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Redefining basic needs and addressing income inequality gap and relative deprivation

Type: Parliamentary Questions, All

Topic(s): Financial Assistance & Social Support,  


Mr Yip Hon Weng asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) whether the Government is considering a redefinition of what constitutes basic needs given its evolving understanding which extends beyond traditional necessities like housing and food; (b) if so, will this redefinition take into consideration the need to foster a sense of belonging and living dignity in Singapore; and (c) whether the Government will look into addressing the income inequality gap and relative deprivation, recognising that raising the wage floor may be inadequate to foster this sense of belonging.

Answer:

             Basic needs comprise not just biological and physical necessities like food, shelter, and transport, but also socio-psychological needs such as social connections and emotional support. The Government works with the community to provide multiple lines of support to families who have difficulty meeting these needs on their own.

2.          ComCare helps lower-income families to meet their basic living expenses. MSF reviews the scheme regularly to ensure that it remains relevant and adequate. During these reviews, MSF considers the items that should be covered under ComCare, taking into account what other government schemes or government-funded programmes would cover, as well as help available through community organisations. As an example of how the ComCare scheme has evolved over time, mobile data plans are now covered under ComCare assistance as we recognise that digital connectivity, which also enables human connection, is a basic need in modern society.

3.          Beyond ComCare, other government schemes and governmentfunded programmes enable lower-income individuals to meet other needs. Examples include schemes such as MediFund, MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme, and IMDA’s DigitalAccess@Home Scheme, which address lower-income families’ needs relating to healthcare, education and digital access respectively.

4.          Community stakeholders also play an important part. For example, social service agencies provide befriending services that support seniors’ social and psychological well-being, and in-kind contributions to assist low-income families with one-off needs such as furniture and electrical items like refrigerators and washing machines. Grassroots organisations organise community activities, including affordable local outings and trips to nearby countries, to promote social and family bonding. For lower-income families, grassroots organisations also render support through programmes and initiatives such as free tuition and local bursary awards for students, and monthly free haircuts for seniors. Donors, including corporate donors, have also helped by sponsoring lower-income families for outings to local attractions such as Universal Studios.

5.          Ultimately, addressing income inequality is not just about shoring up basic needs, but about providing opportunity and seeking to level the playing field for those who face disadvantages. This is why we have introduced initiatives such as ComLink for low-income families with children in public rental housing, to proactively identify their needs and journey with them on customised action plans to secure a better future. A key feature of ComLink is that Government agencies, social service agencies, corporates and individual volunteers all work together to befriend, encourage and help ComLink families address their needs and challenges. This collective effort is key to strengthening Singapore’s social compact, and building a more caring and inclusive society. And as is commonly found by many who volunteer their time and resources to help others, it is not just the recipients of care, concern and resources that gain an increased sense of hope and belonging – those who step forward to give often find that they too have received