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Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development at MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Masagos Zulkifli

Topic(s): MSFCare Volunteers


Building A Society of Strong Families and Resilient Individuals Together

Introduction

1. Good evening, and welcome to the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards 2023.

2. Each year, MSF recognises the selfless dedication and passionate service of our volunteers and partners in the social service sector. This year, we recognise 316 volunteers and 44 partners. Without partners and volunteers, we would not be able, as a society, to uplift those who are in need. Your steadfast contributions give strength to our collective spirit, and make it possible for our society to leave no one behind. You are part of the social compact that makes Singapore a caring society, united and cohesive.

3. These strong bonds of trust and responsibility to each other have enabled us to emerge stronger from the pandemic. Based on a global poll by the Pew Research Center, 3 in 4 Singaporeans said our country was more united than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, the average for the European and North American countries surveyed was around 30%.

Our Evolving Social Compact

4. One reason Singapore emerged from the pandemic more resilient and united is that we entered it with the benefit of a strong social compact built up by our pioneers over the decades, including generations of social service pioneers.

a. In the early 20th century, social welfare was sparse. It was left largely to charities and philanthropists to fill the gap. Many schools, clinics and hospitals sprung up, because community leaders like Lim Nee Soon, Tan Kah Kee, Syed Mohamed Alsagoff and Govindasamy Pillai stepped forward. For many, the family was their principal source of care.

b. The role of the Government in providing for social needs began to grow after the Second World War. This grew when Singapore attained self-government and accelerated post-independence. The approach we took was for the Government to prioritise investment in education, housing, and healthcare.

c. At the same time, social service agencies, volunteers and community groups continued to provide important services, such as in family counselling, homes for children and transitional shelters. Singaporeans continued to see that they had to put in the effort to make a living for themselves, with family providing the first safety net.

d. But with families shrinking and needs growing due to our aging population, individual and family efforts may not always be enough. Hence, in the last decade, we made a significant shift towards greater collective responsibility. We did so through risk pooling schemes like MediShield Life and CareShield Life, giving Singaporeans more assurance over life’s uncertainties. Safety nets like ComCare were also introduced to support basic subsistence for lower-income families. Importantly, families continued to provide the first line of support even as we expanded social provisions to more households. This reflects our core values, where family is the top priority for over 99% of Singaporeans, as found in an Institute of Policy Studies study.

5. Today, our social compact remains anchored in the strong partnership between the Government, Civil Society, and Families. Each doing our part. Working as one to nurture and build lives together. Towards a more caring and inclusive society.

Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners

6. This way of working together has yielded good outcomes for our nation over the years. In 2021, our society rallied together to discuss ways to better support and uplift women during the Year of Celebrating SG Women. In 2022, we launched a national movement to recognise and celebrate the enduring role of the family throughout the Year of Celebrating SG Families. Each of these years have created major shifts in our whole-of-society commitments. In particular, the ‘White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development’ and the ‘A Singapore Made For Families 2025’ action plans.

7. Building on this momentum, I am pleased to announce that MSF will dedicate 2023 to the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners (YCPartners). It is a recognition that our Partners are an important component of our social compact and crucial to supporting the further progress of our women, developing strong families and uplifting those who need help. It is a recognition that the government cannot achieve these on their own. No government can.

8. YCPartners will cast a spotlight on the efforts of the hundreds of partners in the social service sector. Throughout this year, we want to recognise and amplify the efforts of our partners.

9. Everyone has a part to play. I am glad that many social service partners are already self-organising to initiate important conversations. For example, an event called ‘We Are FSC’ which will bring together practitioners, corporates, academics and social service pioneers, to exchange ideas on how partners can work more collaboratively and innovatively to tackle the priorities ahead.

The Way Forward

10. Moving forward, one priority is further enhancing social mobility.

a. We have done relatively well to lessen inequality and raise the base level, with schemes like ComCare, MediFund and ElderFund to support the lower-income. Significant moves like raising the Local Qualifying Salary, expanding the Progressive Wage Model, and enhancing Workfare are also underway. These efforts have contributed to a declining Gini coefficient in Singapore over the last decade.

b. At the same time, we have taken steps to sustain social mobility, by going upstream. Beginning as early as the preschool years. So that every child gets a good start.

11. Another priority is in enhancing Comprehensive, Convenient and Coordinated support for families who are facing more complex and interlocking issues. For instance, a lower-income family may not only face financial problems, but also housing insecurity, family conflicts, and more.

12. So how do we help uplift and empower these families to achieve Stability, Self-reliance and Social Mobility? As a sector, there are three things that we can do better

13. First, future-readiness.

a. The road ahead will see the sector contending with emerging trends like changing family structures and an ageing populace. More families may find themselves sandwiched between caring for older family members and their young children. Others may have no or few children to support them in their old age. The principle of family as the first line of support will be tested.

b. As identified in the refreshed Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts (or 4ST), the social service sector must be ready for these changes. This will demand new ideas and innovative solutions on how we can fortify our family core. We will need to go beyond meeting the needs of today, to retooling our capabilities for the future.

14. Second, broader partnerships.

a. Businesses and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) will be indispensable to our efforts in strengthening social service delivery and support.

b. Businesses touch many segments of our society, whether through employment or their engagement in volunteerism and responsible corporate citizenship. They can become agents of social change and transform the lives of those in need in a very tangible way. From leveraging their expertise to offer coding lessons and providing mentorship opportunities for youth from lower-income backgrounds, to inclusive hiring of Persons with Disabilities, businesses can be a force for good, doing well for themselves and for the community.

c. IHLs too have an important role to play. IHLs train generations of future social workers and professionals. As social problems become more complex, IHLs can help agencies develop better evidence-based practices and identify emerging areas of need. In this regard, I would like to encourage more collaborative ties between IHLs and our social service agencies.

d. Together, we leverage our diverse strengths to weave a tapestry of support that wraps around the family.

15. This brings me to my third point – family-centricity.

a. The enhancement of state and community provision must be accompanied by the strengthening of the family’s role. Just as family is at the heart of Singaporeans’ lives, family must be at the heart of our interventions, so that we can deliver a more meaningful and lasting impact on the lives we touch.

b. Let me illustrate this through an example of Mary, a young single mother who is facing financial hardship.

c. Under an agency-centric approach, the easier thing to do would have been to provide Mary with financial handouts. But this only treats the presenting symptom.

d. Applying the family-centric approach, when Mary approaches the SSO, she can not only receive financial relief, ComLink befrienders can also be activated. They spend time building rapport with Mary and learn that Mary is estranged from her parents. She has difficulty holding down a job, because she has no other caregiver for her toddler.

e. With a more complete picture, the befrienders can coordinate support behind-the-scenes – bringing in KidSTART, Workforce Singapore and the Family Service Centres. They can assist Mary to enrol her child in preschool, which enables Mary to work now that her child is cared for. She can also be supported in reconciling with her parents. Slowly by surely, Mary moves towards achieving stability, self-reliance and ultimately social mobility for her young family.

f. So family-centricity must underpin everything that we do. At the ground level, this means social service agencies designing programmes around the family, and social workers and professionals practising family-centred work. The Government supports this by funding family-centric programmes. Meanwhile, companies embrace family-centricity by creating family-friendly workplaces or mentoring those in need. And finally, donors and philanthropists can invest in opportunities that build strong families and communities. In this way, the private, public and people sector reinforce each other’s efforts, functioning as one ecosystem to augment the role of the family in our social compact.

Conclusion

16. As we enter a future of more complex challenges, individual and family efforts alone may not be enough to sustain social mobility. Social service agencies, social enterprises, corporates, academia, community groups, volunteers and the Government must join hands to give families an extra lift. But it is not just about doing more, it is about doing better. Let us embark on this Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners, celebrating our achievements, taking stock, as we refuel and gear up for the next phase.

17. I have every confidence that our sector is well-positioned to contribute to a stronger social compact for the road ahead. We can take heart that we are moving forward from a strong foundation. Together, let us do more, do better, towards a brighter future for all.

18. Once again, I would like to recognise and congratulate all award recipients.

19. Thank you.