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Opening Speech by Mr Desmond Lee at the Committee of Supply 2018

Type: Official Speeches: Desmond Lee, Official Speeches (All)

Topic(s): Committee of Supply,  , Financial Assistance & Social Support


1     Chairman, with your permission, may I display some slides on the screens.

2      This joint address today together with the Minister for Health, the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and me, is driven by Singapore's commitment to being a caring and inclusive society, where no one is left behind. This lies at the heart of the Singapore Cares movement, or SG Cares.

SG Cares: Building a Caring and Cohesive Society Together

3     Singaporeans have always believed in helping each other. We believe in caring for the vulnerable and less fortunate. We believe in supporting our seniors in their golden years. And we believe in standing together as a nation through good times and bad.

4     This spirit of caring has carried us through many moments of crisis, whether it was the Hotel New World collapse in 1986, SARS outbreak in 2003, or the severe haze in 2013.

5     And not just moments of crisis. As we go about our daily lives, we benefit from extraordinary acts of kindness, some spontaneous and some organised by people who care. One such incredible effort, which we recently saw, is Wheels@Ubin, an initiative by Dennis Quek and Wilson Ang, two Singaporeans who care. They believe that no part of Singapore should be inaccessible to any Singaporean. They wanted to let wheelchair users and persons with disabilities experience the rustic charm and beauty of our offshore islands, notably Pulau Ubin. The first Wheels@Ubin event was held in conjunction with SG50, bringing 100 wheelchair users to the island.The second edition of the event was successfully concluded on 2 March this year, with 120 participants.

6     What was impressive and heart-warming was how businesses, public agencies and departments, volunteers, VWOs, community organisations and educational institutes came together to make this possible:

a. First, SMRT taxi drivers with mobile ramps fetched participants on wheelchairs as well as caregivers from their homes, wherever it was in Singapore, to Changi.

b. Second, as the fleets of taxis came to Changi Sailing Club, volunteers welcomed the participants and fitted them with life jackets. They were then brought on board a Republic of Singapore Navy fast craft by RSN officers, men and women.

c. Third, upon arriving at Ubin, the visitors were welcomed by colleagues from NParks and entertained throughout their visit by volunteers from Republic Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

d. Fourth, volunteer doctors and nurses took personal leave to set up a medical facility to provide backup medical support. They came from various healthcare institutions and formed one medical team.

7     Wheels@Ubin shows us that our commitment to inclusivity and universal access can go beyond words, to become deeds that make our visions reality. Wheels@Ubin is a good example, but just one of many many examples, of how can we create opportunities to enable and empower people to contribute and give, so that giving becomes a social norm, and as Ms Jessica Tan says, a way of life, an important cornerstone of our social compact, celebrated every day in ways both big and small.

8     Giving is empowering. It can change mind-sets, cultivate empathy, dismantle prejudices, and bring people of all walks of life together for a common cause. This will put us in a better position to confront our challenges together, such as rapid cycles of economic disruption, growing social needs. At the same time, it will let us tap into the opportunities that come with having more Singaporeans live longer, healthier and active lives; growing social entrepreneurship; and innovative technologies. Through Singapore Cares, we can become an even more caring and inclusive society, not because we say or wish it to be so, but because each and every one of us is a living testament to this: a nation of givers -not by word, but by action and by deed.

9     Singapore Cares is a movement to identify and share about needs on the ground, shape volunteering opportunities, and match givers to causes. Since the launch of SG Cares in 2016, we have curated volunteering opportunities, and worked with VWOs to improve their capabilities to empower volunteers. We have also coordinated local networks of assistance, encouraged corporate and individual giving, and inspired ground-up efforts. We are greatly encouraged by many who have stepped forward and answered the call to make Singapore a more caring and inclusive home.

10     One organisation which has responded to this call is Pantropic, a data protection company which actively promotes volunteerism amongst its employees. Since July last year, staff from Pantropic have been volunteering with Lion Befrienders, a VWO which provides friendship and care for seniors. The company has allowed employees to schedule their time flexibly so they can take time off, during office hours and during the work week, to accompany seniors for their medical appointments. And they do so about twice a month on average. This relieves the staff from Lion Befrienders, allowing them more time to attend to others in need. The seniors benefit from an expanded circle of friendship with these volunteers. It is commendable that Pantropic has come forward to contribute actively in this way, despite being a small company with only about twelve employees.

11     As Singapore Cares takes root, I am confident that we will see more such successful partnerships. Even as we celebrated diverse expressions of care at the inaugural SG Cares carnival in January this year, we looked towards doing more.

12     In the next phase of SG Cares, we want to make greater collective impact.

a. First, we can better mobilise those who want to help. Many individuals and organisations wish to volunteer, but may not know about the causes and areas of need. We can think of more ways to reach out to prospective volunteers.

b. Second, we can better coordinate the help rendered. An individual may be receiving help from multiple agencies. Organisations on the ground may focus on specific services, and may not be conscious in seeking and working with partners to provide more holistic and thorough support.

c. Third, the way we help can be more sustainable and scalable. This will require us to increase the capacity and capability of VWOs and givers. The Government, corporate partners, and community can also better direct our energies in an informed, coordinated and sustainable way, supported by good platforms and working arrangements.

13     Our three ministries have come together today to underscore and support the efforts of SG Cares, which is a people movement, and set out our contribution to this Movement. Our work is complementary.

a. MSF, through more integrated delivery of social services and building up of the social service sector, will improve the way we provide assistance to vulnerable individuals and families.

b. MOH will take on the mandate of building a stronger system of support for our seniors.

c. MCCY is growing our volunteering ecosystem, encouraging and enabling all of us to join in the national movement.

14     Ministers Gan Kim Yong and Grace Fu will speak more about their ministries' efforts immediately after I speak.

MSF's Role in SG Cares

15     Chairman, for my part, let me share how MSF sees SG Cares as integral to our work.

Developing the Social Service Sector

16     The social service sector has its roots in the spirit of caring and the efforts of those who cared, since our early days. Many VWOs in Singapore have long and distinguished histories, bearing testament to the deep roots of philanthropy and volunteerism in our nation. As mentioned by Ms Jessica Tan, our forefathers banded together to help one another and formed community and self-help groups, such as clan associations. Those who did well in Singapore, such as Tan Tock Seng, Hajjah Fatimah and P Govindasamy Pillai, paid it forward, and set up institutions to meet the needs of their fellow men and women.

17     Our VWOs will continue to play a critical role in serving beneficiaries, and in rallying and inspiring the community to care for those who need help. To meet the demands of the future, we must support them in their drive to be even more effective and innovative. We will continue to build up our social service sector, by strengthening capabilities and ensuring that we continue to attract capable professionals. At the same time, we will draw on the spirit passed down from the pioneers, and encourage the community to partner the efforts of the Government and the sector.

18     I will speak in more detail about MSF's efforts for the social service sector later.

Enhancing Social Service Delivery on the Ground

19     Sir, Dr Lily Neo asked about providing holistic help to disadvantaged families, a cause she is very passionate about. Our clients today can face and do face very complex issues and challenges. Individuals and families may have multi-faceted needs that require support from multiple agencies, VWOs and community groups, over a sustained period of time, before they can stand on their own feet again.

20     It is therefore important, as Mr Amrin Amin has mentioned, to have a concerted and coordinated effort to tackle our social challenges. By better mapping our needs and tightening coordination and integration of services, we can maximise the impact of social services and public resources entrusted to us. At the same time, we can better harness and channel community resources to complement efforts by Government.

21     Our Social Service Offices, or SSOs, will be key to transforming social service delivery. We will better coordinate service delivery and improve client support through the SSOs.

22     First, we will equip frontline officers in Government agencies and community organisations with the knowledge to provide clients with basic information and referrals to schemes and services to address their needs, beyond those offered by the agency they first approached.

a. We will start with the SSOs, HDB, and PA offices at our local community clubs, which are common touchpoints for residents in need. Eventually, we will extend this to other touchpoints, including medical social workers and school counsellors.

b. MSF will lead by example. From the third quarter of this year, clients will be able to access schemes and services for persons with disabilities through our SSOs, such as those offered by the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC) and SG Enable.

c. We have also established referral protocols to link up partners to support our clients. For instance, we have been rolling out an SSO-FSC-Schools referral protocol so that schools know when and how to refer students and their families to the SSOs and Family Service Centres. We will complete the roll-out to all General Education schools by the end of this year.

23     Second, we will make it more convenient for clients to apply for assistance schemes and services from different agencies, by sharing information and assessments across agencies. As far as possible, they should not need to submit the same documents, repeat their circumstances, or fill in multiple application forms asking for similar information. This will help reduce the burden often faced by low-income individuals and households seeking help, who may already be in distress or urgent need.

a. For example, if a client living in public rental housing is receiving ComCare assistance from the SSO, and we observe that he is unable to keep up with rent, the SSO will share its assessment with HDB to consider a reduction in rent.

b. From the second half of this year, the Institute of Technical Education or ITE students from households receiving ComCare assistance will be assessed for their eligibility to receive a CDC/CCC Bursary or an MOE Bursary, without having to apply separately for them. We will progressively extend this to the mainstream schools, polytechnics and autonomous universities.

c. Similarly, later this year, we will make it easier for mothers or single parents, who are working or seeking work and receiving ComCare assistance, to access financial support for childcare. This will allow them to focus on obtaining or sustaining their employment. These clients will also be assessed for additional financial support, without having to make separate applications.

d. We will continue to explore more ways to reduce the burden on individuals and households in need. At the same time, we are mindful not to do this indiscriminately, so that we do not inadvertently erode people's will to be self-reliant, or create a large cliff effect where multiple lines of assistance come up for review at the same time.

24     Third, we will strengthen cross-agency coordination so that clients receive more holistic and coordinated assistance from the agencies and VWOs that are supporting them. In complex cases where multiple agencies and VWOs are involved, the case lead may not be obvious. SSOs will assign a case lead, depending on the client's underlying issues. The case lead should step up to coordinate among agencies and VWOs, to work on a common action plan for the client. Where necessary, cases will also be escalated to the parent Ministry or agency for flexibility to be exercised.

25     To bring about greater convenience to ComCare clients who need access to different services, and facilitate collaboration across agencies, we will explore co-locating complementary services, such as Family Services, employment assistance and the Silver Generation Office, or SGO, with our SSOs. We look at it from client-centric point of view, instead of asking the client to travel from one part of the island to the other. Already, 5 SSOs are co-located with or located near WSG or e2i services.

a. Two months ago, SGO officers serving Taman Jurong and Jurong Spring started operating at the SSO at Taman Jurong. Similarly, the SGO serving the Marine Parade area will be co-located with the SSO at Geylang Serai from the second half of this year. This will support closer collaboration between the Social Service Office and Silver Generation Office officers in supporting clients and planning for programmes and services. We will explore more such collaborations.

b. Where co-location is not practical, we are looking into video-conferencing for clients to communicate with officers from other agencies. The SSO at Geylang Serai, for example, will pilot video-conferencing links with SG Enable, SNTC and HDB from the end of this year. Clients at the SSO who need to have discussions with case officers from SG Enable, SNTC or HDB when applying for services will be able to do so from the SSO, rather than having to separately visit SG Enable at Lengkok Bahru, SNTC in Tiong Bahru or the HDB branch office, wherever that may be.

26     The initiatives I have spoken about will make the SSO of the future a single touchpoint for residents with financial and other social needs. Let me illustrate this with a hypothetical example. A family of four living in a public rental flat applies for ComCare assistance at the SSO. They have one child with special needs and another studying in ITE. In addition to the assistance provided by the SSO, the family will be able to access schemes and services from SG Enable for their child with special needs, without having to travel to their offices. If their ComCare assistance is approved, the child studying in ITE will be considered by ITE for a bursary, without having to apply separately for one. And if the family needs to have discussions with the HDB branch office about their rental situation, or whether they are eligible for a Fresh Start housing grant, they can do so via video-conferencing. And we will tap on the grassroots and community to better assist this family.

27     As social needs evolve, we will continue to work to make sure that our SSOs are equipped to handle the evolving, complex and varied needs of those we assist, to help them get back on their feet again.

28     The SSOs are also in a good position to foster collaboration and partnerships within the local community. Currently, SSOs have good working relationships with different government agencies and community partners. Going forward, the SSO will step up efforts to bring together community partners to forge a picture; a better picture of local needs, gaps and resources. With this common understanding, community organisations will be better able to develop local schemes and programmes, and mobilise and organise volunteers under Singapore Cares. In doing so, community and Government efforts will complement each other to contribute towards better social service outcomes and a caring nation.


29     Chairman, I have spoken about the spirit of caring that animates SG Cares, and how this same spirit drives the social service sector. I have also explained how MSF will continue to build up the SSOs and the social service networks on the ground, to collectively direct our motivations and resources to make a greater impact. This will of course take time and the support of VWOs, agencies, corporations and all members of society.

30     Ultimately, I hope all Singaporeans will recognise that the success of SG Cares rests upon an important truth. That is: we are all responsible for each other. When we say that we are Singaporeans, we recognise the bond that ties us together as a community and society. We recognise our responsibilities and duties to each other, especially in times of need. None of us got to where we are, purely on our own. Along the way, we have been helped by others, like our parents, friends, teachers and even complete strangers. We must recognise this, and always pay it forward.

31     Thank you.​