need

i. For instance, the SG Cares Community Networks provide a platform for Government and social service agencies, for community groups, for schools, for volunteers, for secular and religious organisations, to build deeper partnerships and share best practices with each other. It’s the understanding that in the community, if you ask the different organisations – you ask the HDB branch office, you ask the SSO, you ask the Family Service Centre, you ask the school counsellors, you talk to the principal of the preschools, you talk to the PA, CC officers, you might find that actually, the families they support are frequently the families they see in common. And so what we want to do is to make sure that in local communities, on the ground, within walking distance of each other, and maybe a little bit more, we bring the people together. Partners – HDB, the police, SSO and so on, together with the schools, the preschools, the religious organisations, everyone on the ground that does something, to support families on the social and healthcare front. Bring them together in the network, give them the opportunity to meet each other, and build relationships of trust with each other, so that when things happen to families, and we all need to get involved, we know who to pull in and we know the people that are pulled in to support families. So that is the network that we’ve restarted after COVID.

ii. The Vulnerable-in-Community Network has been expanded nationwide, which reaches out to and befriends vulnerable individuals in the community. That is the presenting interface, and then backend, you pull it into a system that is a lot more integrated. It has since been expanded from three founding befriending groups to some 13 partners.

iii. Another area of coordination – we frequently encounter many food aid charities that find that there are lots of repetitions and lots of duplications. And the service users that benefit from cooked food, or food donations, might not necessarily get the appropriate nutrition, might not have their specific needs addressed. There are overlaps and wastage in some areas but underservicing in others. Through the use of data in the Charity Food Workgroup, which was started a few years ago, food aid organisations, volunteers, corporates who support them, and government agencies were able to give in a manner which better met households’ needs. We tried to reduce wastage, maximise meeting needs on the ground, and ensure that we better customised [our support], especially to medical and nutritional needs.

iv. Under the PEERS Network, my colleagues at HDB and MSF partnered with many community groups, both religious and secular, to support homeless people and rough sleepers in a way that is a lot more integrated than before

Strengthening social service delivery – Community Link

23 Community Link, or ComLink for short, which we launched in 2019, is one example of this how we are seeking to strengthen that triangle between social, health and community and try to reorientate the approach we have been taking. And Children’s Society is a partner in ComLink in certain areas.

24 Under the ComLink approach

a. We want to proactively reach out to families, rather than wait for them to come and apply to different organisations, to understand their needs and aspirations they seek to achieve.

b. We pair families with befrienders – especially people whom they are already comfortable with – who can journey with them as they seek to overcome barriers and achieve their aspirations; and then work with these families, listen to them, and work out a roadmap that is dynamic, and most importantly, one which they articulate themselves, rather than one which we impose upon them. And once we have that sense of how families would like to progress, the issues that they face and how they’d like services to weave around them, we then

c. Partner the community – social service agencies, volunteers, corporates, and government programmes and agencies – in identifying what can better support these families and curate relevant programmes to meet them.

25 Following a pilot covering 1,000 families in four towns, we have started rolling out ComLink nationwide to 21 communities and will do so over the next two years, and support around 14,000 families with children who are living in rental flats. As of October this year

a. We have reached out to 80% of families with children living in rental housing.

b. We are seeking to offer comprehensive case support, befriending journey, and dynamic action planning, to more than 2000 ComLink families; and

c. We have introduced some 183 ComLink programmes to better support our families – not programmes that we just push at them, but understanding what that roadmap is, you bring in only what is relevant for specific families – and we’ve engaged over 218 partners and corporates to build awareness of ComLink and secured about $2.7 million in monetary donations for specific programmes.

Impact of strengthening social service delivery

26 ComLink and the strengthened social service delivery has changed the way the various segments of society have experienced and contributed to social service delivery

a. Firstly, we are able to provide better support for families. It has become more convenient for them to access comprehensive support to meet their needs, though there are many more areas of improvement.

i. Families may conveniently access and apply for assistance online through the SGW portal if they are digitally savvy.

ii. They also need not approach multiple agencies and repeat their background at each agency. Agencies are able to better understand the support they are currently provided with through OneCV and make referrals through Case Connect. Now this is still nascent, and we are still rolling it out. There are teething issues on the ground we have to tackle, but we’ll make progress. So that’s first.

b. Secondly, SSAs and government organisations will be able to collaborate and deliver services in a coordinated manner, to achieve better outcomes for our families. In particular, we have been making some headway in the area of social-health integration. Just integrating within the social organisations, and integrating across the healthcare clusters, already is one challenge. But trying to link the two parts of the triangle together – and ultimately, the third part of the triangle, which is community – is the next set of challenges.

i. We have been integrating our social, health and community resources for our seniors. We have established the Agency for Integrated Care, which is the single agency to coordinate delivery of care services for seniors. This includes financial, food, medical care, active ageing support, and more.

ii. As part of Healthier SG, now family physicians – GPs in the community – will be able to make social prescriptions and encourage residents to adopt healthier lifestyles upstream. This will make it easier for residents to connect to the wide range of activities provided by organisations on the ground, such as Health Promotion Board, Active SG, and many other community partners.

iii. This year, we will also be piloting the “Family Nexus”, which integrates both social and health services for families with young children or couples looking to start a family at a convenient, one-stop community node nearer their homes.

c. Third, the community is able to give in a more impactful manner. Frequently when we meet donors and corporates, they often indicate that they can provide more support, are happy to sponsor and donate, and get their colleagues to come in and volunteer. But one question they often ask is “How can we ensure that the giving is impactful, not one-off? How can we give in a more deliberate, targeted manner? How can we reduce wastage and duplication?” ComLink has sought to provide greater clarity on the needs of the families which has allowed donors, if they wish to participate in ComLink, to contribute in a manner that is more effective and impactful.

i. For instance, many organisations typically hand out standardised gift packs, gift bags – bags of food with all 500 of them, all similar. Many organisations now do surveys to find out what the community generally needs before they fund raise, buy the items, and deliver door-to-door. But many of them still tell us that it cannot be that all families need exactly the same thing. Is there not the potential for wastage? Is there not the potential for greater customisation?

ii. Many of our philanthropists, corporates, donors, and volunteers desire to be able to meet the needs of our families in a targeted manner with the way they give their time and resources.

iii. With ComLink, through befriending the family to better understand their needs individually, and then collating the sum total of needs in their community, we are better able to help the community utilise your resources in a more efficient manner and give in a more impactful way.

IV. The Refreshed Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts

27 I now move to the final part, which is How should the social service sector transform, to better meet the needs of our families, to be able to achieve a bit of what I talked about earlier?

28 In 2017, we launched the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts, or 4ST. It is a roadmap that articulates the shared vision and direction for the sector as a whole.

4ST (2022-2026)

29 Last year, NCSS brought together our stakeholders to take a closer look at how the sector should respond to these emerging trends and prepare for the future.

30 After consulting over 250 key opinion leaders and professional stakeholders from the 3P sectors, the refreshed 4ST (2022-2026) roadmap was launched in July this year. The 4ST is not a standalone document. It undergirds the work we do to refresh our social compact and strengthen social service delivery.

31 The refreshed 4ST lays out four strategic thrusts for the social service sector:

a. The first thrust is “empowered and included individuals, families, and communities”, which emphasises the importance of placing our service users at the centre of service design and delivery.   

i. This means that we move away from the mindset that clients are merely recipients of services and recognising that they are change agents with the strengths, assets, and the capability to work through their challenges, with a bit of support. 

b. The second thrust of 4ST, of “effective and impactful social purpose entities (SPE)” highlights the importance of strengthening the capabilities of SPEs as channels to generate more social impact. 

i. This means that we need to build our manpower capability in organisations, like yours and many others, and fostering an environment that is conducive for social innovation, so that creative ideas to improve service delivery can be shared and most importantly, can be scaled up beyond the initial pilot. 

c. The third thrust of a “caring, collaborative and impactful social service ecosystem” focuses on strong partnerships both within the sector, and between the sector and other key stakeholders. 

i. At the ecosystem level, we have to foster collaboration between sectors and stakeholders, especially between funders and SPEs that receive support. 

ii. At the SPE-level, to be effective and impactful, they must also collaborate across the sector and beyond in order to optimise resources and enhance effectiveness. 

d. The final 4ST thrust of being a “future-directed social service sector” underscores the importance of continually transforming our sector to meet current demands and to plan for future challenges. This capacity can be built by:

i. Dedicating adequate resources to planning and development work; 

ii. Making use of technology by using data and analytics to unearth trends and inform our decisions; and

iii. Challenging existing ways of thinking through questioning and engaging in innovative practices. 

       The COVID situation in early 2020 is just one example – it hit us out of the blue, and all of us were trying to find out how best to continue providing the support we have been providing to our service users. And I recall then, as I went around to FSCs and different social service agencies, it was a really heartfelt conversation. There was stress, there was strain, there was concern – “if I can’t do this, if this is disrupted, is technology available? How do I scramble to find the resources? How do I empower the families, so that we can connect, one end to another? How can I make sure that the service user is in trouble, they can signal for help when I’m not able to meet them face to face?” All these are things over the last two years that remind us that in preparing for future unknowns, building that capability to pivot, change, and roll out measures is so vitally important.

32 We hope that the refreshed 4ST will guide all of us and our sector to go beyond meeting current needs and prepare to handle future challenges, especially crises that may just break upon us. My colleagues at NCSS, together with MSF, will continue to support you in the sector and take the lead on sector-wide implementation.

V. Conclusion 

33 As a society, we are presented with this unique opportunity to constantly refresh ourselves – don’t take the status quo as a given – so as to ensure that Singaporeans of all walks of life can flourish and thrive. 

34 There is certainly a lot more that we can do together. The pandemic has magnified many gaps that need to be addressed, and indeed the pandemic has shown that only by marshalling scarce resources to meet growing and evolving needs in a lot more coordinated way, can we better tackle the complex challenges that our service users face. 

35 I believe each of you here would carry with you a wealth of experience from your years in the field. I invite all of you to participate actively in the Forward Singapore exercise and share your views on how we can move forward on our social compact, especially from the perspective of the social sector. 

36 It’s been a long presentation and I hope it’s given you a broad overview of what we’ve been doing and what more we need to do. But let me end by congratulating once again the Singapore Children’s Society on seven decades of meaningful work with our children and our families, and many more decades to come. So happy birthday. Thank you.