Building Strong Families for a Resilient Nation, Where All Can Thrive
1 I thank members for their thoughtful suggestions. We share the same vision of a more caring, inclusive, and resilient Singapore.
2 We are now into the third year of our fight against COVID-19.
a. It has been a test – not only for our healthcare systems, but also our social structures and support systems.
b. Hence, first and foremost, I thought to take this opportunity, to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all our social workers, social service professionals, and volunteers. Throughout the pandemic, many of you stepped up, went the extra mile, to care for and support Singaporeans in need. Providing a critical line of social support in the community. We are deeply grateful.
c. At MSF, we set up the National Care Hotline and rolled out key support schemes to protect individuals against income shocks and to meet their immediate needs. Such as the Temporary Relief Fund (or TRF) and COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG), where we disbursed a total of $440 million in assistance, supporting around 470,000 individuals. Subsequently, under the COVID-19 Recovery Grant (or CRG), we have disbursed another around $60 million so far; so in total, $500 million. This has supported around 27,500 individuals. At the same time, we also created over 5,000 jobs and skills opportunities in the social and early childhood sectors in the past year. Including for persons with disabilities.
d. Singaporeans from all walks of life, joined hands, and we rose against the biggest crisis of our generation.
3 We saw families and individuals supporting each other. Neighbours extending a helping hand. Corporates and community organisations stepping up. Joining hands with the Government. This spirit of working together has helped and enabled us to overcome crisis after crisis. From independence, till today.
I. Our Social Compact
4 Several members have asked about the Government’s plans to uplift the low-income in Singapore – Mr Leon Perera, Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Ng Ling Ling.
Evolution of Our Social Compact
5 It begins with Singapore’s Social Compact, which Minister Lawrence explained in the Budget speech.
a. Our Social Compact is enabling.
b. The Government creates conditions for growth and an enabling environment that provides affordable and quality education, healthcare and housing for all Singaporeans.
c. Individuals work hard, doing the best for themselves and their families, and this brings us dignity.
d. Family members support each other through the ups and downs in life – our first line of support.
e. 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; the citizens MSF cares for, among others.
f. Social mobility becomes possible even if inequality is unavoidable. It is Singapore’s vaccination against permanent entrenchment.
6 But we must remember that in Singapore’s early days – housing, education, and healthcare were nowhere near what we have today.
a. Not in terms of accessibility and much less in terms of quality.
b. As a young nation, Singapore did not have much.
c. But our pioneer leaders had the wisdom to prioritise education, housing ,and healthcare as the foundations of our Social Compact, alongside the CPF system. For all Singaporeans. With discipline. Decade after decade.
d. Equally important, the Government successfully attracted investments into Singapore, creating job opportunities. Our forefathers worked hard because they took pride in being able to provide for their families in those hard times.
e. Family members in turn helped each other. Because social assistance was very basic and reserved for the neediest. Neighbours and friends often chipped in. Just like the present crisis, everyone stepped up.
f. Individuals, families, community, and the Government. All working together, hand in hand.
7 Our Social Compact remains relevant but has evolved over the years.
a. By the early 1990s, we introduced schemes like Edusave and MediFund that benefit many Singaporeans today. HDB housing grants were also expanded. Today, eligible first-time homebuyers can receive grants of up to S$80,000 for new flats, or up to S$160,000 for resale flats – making public housing affordable.
b. We invested heavily – in our preschools, schools, and higher education system – to give every Singaporean child the opportunities to succeed. This has proven to be one of the biggest enablers of our society. Through education, we enable Singaporeans to be self-reliant, as they gain skills and employment. And this in turn, supports the building of assets, like housing and savings through the CPF, enabling them to care and provide for their families with dignity, and eventually in retirement. Today, a Singaporean child can receive over S$180,000 of education subsidies from the preschool years till the age of 16.
c. Our tax and benefits system remains progressive. Low- and middle- income households continue to receive more benefits relative to taxes paid.
8 We have come far. Today
a. Around 9 in 10 own their own homes. Even among the low-income, home ownership remains high.
b. Our public healthcare system provides affordable, quality medical treatment for every citizen, and is well-recognised internationally. On average, the Government spends over S$230,000 in healthcare subsidies for each Singaporean over their lifetime.
c. An educated and trainable workforce has continued attracting investments. Wages have grown, even after accounting for inflation. While many other advanced economies struggle with wage stagnation.
d. Intergenerational mobility in Singapore is higher than that in North America and Europe, including for younger cohorts born from 1985 to 1989.
Strengthening Social Assistance and Social Service Delivery
9 Major shifts in policy have always been accompanied by efforts to enhance social assistance. Already, more is being done to protect Singaporeans against the rapid disruptions across economies. We must not allow inequality to be entrenched as seen in many advanced economies. Going forward, addressing social needs will become even more complex.
10 We did this over a decade ago when globalisation struck the world full-blown. Workfare and ComCare were rolled out and new features of our social security system, like Silver Support and MediShield Life, were introduced. Recently, we announced the expansion of the Progressive Wage Model to uplift more low-wage workers.
11 ComCare is a key component of our social safety nets.
a. ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance, or SMTA, enables families to tide over temporary periods of difficulty. When clients improve their circumstances – for example, after landing a new, better paying job, SSOs can exercise flexibility to provide extended assistance. This gives them time to stabilise their finances and strengthens the incentive to gain self-reliance. Because ultimately, we want them to bounce back together and stronger.
b. Hence, in Budget 2022, to be even more enabling, we have also expanded training subsidies for ComCare recipients. Making it easier for them to reskill and access good job opportunities.
i. For example, they may take up a Digital Marketing course to move into in-demand job roles, via the new SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme announced at MOE’s COS. Before subsidies, they would have to pay S$10,000. After subsidies, they pay less than S$1,000, which can be further offset to as little to no cost, using their SkillsFuture Credit.
ii. Eventually, with employment, they can build their assets through housing and CPF.
c. We also know some in our society require permanent support. For them, we provide ComCare Long-Term Assistance. Together with philanthropy, the generosity of the public and corporates, we have made it possible to care for them as a collective. This exemplifies our shared ethos of a caring society.
d. To ensure its adequacy, we review the ComCare coverage and quantum every two to three years. When doing so, we reference data on households’ daily living expenses, and seek input from experts and community stakeholders.
12 While we strengthen our support at the policy level, we must also ensure that Singaporeans in need can access them.
a. Many low-income families are often time-strapped, having to juggle multiple needs and demands. We do not want this to become a barrier for them to seek assistance.
b. This is why we started a major effort to bring assistance closer to families, in a more comprehensive, convenient and coordinated manner.
c. From 2013 to 2015, we set up an island-wide network of 24 Social Service Offices, or SSOs.
d. We have also been streamlining processes and facilitating data-sharing.
i. For example, we will put together a schemes bundle to strengthen support for ComCare families with school-going children. Once their ComCare applications are approved, they will not need to submit separate applications to access other support schemes, like MOE Financial Assistance, covered by the bundle.
ii. Through the enhanced SupportGoWhere portal, clients can also apply for ComCare SMTA online, instead of visiting the SSO in person.
e. Finally, we have made a fundamental shift in our paradigm. Instead of waiting for clients to turn up at our offices, we want to turn up at their doors. So we can address issues upstream. Hence, we have started scaling up Community Link, or ComLink, nationwide.
i. Under ComLink, families with children living in public rental housing will be supported by a team of befrienders.
ii. They will be the single touchpoint for these families, journeying with them, nudging them towards longer term goals.
iii. Minister Desmond Lee and Parl Sec Eric Chua will share more.
Why Our Social Compact Matters
13 Even through the early days of ComLink, and working together with the community, we have enabled families to uplift themselves and improve their circumstances.
a. Singaporeans like Mr Azman and his family are one example.
b. Mr Azman and his wife had been working as delivery personnel to support their two children. They lived in a 1-room rental flat and had incurred various arrears.
c. With the help of ComLink befrienders and their SSO coordinator, they were encouraged to take small, actionable steps to improve their circumstances.
d. They were also supported with ComCare assistance which enabled them to cope with their daily expenses and arrears, while they re-enrolled their son in student care and moved into a larger 2-room flat.
e. The befrienders and SSO also referred the family to various programmes. Enabling them to achieve financial independence in the long term.
f. Today, Mr Azman no longer requires ComCare assistance, and his family is on the path towards home ownership.
14 We will continue to strengthen the ecosystem of support, so that more Singaporeans like Mr Azman and his family can be uplifted.
a. Because ultimately, our goal is to enable all Singaporeans to flourish – whatever their race, religion, differently abled or not.
b. This brings me to my next point on the role of families, as a core pillar of our Social Compact.
II. Building Strong Foundations for All Families
15 Chairperson, strong families continue to be the bedrock of our society. A key pillar of strength and our first line of support, complemented by the community, and enabled by the Government.
a. The love and care that family members devote to one another are irreplaceable.
b. In the face of adversity, our families protect and guide us back onto the right path, like a shining beacon, like a compass always pointing towards the true north.
c. Values that we treasure as a society – like love, care and concern, commitment, and respect – are cultivated and transmitted through the family.
d. Strong families also nurture resilient individuals who do well for themselves and their families, and who eventually, we hope, give back to the community. This is a virtuous cycle that we want to perpetuate and preserve.
16 Our collective efforts have enabled many Singaporeans to form and raise strong families. Family remains a core part of Singaporeans’ identity and values.
a. Findings from MSF’s latest Social Attitudes of Singaporeans survey show that Singaporean families continue to be close-knit.
b. The strength of our families was also demonstrated through the pandemic. Families found new ways to support one another, making extra effort to show their love and concern.
17 At the same time, we recognise the pandemic’s uneven effects on different families.
a. Those who were more vulnerable felt the strain more acutely. There were also instances of domestic violence and greater mental health concerns, exacerbated by the stressors brought upon by the pandemic.
18 Furthermore, as Mr Seah Kian Peng highlighted, longer-term challenges lie ahead even as we continue grappling with COVID-19.
a. Although families have remained strong, the geopolitical uncertainty and changing nature of work are but some examples of new stressors placing a strain on more families.
b. Marriage rates have declined over the past twenty years and couples are having fewer children. We are also seeing a higher proportion of divorces among more recent marriage cohorts.
19 We must preserve our family core. The Government will journey alongside and support all families in Singapore.
a. First, we will fortify the foundations of all families.
b. Second, we will strengthen support for families with additional needs.
Fortifying the Foundations of all Families
20 Members including Mr Murali Pillai, and Ms Ng Ling Ling have underscored the importance of strengthening our family core upstream. I cannot agree more.
21 We must start early by fortifying the foundations of all families.
a. This begins as early as when a couple commits to getting married.
b. We must enable couples to build their marriage on a sound foundation – with shared values, common understanding, and trust.
22 Marriage is a huge commitment – one of the biggest decisions that most of us will ever make in our lives.
23 When two people become joined as one, it can be a big transition. There are times when differences arise and may not be resolved easily. The couple may then benefit from seeking counsel from a trusted person, who had journeyed with them from the start.
a. This is why we are piloting the Journey with You (or JOY) initiative. We will partner with selected solemnisers to mentor newly-wed couples in their first year of marriage. This complements the suite of marriage preparation and enrichment programmes that help couples prepare for and strengthen their marriages. We have found early success in a similar programme for the Muslim community called Bersamamu, led by MOS Faishal Ibrahim then in MSF.
b. With the foundations of a strong marriage, couples will be more confident and ready for parenthood.
24 We will also continue supporting couples on their parenting journey, by making Singapore a great place for raising families.
a. We will enhance the quality, accessibility and affordability of our preschools.
b. At the community level, MSF will support the Families for Life movement.
c. We will integrate our ecosystem of support for families with children, especially across the social-health domains, as I shared at MOH COS yesterday.
25 As Dr Tan Yia Swam mentioned, we must also bolster support for extended families – they provide an additional layer of comfort.
a. We recognise that many extended families were unable to gather as often during the pandemic. The eventual easing of Safe Management Measures and resumption of in-person activities would allow for extended families to gather, while staying safe.
b. Intergenerational ties must remain strong. Let us show appreciation for our Grandparents, our Grandaunts and our Granduncles. We invite Singaporeans to do so, by joining Families for Life’s annual “Celebrating Our Grands” initiative.
Enabling Families with Additional Needs
26 We also recognise that every family’s journey is unique.
27 Some face greater challenges and pressures. Often, beyond their control. We will do more to enable these families.
28 Earlier, I spoke about our comprehensive range of support for low-income families.
a. In addition to those, we have also expanded other national initiatives like KidSTART and UPLIFT; and enhanced the Fresh Start Scheme.
b. Coordinated via ComLink, they support low-income families across multiple domains. Enabling the government to adopt a family-centric approach, rather than being agency driven.
29 Next, for families showing early signs of stress, the Strengthening Families Programme @ Family Service Centre, or we shorten it to call FAM@FSC, brings together marriage and divorce support programmes and family counselling to support them in a more integrated and accessible manner. We will scale up to 10 FAM@FSC centres by end of the year.
30 For families with more complex needs, we provide specialised support.
a. We will press on with our efforts to tackle family violence. The Government has accepted the 16 recommendations from the Taskforce on Family Violence. They will be implemented over the next few years.
b. I thank Mr Faisal Manap for his suggestion to strengthen social safeguards for gambling at Singapore Pools outlets. We will continue reviewing social safeguards to ensure they stay relevant, whilst balancing the need to divert gamblers from illegal operators which pose significant law and order, and social concerns. We will also continue working with the National Council on Problem Gambling to promote public awareness on the harms of excessive gambling.
31 Now, families with members who are persons with disabilities may also face unique challenges.
a. We have ramped up support for them over the years through our Enabling Masterplans.
b. Today, we have a more inclusive education system for students with special needs, enhanced employment support for persons with disabilities, and a growing ecosystem of support for caregivers.
c. Parl Sec Eric will share more on how the Enabling Masterplan 2030 will achieve an even more inclusive Singapore.
Encouraging Singaporeans who have done well to give back to society
32 We cannot build an inclusive and caring society without everyone getting involved. We especially want to encourage Singaporeans who have done well to give back to society.
a. I was glad to know that community donations have increased over the past decade, from about S$1 billion in 2011 to over S$1.5 billion in 2019, coupled with a rise in volunteerism.
b. I agree with Ms Denise Phua that we can help volunteers play a more active role in uplifting those with less.
c. Hence, we launched the MSFCare Network in January – bringing together over 3,000 volunteers and partners across almost 80 volunteering opportunities under a single umbrella Network.
33 In fact, there are many families who are leading by example.
a. Some foster children, providing a nurturing environment for them to flourish. Others adopt children in-need, giving them love and stable homes.
b. Mr Seah Kian Peng asked about the review of the Adoption of Children Act.
c. MSF has consulted the public and stakeholders. We studied best practices around the world, and intend to adapt some of them for Singapore, such as mandating pre-adoption assessments and criminalising undesirable practices.
d. We plan to introduce the Adoption of Children Bill this year.
34 We hope more families will be encouraged to step forward to achieve our shared vision of a more caring, just, and equal society.
III. Strengthening the People Sector to Better Support Individuals and Families
35 Chairperson, in our work at MSF, beyond families, we join hands with many organisations in the social service sector, who share our vision of building a resilient society, underpinned by strong families.
36.During my engagements with social service professionals, a common theme that emerged was the need to place the family at the centre of our interventions, to engage collaboratively with the families so that they feel involved and empowered to turn their lives around.
37 I would like to share an example of the inspiring work of Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre.
a. Last year, Big Love worked with a family, where the father had repeatedly hit his children and spouse.
b. After ensuring the children’s safety, the centre worked with both parents to help them understand how their actions negatively impacted their children. They also taught them to care for their children safely and responsibly.
c. The centre also built a network of community support around the family, joining hands with NUH, Rotary Family Service Centre and Children’s Wishing Well charity.
d. Through a family-centric, collaborative approach, Big Love was able to help the family address their issues and heal. There has been no recurrence of harm since. The father also spends more time with his children now.
38 Big Love’s success is a testament to the critical role that our partners play on the ground in our endeavour to build strong families.
39 I agree with Mr Seah that we must grow the capabilities of our many Social Service Agencies, or SSAs, like Big Love, to support them in the good work that they do.
a. We want to enable them to continue delivering quality, innovative, and sustainable services to build strong families and meet growing needs.
b. From April onwards, SSAs will be able to tap on the Community Capability Trust to fund their capability- and capacity-building efforts. For instance, in digitalisation or research and evaluation.
c. We have also seen corporates stepping up to support SSAs during the pandemic. For example, Amazon Connect worked with WE CARE Community Services to remote-enable their call centres.
d. NCSS and stakeholders from the People, Private and Public sectors, are also working to refresh the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts, or 4ST.
i. The refreshed roadmap will set out the sector’s commitment to building more future-directed services and capabilities over the next 5 years.
ii. It will also advocate for more strategic partnerships between corporates, SSAs, and other community partners. More details will be released later this year.
40 These sector-wide developments will also benefit our social workers, who are at the heart of our social service sector, and our Family Service Centres, or FSCs.
a. Mr Leon Perera and Mr Louis Ng asked about support for our social workers andFSCs.
b. FSCs are resourced based on the number and complexity of active cases. FSCs can hire more social workers if caseloads increase, and allocate cases based on the workers’ experience and complexity of cases. FSCs can tap on their accumulated programme reserves to hire additional manpower. In FY2020, 68% of FSCs had an average of at least 1.5 years of programme reserves.
c. MSF works closely with FSC leadership to monitor the caseloads and hiring, and adopt supervision practices that support the welfare of our social workers.
d. In this manner, MSF balances between being prescriptive and allowing FSCs flexibility and autonomy to respond to needs, while looking after our social workers' interest.
IV. Celebrating Families as a Society
41 Finally, our commitment to support families must also involve the community.
a. Together with the Government and families, they care for those in need, and reinforce the transmission of social values that we treasure, from one generation to the next.
b. Last year, we celebrated the contributions of Singapore Women to our families and our society.
42 Building on this momentum, I am pleased to announce that we will dedicate 2022 as the Year of Celebrating SG Families, or YCF.
a. YCF will rally Singaporeans to celebrate the important role that families play in our lives, encouraging families to spend time together, and galvanise whole-of-society support for families.
43 This movement will be led by Families for Life, with the support of the Government as well as our community and commercial partners. YCF will comprise three components.
a. First, MSF will engage the public and stakeholders via the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships and their partners, to explore how we can jointly act to strengthen families. The feedback will be consolidated into a Celebrating SG Families Plan, which will set out our society’s commitment and support for families. We will unveil the Plan at the CIFA Regional Symposium & MSF Asian Family Conference 2022, in November.
b. Second, families can look forward to celebratory events, programmes and useful family resources, with three themes – Celebrating Families; Championing Family-Friendly Workplaces and Culture; and Caring for Families.
c. Finally, we will launch legacy projects that will last beyond YCF, symbolising the importance that we place on families in our society.
i. We will start with the FamilyTrees planting initiative this Saturday. Parents can commemorate the birth of their baby by planting a tree. A reminder of the enduring role that families play in our lives.
ii. Families can also look forward to a National Family Week during the June holidays. Fun-filled events, promotions and family life education programmes will be lined up, including a family carnival. Hopefully, with very little SMMs.
iii. Lastly, YCF will also see the launch of a new family zone at Gardens by the Bay this July. We will share more in the coming months.
44 Chairperson, in Malay please.
45 Puan Pengerusi, keluarga adalah tunggak masyarakat. Sewaktu kita susah dan berdepan dengan cabaran seperti pandemik ini, keluargalah sumber sokongan dan kekuatan kita.
46 Saya bersyukur keluarga dan nilai-nilai kekeluargaan terus dihargai oleh masyarakat Singapura, termasuk orang Melayu/Islam kita.
47 Bagaimanapun, hidup berkeluarga tidak sepi dari dilanda badai. Oleh itu, Pemerintah berganding bahu dengan masyarakat untuk memperkasa institusi keluarga.
48 Tiga tahun lalu, kami memulakan Program Bersamamu, di mana para Kadi dan Naib Kadi membimbing mempelai Muslim sepanjang dua tahun pertama perkahwinan mereka. Hari ini, lebih 14,500 pasangan berjaya memanfaatkan program ini.
49 Kami akan terus kuatkan sokongan buat semua keluarga, terutama mereka yang lebih memerlukan. Kami akan kembangkan KidSTART ke seluruh negara secara bertahap-tahap dan tingkatkan bantuan buat keluarga dengan anak-anak yang tinggal di flat sewa melalui rangkaian masyarakat Community Link atau ComLink.
50 Saya berbesar hati kerana keluarga yang berjaya tampil ke hadapan untuk saling bantu-membantu. Misalnya, banyak keluarga Melayu/Islam menjadi ibu bapa titipan untuk anak-anak yang memerlukan. Ada pula yang terus mengambil anak-anak ini sebagai anak angkat mereka. Saya terharu dan hargai sumbangan murni mereka ini yang terbuka hati untuk mencurahkan kasih sayang, berkongsi kemesraan keluarga dan kediaman mereka menjaga anak-anak ini.
51 Untuk satukan rakyat Singapura dalam meraikan peranan penting yang dimainkan keluarga, sukacita saya mengumumkan bahawa MSF akan mengisytiharkan 2022 sebagai Tahun Meraikan Keluarga Singapura atau YCF. YCF akan melibatkan agensi pemerintah, rakan korporat dan rakan kongsi masyarakat, termasuk agensi M3 – iaitu MUIS, MENDAKI dan MESRA – serta para individu. Pelbagai acara perayaan, program dan sumber keluarga yang berguna akan diadakan. Kami akan kongsi butiran lanjut tidak lama lagi.
52 Keluarga yang kukuh dan stabil dapat membentuk individu dengan daya tahan untuk berkembang dan berjaya. Ini merupakan kunci bagi memacu masyarakat Melayu/Islam ke hadapan. Saya akan bincangkan lebih lanjut sokongan kukuh bagi masyarakat Melayu/Islam dalam ucapan MCCY saya nanti.
53 Puan Pengerusi, Ramadan mendatang adalah masa yang terbaik untuk masyarakat Melayu/Islam terus mengeratkan silaturahmi dengan keluarga dan masyarakat, sambil mematuhi langkah-langkah jarak selamat. Marilah kita terus menyokong satu sama lain khususnya golongan yang memerlukan. Bersama-sama, saya yakin kita boleh menjamin masa depan yang terbaik untuk diri sendiri dan keluarga kita.
54 Singaporeans have weathered many trials together since Independence. We will be tested with many more trials to come, but our spirit of working together will keep us strong, no matter the challenges ahead.
55 In our work at MSF, we will continue supporting and uplifting families at every stage of their lives. When families are strong, our nation too, will be able to chart our way forward on a firm foundation, for generations to come.
56 Thank you.