Published on 08 July 2019
Assoc Prof Walter Theseira
Nominated Member of Parliament
To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) whether the Ministry will publish the research, evidence or statistics supporting how the income criteria and benefits are determined for the major public assistance schemes; and (b) whether the Ministry intends to undertake new studies that incorporate measurement of basic needs as benchmarks for such income criteria and benefits, in light of the recent Minimum Income Standards study published by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
1 Our public assistance schemes offer targeted assistance to meet different needs. ComCare, a key component of our social safety net, provides assistance to the low-income and vulnerable, to cover their basic living needs such as food, clothing, transportation, and communications. Low-income families are also supported by other schemes, such as the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme which supports the schooling expenses of children from lower-income families, the Public Rental Scheme which provides highly-subsidised rental housing, MediFund which provides assistance with medical expenses, and the Silver Support Scheme which supplements the retirement income of elderly who had low lifetime incomes and now have little family support.
2 As each assistance scheme has different objectives and target groups and meet different needs, the eligibility criteria and benefits are based on different information sources and benchmarks. These are regularly reviewed by the Government.
3 For instance, MSF regularly reviews the ComCare eligibility criteria and cash assistance rates. In our review, we look at expenditure data for daily living expenses of low-income families, as well as national statistical data collected by the Department of Statistics (DOS). Some of this data is published. We also consider input from community stakeholders such as social workers and frontline officers who work with low-income families, as well as beneficiaries. Our ComCare cash assistance rates were recently raised with effect from 1 Jul 2019. The Long-Term Assistance cash assistance rates for a single-person household was increased from $500 to $600, and larger households will receive higher amounts. The Short-to-Medium-Term cash assistance rates have also been enhanced correspondingly. Importantly, in the design of schemes such as ComCare, agencies are given discretion to adjust the assistance given based on individual circumstances that low-income and vulnerable individuals and families are in.
4 The Minimum Income Standards study published by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), like other studies and reports, offers an additional data point for Government to consider on what an elderly person may regard as essential for his well-being. When considering such studies, however, we need to understand their strengths and limitations, whether design, methodology or conclusions, so that we draw the right learning points. For instance:
The study was based on input from about 100 elderly persons, and is unlike typical quantitative approaches which aim for representativeness.
5 The report also acknowledges that figures derived from the study may underestimate healthcare costs which are covered by various government subsidies such as the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS).
6 In computing the minimum income that a senior needs for retirement, the study included a budget for housing in an HDB 2-room Flexi flat. However, since most seniors would have used sales proceeds from their larger flats to purchase the HDB 2-room Flexi flats, it would not be appropriate to include a housing budget in the estimates for most individuals.
7 The estimates also include the cost of discretionary expenditure items such as overseas holidays and jewellery.
8 Elderly individuals’ desired quality of life may differ according to their circumstances, health status and lifestyle preferences. These textures may not be meaningfully expressed in a qualitative study.
9 Every study has inherent limitations as assumptions must be made which do not always pan out in reality. However, studies like the recent one by LKYSPP are useful in raising awareness of the need of each individual to deliberately plan for the future, and to seed discussions on how we can help those who are in need. We hope that in raising awareness of these issues, we can work together as a society to support individual resilience, the strengthening of families, and support in the community, even as the Government continues to strengthen social support and the delivery of social services to help those in need.