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Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Health, at SG Cares Community Network Session and Comlink Alliance Meeting (Ang Mo Kio/Yishun) on 20 October 2022

Type: Official Speeches: Masagos Zulkifli

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


Working Together for a Better Tomorrow

Introduction


1.         Good afternoon partners, volunteers and friends. Thank you for joining us today. This is the fifth SG Cares Community Network session we have organised in the past five years, and it’s good to see many familiar faces, and faces unfamiliar too – I am very happy to see unfamiliar faces because it means there are many people who have since joined us and our large community. Today’s session is different as it is the first in a series of sessions that will focus on how we can refresh our social compact and how we can work together for a better tomorrow. This is part of the Forward SG exercise that DPM Lawrence Wong announced some months back.

2.         Let me start by expressing my appreciation to all our Ang Mo Kio and Yishun Partners, including our ComLink Alliance Workgroup Members. We are certainly very grateful for your dedication to serve, and the contributions you have made in supporting our families with young children in rental housing under ComLink.

3.         As societies all over the world become more prosperous, even as they develop at their own pace, three issues dominate their concerns - sustainability, inclusivity and inequality. Today, I would like to share my thoughts on two of them – inequality and inclusivity. I have left out sustainability, but they are all connected. I am concentrating on inclusivity and inequality because only when we become a more caring and inclusive society, can we become a more united society. And only when we are united can we work together for a tomorrow that is better than today.

Mapping our progress

4.         Let me set the context, beginning with our social compact. Our social compact is the shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities families, individuals, the community, and the Government play to shape society. Along with our social policies, our social compact has evolved over the years – it is different from 50 years ago than it is now.

5.         In Singapore’s early years, we did not have much, and many people were poor. Government provision then of social welfare was sparse. Many basic services such as healthcare and education were provided by charity organisations, including churches. Philanthropy was largely the reserve of the very wealthy.

6.         When thrusted into independence, our pioneers focused on one thing – uplifting the entire population.

a.         We ensured that everyone had access to basic necessities, like housing, education and healthcare. Just three basic necessities that we concentrated on.

b.         Through these, we uplifted an entire generation, and achieved broad-based improvements in living standards for all. Our literacy rates went from half the population in 1960, to almost 98% today1. 98% of us can read and write. Today, Singapore has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. Around 9 in 10 own their own homes2.

c.         Equipped with education and provided with affordable healthcare, Singaporeans can strive to achieve their aspirations and goals. Many have done well. Today, we have one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, at almost $98,0003 – a high output for a country small in population.

7.         Many recognise that their success was owed to others, and wanted to give back, just as they had received. One of the very important values Singaporeans have – we succeed because the environment and the system enables us to do so, and we have this spirit of giving back.

a.         We facilitated this spirit of giving through the setting up of ComChest in 1983, to raise funds and bring together individuals, community, and Government to support those in need.

8.         As our economy matured in a rapidly globalising world and some were at risk of falling behind, the Government expanded targeted support for individuals and families. We strengthened our social safety nets.

a.         In 2013, we started setting up Social Service Offices so that those who needed help could get it more easily. By 2015, we had a full network of 24 SSOs island-wide. We did not stop there.

b.         We deepened the capabilities of our partners, originally Voluntary Welfare Organisations, who formed our Family Service Centres, our front-line officers, including social work practitioners. They are more than just good-hearted people, they are professionals armed with skills and knowledge to support those with social and financial issues. They provide social interventions, counselling, and work with partners like yourselves in the community to address complex needs together. We now have 48 FSCs island-wide.

9.         Our social compact will always involve the contributions of individuals, families, community, and Government, each in a different way. But it will continue evolving because it is based on the needs of our society, and the society that Singaporeans want to see and wish to build together.

Galvanising whole-of-society effort to strengthen families

10.        Today, we continue to partner the community, individuals, and corporates in many areas. One area is in strengthening families, the bedrock of our society.

a.         For example, supporting couples who are getting married and starting a family. The Government, the community, the families, and individuals come together to support the couple. Even before they get married, the Government works with community partners, through a programme we call “Families for Life @ Community”, to provide marriage preparation programmes to lay a strong foundation for their marriage.

b.         The community and volunteers also have a part to play. For example, marriage solemnisers will not just have a fleeting interaction with the couple during the wedding ceremony, but will journey with the couple, to mentor and support them in this major life transition. And at our workplaces, employers lean in to provide flexible work arrangements, especially when couples go on to have children or need to care for elderly family members. Indeed, strengthening families requires a whole-of-society effort.

11.        Why do societies like ours value families? Because families are unlike any other relationship we have in life. Families ground us. It is in families that we learn to value where we come from and who we are as people. Biological links between family members matter. Which is why it takes effort to rebuild reconstituted families. This is also why even an adopted child in a loving family may seek to find out more about his or her biological parents. But within a loving family, we find safety and security, a safe environment where we can grow and thrive, from the time we are weaned from our mothers to the time we are taught life lessons by our fathers. Even up till when we are adults, this strong bond connects us in the family.

12.        This is why families are our natural first line of support. They are a key source of strength through the ups and downs of our lives. And when families are strong and stable, they lay the foundation for a strong society, and provide an enabling environment for our children to thrive, moulding the next generation.

13.        Our position that families are foundational to our society has not changed. We want to continue to be a society that strengthens families. I introduced the Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament earlier today. The constitutional amendment will protect the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman from constitutional challenge. It will also protect laws and policies that rely on this definition. This significant amendment to our Constitution demonstrates our commitment for Singapore to be a pro-family society and build a Singapore Made for Families.

14.        Families shape how we relate to each other as fellow members of our community. Our families impart values that we carry with us through life. They teach us lessons on how we are to live with others. And in families, our starting point is not demands and requests, but rather our roles and responsibilities towards each other. It is our sense of duty and love that spurs us to make sacrifices and want to bring about good for our children, parents, siblings and other family members.

A society that collectively uplifts families – a tapestry of support

15.         The values from our bonds in our families, is what plant our sense of care for others in society and elevate our roles and responsibilities to one another. The strength of a society springs from members within contributing and giving to others. We should not just think about what we can take, but rather what we can give to others. Where those who have enough are generous in giving. And find it an honour to give to others. As the founder of ComChest Dr Ee Peng Liang said “Greatness is not measured by what we have, but by what we share”.

16.        There are always fellow citizens around us who require additional support. Where it may be harder with time for them to continue on the moving escalator upwards with the rest of society.

a.         In particular, lower-income families may face complex and interlocking challenges which cannot be comprehensively addressed by just one agency or another. The issues one single family faces today could span many areas such as finances, education, and employment, and familial relationships.

b.         The government is concerned, because if left inadequately addressed, these challenges compound into disadvantages later in life, and could impact the next generation.

c.         We need to uplift these families. So that they have access to opportunities regardless of their starting point. And allow them to have a fair chance to do better for themselves when they try. This should be an indelible part of our social compact, and we must make it so.

d.         Circumstances have changed though. If in the past having a roof over our heads was progress, today, having access to digital devices is a necessity. Even as we move forward as a society, there will always be those who require additional support among us. The question is what we choose to do to support those who need more help.

17.        This is not just an issue for low-income families. It is a matter that cuts to the core of who we are as a people. Ultimately, it is about the society we want to be. A society that seeks the good of the other. Where we think for others and not only for ourselves. A generous one where we keep social mobility alive for all. Where every Singaporean is assured that no one will be left behind.

18.        Today, there are already many individuals and families who do good work in meeting the needs of families. Corporates and community partners too have leaned forward to offer their time and resources.

19.        But as we have seen, the uplifting of families and the transformation of lives often require more than just individual efforts. The issues families face today are getting more complex in a fast-paced society. So I think it requires a different approach. One where we journey with families, over a sustained period, with interventions at many levels. A whole-of-society effort.

20.        We want to harness the energy that is already there and amplify its impact.

a.         If today’s social compact is one of working together, I believe that our social compact of tomorrow must be one where we work in sync. Not as separate helping hands, but as a strong tapestry of support. Meeting the needs of those we help.

21.        We have already started syncing up our efforts.

a.         In the past, individuals seeking assistance were faced with a myriad of schemes and paperwork. Today, we are coordinating better across multiple government agencies, community partners and volunteers so that individuals receive targeted support from a single interface.

b.         For instance, we have streamlined the application process across different agencies and schemes through ComCare scheme bundles. ComCare clients can now benefit from other Government schemes, such as Student Care Fee Assistance and MOE financial assistance, without submitting forms again and again.

c.         We have moved from waiting for people to approach us for help, to proactively reaching out to understand their needs.

d.         Instead of waiting for problems to arise, we are going upstream, introducing preventive measures to prevent problems from emerging in the first place. Intervening when there are early warning signs, rather than when the problems are already intractable.

22.        ComLink is one example.

a.         ComLink represents a paradigm shift in the way we support families. Where the families are at the centre of what we do. Our support is organised around them, rather than along people, private and public sectors and agency lines, or individual initiatives.

b.         Playing a coordinating role, the Government brings together partners and pools local resources together. Involving those already doing good work in the communities such as social service agencies and community groups, and roping in government agencies.

c.         Rather than each entity embarking on its own efforts, we coordinate and organise our efforts around the family. This is not trivial. Re-organising government and community agencies around families requires rethinking of our approach, streamlining of working processes, and updating of our systems and data to enable our efforts. Ultimately, the families benefit.

23.        Moving forward, we need to work together, to weave and strengthen our tapestry of support for families in need. With families facing increasingly complex issues and needs, we need to sync up and work well together to achieve sustained impact.

24.        Under the renewed Social Compact, the Government will continue to do our part. We are doubling down on our policies and programmes to uplift lower-income families.

a.         We will enhance how we deliver support for lower-income families through ComLink. Moving beyond coordination, towards the streamlining of common functions such as befriending and case support across many programmes available to them like KidSTART and UPLIFT.

i.         A consistent group of ComLink befrienders will journey with the families towards their aspirations, while bringing together agencies and community partners to empower families to achieve their goals.

ii.         This effort to provide integrated support centred around the family is being led by the SSOs in the respective towns. With the SSO as a consistent touchpoint, we are bringing together different agencies and community partners to provide more comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated support, to help families as they work towards stability, self-reliance, and social mobility.

25.        Other must also do their part – community partners, corporates, and individuals. Corporates have expertise and resources. Community partners have community knowledge and networks. You can harness these for good to uplift disadvantaged individuals and lower-income families, by designing programmes and services to empower them. Whether it is in the area of education, financial literacy or employment.

26.        We encourage corporates, community partners, families, and individuals to partner with us, hand-in-glove, to achieve sustained impact, because Working Together is how we get a Better Tomorrow.

Building an inclusive society for persons with disabilities

27.        I spoke about lower-income families, particularly those with young children. We also want Singapore to become a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.

a.         Where accepting, including, and supporting persons with disabilities are a part of our everyday lives.

b.         Where inclusive businesses and services are commonly seen in our communities and expected as something ordinary.

c.         Where persons with disabilities are able to participate fully in their everyday life, and accepted for who they are, regardless of their disabilities or differences.

28.        The Enabling Masterplan 2030, which was just launched in August this year, is a roadmap for us as we work towards becoming a more inclusive society. Singaporeans from the private, people, and public sectors, including persons with disabilities, deliberated and developed 29 recommendations across 14 focal areas. More importantly, I’m glad that the plan is not just about what Government will do, but includes areas where everyone can play a part.

29.        Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities for corporates, community partners, volunteers, and the Government to come together to enable those with disabilities.

a.         Let me cite one example - employment. We aspire to reach the target of 40% employment rate among persons with disabilities, up from 30% today4. This translates to about 10,000 more persons with disabilities being recognised for their abilities, knowledge, and skills in employment.

b.         To make this happen, we need inclusive and innovative employers who will offer meaningful employment and training opportunities. The Government will come in to support you to redesign jobs, adjust your work environment, and train your staff to work with persons with disabilities. But we need more of you to come forward, employers, to recognise how persons with disabilities can contribute, and open your doors. We will be engaging various stakeholders as we forge ahead on this.

30.        Everyone has a part to play in shaping a fair and inclusive society – one where persons with disabilities are enabled to pursue their aspirations, achieve their fullest potential, and participate as integral and contributing members of society.

Closing

31.        Let me conclude. Our social compact has served us well thus far. But it is timely for us to review, renew and strengthen this social compact, as we build a better future, for ourselves and for generations to come.

a.         Our families must be our first line of support, our safe harbour in life’s inevitable storms. Where we pass on values to the next generation, including the values of giving back to society and inclusivity.

b.         The community must step up to support families and individuals in need. Whether as corporates, community groups, or social service agencies. Not in silos, but together, weaving a stronger tapestry of support to achieve greater collective impact.

c.         The Government will do our part, to support those in need, while working with community partners to coordinate our efforts for sustained impact.

d.         And individuals, the recipients, must also do their part, to work hard and do the best for themselves, their families, and the community.

32.        Together, we weave a tapestry of support for families and individuals. Building a stronger society, forging an inclusive society, more caring and fairer Singapore, where hope and opportunity are kept alive for all.

33.        The conversation does not end here. In the coming months, under Forward Singapore, we will continue to engage and partner Singaporeans on how we can work together.

34.        There is no ready blueprint, unfortunately, for the Singapore of tomorrow. It is up to each of us to chart our new way forward together. The future of Singapore belongs to all of us, and I look forward to working with you to weave a tapestry of support for a better future for all of us together.

35.        Thank you.


 

1Literacy rate for 15 years & over was at 97.6% in 2021, and 60.2% in 1965. From singstat.gov.sg
2Min/SF COS 2022 Speech
3From singstat.gov.sg
4Based on employment rate of resident persons with disabilities (aged 15 to 64). Current level is 30.1% (2020-2021), with target of 40%.