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Speech by Minister Masagos Zulkifli at the MSF Committee of Supply 2024

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

Topic(s): Committee of Supply, Children & Families, Financial Assistance & Social Support, MSFCare Volunteers, Social Service Agencies & Partners, Social Service Professionals


Building a family-friendly society where all are empowered to fulfil their aspirations

1.          Chairperson, I thank members for their suggestions.

Introduction

2.          As a country, we have been able to weather storms and emerge stronger because we have strong families and a strong social compact.

3.          ForwardSG reaffirmed that Singaporeans continue to value the importance of the family. There was also strong consensus to be a society where all families have the opportunity to succeed. I will touch on three key approaches to achieve this vision:

4.          First, working together to support families through every stage of life – strengthening marriages, supporting parents from their children’s early years, and caring for our seniors.

5.          Second, we will move beyond assistance, to empowering families in need. We have started through ComLink+, and will go further to uplift children from lower-income families.

6.          Third, the Government will come alongside the social service sector, corporates, and Singaporeans, to strengthen families, uplift those in need, and reinforce their efforts to ensure sustained impact. We invite more to volunteer and contribute their time, talent and treasures.

7.          Together, we will build a caring and inclusive society, and sustain social mobility in Singapore.

8.          Let me elaborate.

Towards a Whole-of-society Support for Families

9.          Today, couples are staying together longer, and recent cohorts show a lower proportion of marriages dissolving before the 10th anniversary.

a.         I am heartened that more couples recognise the importance of continuing to invest in their marriage. They proactively look for marriage and parenting resources, rather than seeking help only when their relationship is on the rocks.

10.         We affirm society’s commitment to families and will continue to strengthen families, our anchor in years to come.

11.         We do this by supporting families throughout their lives. As I have shared in MOH’s COS, we are enhancing support for couples in their journey through pregnancy and parenthood.

12.         The early years of our children are critical, and for new parents, possibly the most challenging time too.

a.         Over the years, parents have greater access to affordable and quality preschools. We will continue to enhance these efforts.

b.         We are also helping working parents balance work responsibilities and infant caregiving. The Government is tackling this in several ways, which MOS Xueling will elaborate on.

c.         We recently enhanced the Government-Paid Paternity Leave. We encourage eligible fathers to use the paternity leave, and work is in progress to allow more fathers to benefit from the additional two weeks of leave.

13.         But we do not stop at the early years. We are making programmes and resources even more accessible, to support the range of family relationships.

a.         The Families for Life or FFL movement, led by the FFL Council, brings together various partners to offer marriage and parenting programmes in the community. Currently in nine towns, I am pleased to share that this will be expanded to 18 towns by the end of this year. We have also recently partnered Anchor Operators to offer FFL parenting programmes to parents of preschoolers in their neighbourhoods.

b.         Ms Ng Ling Ling will be happy to note that the Council will roll out more parenting resources to better support families with teenagers.

c.         We have also launched a new self-help tool, “Our Marriage Journey Quiz” last month, to help couples assess their relationship wellbeing, akin to physical health checks.

14.         Mr Melvin Yong and Ms Ng Ling Ling referred to the collective effort by everyone in society to build a Singapore Made for Families. I agree.

a.         That is why the Council is also looking to work with employers, who play a crucial role in fostering a family-friendly environment, to offer marriage and parenting resources or talks at their workplaces.

b.         Community partners and volunteers are equally critical in supporting our mission to build strong families.

15.         It is wonderful to see the FFL movement growing steadily. Last year, over 150 corporate and community partners, such as CapitaLand Malls and Singapore Heart Foundation, alongside 400 volunteers came together to support the National Family Week.

16.         We will continue to grow this movement. From this year, the FFL Council will expand the event to a month-long National Family Festival.

a.         I encourage all families to make use of the FFL resources and participate in the National Family Festival, which will start from 25 May, when the school holidays begin!

b.         We look forward to collaborating with more partners to offer families an engaging experience.

17.         With the effort of many, we build a Singapore Made for Families.

Beyond Assistance to Empowerment

18.         Mr Melvin Yong asked how we can foster a society where no one is left behind. Our goal is for every Singaporean family to be a strong and stable family. This includes lower-income families.

19.         Lower-income families often face additional challenges, as Ms Denise Phua observed. Social assistance alone may not be enough.

a.         For example, families may have to stretch their limited finances to meet different needs while also balancing their work, caregiving, and rest. This can lead to “bandwidth tax”, where families are focused on the day-to-day, and not able to plan for the long-term.

b.         Beyond providing social assistance, we want to partner families as they work towards their aspirations and reinforce their strengths to build better lives for themselves and their children. In other words, we want to move beyond assistance to empowerment.

20.         That is why we introduced ComLink+ as part of ForwardSG.

21.         ComLink+ families now have a dedicated family coach who coaches, motivates, and journeys with them as they work towards their longer-term goals.

a.         Ms Denise Phua will be pleased to hear that of the approximately 10,000 ComLink+ families that have agreed to work with us, 97% are receiving family coach support, as at end-2023.

b.         This includes families supported by Family Service Centres or FSCs, whose case workers perform the family coach function.

22.         As families take active steps towards their goals, they can receive financial top-ups from ComLink+ Progress Packages to multiply the impact of their efforts and help them better focus on achieving their goals. SPS Eric will elaborate.

23.         These enhancements to ComLink+ and partnerships with FSCs show how we place family-centricity at the heart of everything we do.

a.         As Mr Melvin Yong observed, besides lower-income families, FSCs also serve other families. Like GP clinics providing healthcare in the community, FSCs are community-based agencies that provide casework expertise to support families with social and emotional needs.

b.         For over 30 years, FSCs have evolved their practice to serve changing needs of clients, to help them achieve the ‘3Ses’ - Stability, Self-reliance, and Social mobility.

c.         Today, the landscape of family services has grown and FSCs work alongside many other agencies to support families. A family with complex needs, apart from receiving support from an FSC, may also receive support from other social service agencies, or SSAs, for domestic violence, family counselling, or youth programmes for their children.

d.         While SSAs put in effort to coordinate with one another, the family may still find it tedious to interface with multiple partners. Another concern is that we may not always be addressing the underlying issues, as each partner is focused on tackling the issue at hand.

24.         In the next decade, we will also face more demographic challenges. We will become a super-aged society and household structures may change.

25.         But as our society changes, there are opportunities for us to adapt to meet the emerging needs and support families in an even more coordinated manner.

a.         Our vision is for families in need to receive support through a single primary touchpoint for family services, who can address the needs of different family members in a holistic and more coordinated manner, to achieve better outcomes for the entire family.

26.         I am pleased to announce that MSF will be establishing a review committee on the Family Services Landscape. In line with the spirit of Forward SG, we will engage and co-create the future landscape with the sector. The committee will be chaired by SPS Eric Chua and will comprise representatives from sector partners. We will share more details when ready.

27.         Mr Chairman, we have been concerted in our efforts to support lower-income families towards achieving social mobility.

28.         A key aspect of our strategy to sustain social mobility in Singapore is to uplift children, and for all children to have a good start in life regardless of their background.

29.         While preschool enrolment rates of children from lower-income families have increased, these remain lower than the national average. About 8 in 10 children aged 3 to 4 years old from lower-income families are enrolled in preschool, compared to the national average of about 9 in 10.

30.         This could be due to a variety of factors. Parents may have concerns about being able to afford preschool fees, be less aware of the benefits of preschool, or may have to juggle work and family commitments with fewer resources.

31.         We will be rolling out several measures to help children from lower-income families reap the benefits of our investments in the early years.

32.         First, we will provide greater assurance to lower-income families that they can afford to send their children to preschool.

33.         All families on ComCare assistance or residing in public rental flats already automatically qualify for maximum childcare subsidies. As DPM Wong announced in the Budget speech, we will extend similar support to more lower-income families.

a.         All lower-income families with a monthly household income of $6,000 and below will qualify for the maximum amount of childcare subsidies for their income tier. Up to 17,000 additional children stand to benefit when we introduce this move from Q4 2024.

34.         Second, we will expand proactive outreach to all lower-income families from Q3 2024, to encourage them to enrol their children in preschools.

a.         Preschool outreach workers and ComLink+ family coaches will work with parents to help them understand the importance of preschool and to enrol their child in a suitable preschool.

b.         As part of the ComLink+ Packages, ComLink+ families can benefit from financial top-ups when they enrol their children early and send them to preschool regularly.

35.         Third, we will support families in maximising the benefits of quality preschool education.

a.         We recognise that children from lower-income families may require more support even after they enrol in preschools.

b.         On average, among children who are enrolled in Anchor Operator preschools, children from lower-income families have a monthly attendance rate of about 72%, lower than the 79% attendance rate of their middle-income peers.

c.         Their families may also have less resources to support their learning at home.

36.         From the second quarter of this year, we will provide more resources to selected Anchor Operator preschools to equip them in providing effective and timely support to the children under their care.

a.         Anchor Operators will co-fund this targeted support, and use the additional resources to support the children, such as providing dedicated small group learning sessions, and addressing the challenges that families face in sending their children to preschool regularly.

b.         As Minister Maliki shared, MOE will also similarly strengthen initiatives in MOE Kindergartens to support children from lower-income families.

37.         Taken together, these measures will help address the challenges that lower-income families face, and enable their children to learn, play, and develop holistically, alongside their peers.

38.         Even as we step up these efforts, we cannot overlook the importance of the home environment and parents’ role in shaping their children’s development.

a.         This is why KidSTART, which has supported more than 8,500 children to date, focuses on equipping parents with the knowledge and skills to nurture their children.

b.         In partnership with the FFL Council, we will increase the accessibility of parenting resources for lower-income families.

39.         In this way, the efforts of parents and preschool educators complement each other, and lay a strong foundation for the children to flourish.

Building a strong social service ecosystem

40.         Our efforts to strengthen families are made possible by a strong social service ecosystem. This comprises a group of deeply committed partners, professionals, and volunteers.

41.         The different groups of partners – our SSAs, academics and Institutes of Higher Learning, and corporates – come together to support those in need.

42.         To meet the evolving needs of our society, the social service sector needs 2,000 more professionals over the next five years.

43.         Mr Keith Chua asked about our plans to attract, recruit, and retain professionals. The Government and partners, including SSAs, must work together to make the social service sector a career of choice.

44.         One key aspect is to ensure that the salaries in the sector are commensurate with the hard work and skillsets of our professionals.

a.         Last year, we reviewed the Social Service Sector Salary Guidelines to ensure salaries are competitive with comparable roles in competing markets.

b.         MSF and NCSS also adjusted funding to ensure professionals supporting our funded programmes can be paid within the guidelines.

c.         Currently, around 80% of employees in the sector are paid within the salary guidelines. We expect our funded providers to adhere to and pay employees within the guidelines over the next 3 years. We will work closely with SSAs that require additional support, including providing targeted consultancy support.

45.         The social service sector is a people-oriented sector. All the more, we need to care for our people, so that they can better care for our beneficiaries.

a.         Apart from a range of NCSS’ resources on self-care and wellness that our professionals can access, the SkillsFuture Tripartite Taskforce also promotes emotional and mental wellness at work through the Joy@Social Services movement.

46.         MSF and NCSS will continue creating pathways for more to enter the sector and progress in their career.

a.         For instance, we are working with IHLs to engage students. We are also attracting mid-career entrants through the Career Conversion Programmes and these professionals can benefit from the new SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme announced by DPM Wong in the Budget Statement.

b.         Together with SSAs, we are improving the value proposition of roles through job redesign, strengthening their organisational capabilities, and working on talent retention measures.

c.         To support the development of our professionals, we have the Skills Framework for Social Service. We are also working with relevant professional associations and providers to monitor the standards, qualification and training required for the different professions.

47.         Together, we will build a stronger social service sector.

48.         Our ecosystem is made up of another important group of people – our volunteers.

49.         Last year, we celebrated the partnerships with our social service partners. This year, we build on these partnerships and have dedicated 2024 as the Year of Celebrating Volunteers.

50.         Anyone, and everyone, can be a volunteer. Volunteers are people who give generously, their time, talent, and treasures, to support others.

51.         First, our volunteers give generously, their time.

a.         We see these in the individuals that make up our MSFCare Network. They work with MSF in initiatives such as ComLink+.

b.         Miss Susan Lim is one such volunteer. Since October 2022, she has been befriending Mdm Marlina and her son.

i.         As any parent would know, the transition into primary school is an exciting but hectic one. When Mdm Marlina had difficulty buying school materials needed for her son to start Primary 1 due to her financial situation, Susan guided them through the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme application. Her son managed to start Primary School with all his books and school uniform needed.

ii.        Today, Susan continues offering the family a listening ear and assisting them in meeting their needs. For instance, Susan and the family coach explained the importance of getting Mdm Marlina’s son glasses as soon as possible when he was found to need them. Susan found community support to make the glasses more affordable, and later accompanied them to make a pair.

c.         We thank volunteers like Susan for their dedication and partnership.

52.         Second, our volunteers give generously by contributing their talent and skills.

a.         For example, employees of SP Group regularly volunteer with SSAs.

i.         Some are seasoned volunteers who are familiar with the challenges faced by vulnerable families, so they contribute their insights and co-curate programmes with SSAs.

ii.        Others tap on their own areas of expertise to contribute.

iii.        Ms Tay Xin Ci and her engineer colleagues run classes to teach children from vulnerable families how to build solar powered toy cars. The children learn not only about solar power but are inspired by these “big brothers and sisters”.

iv.        Xin Ci is also part of the SP Heart Workers committee, which spearheads volunteering activities for SP Group throughout the year.

53.         When individuals with different skills come forward, families benefit from the opportunities and range of support offered.

54.         Third, many give generously their treasures.

a.         They contribute their resources and give in different ways.

b.         One way is through donations to the Community Chest, or ComChest, which go towards supporting services for vulnerable groups.

c.         I will talk about two ComChest initiatives – SHARE and Change for Charity.

55.         SHARE reminds us that sustained giving, even in small amounts, can add up, and lead to meaningful impact over time.

a.         Many donors put in a few dollars to SHARE each month.

b.         Collectively, these individual donations amass an average of $16 million per year.

c.         Through SHARE, we also see how acts of caring often start from young. This year is the 40th anniversary of our iconic mascot, Sharity, who will continue engaging students in schools to inculcate the values of caring and sharing.

56.         Mr Gerald Rodrigues is part of the pioneer batch of donors on SHARE and a former police officer. His interactions with lower-income families ignited a desire to help those with less, as he empathised with the hardships they faced.

a.         Gerald started donating through his monthly payroll.

b.         It has been 39 years, and he continues to donate regularly through SHARE.

57.         Donors like Gerald inspire us to care for others. To encourage more to give, the Government will continue to match new and incremental donations to SHARE. We will do so for another 2 years till FY2025.

58.         More recently, we introduced Change for Charity to amplify giving through a whole-of-society effort.

a.         City Developments Limited is one of the businesses that has implemented Change for Charity. At Millennium Hotels and Resorts, a subsidiary group of CDL with six hotels in Singapore, they make it convenient for customers to donate.

b.         Mr Andy Tan led his team in brainstorming ideas to weave giving mechanisms in their business model and pushing for the implementation. They place donation boxes at the check-in counters and F&B outlets, to make giving more accessible to their customers. Customers can also donate when they are paying their bills or by redeeming membership reward points.

c.         With the customers’ spending and contributions as the starting point, the amount is multiplied as the hotel donates a dollar for every dinner buffet cover.

d.         The Government further multiplies the contributions by matching 50 cents to every dollar donated by customers, and another 50 cents to every dollar if businesses match their customer’s donation. We will extend this matching till FY2027.

59.         Through this, we hope to create a multiplier effect that amplifies giving in our society.

60.         Mr Chairman, we are strengthening touchpoints with Singaporeans at every stage of their lives to encourage them to contribute to the society – their time, talent, and treasure. To the questions raised by Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Mr Keith Chua, and Ms Ng Ling Ling – this is how we will galvanise the community, from young to old, from one generation to the next.

61.         We will continue to work with our partners, from corporates to SSAs, to rally more to contribute.

a.         Corporates have shown growing interest in being more strategic in their corporate social responsibility effort. We are making progress in developing the Sustainable Philanthropy Framework to guide them in benchmarking and articulating their social impact.

i.         NCSS has been engaging leaders across diverse sectors to better shape the framework.

ii.        This month, we will be extending our reach by holding consultations with the wider business community.

b.         We are also enhancing the capabilities of volunteer managers in SSAs.

i.         Volunteer managers can access resources from the NCSS Volunteer Resource Hub to guide them in tapping the creativity and expertise of volunteers to address social issues, and to better attract and retain them.

62.         Together, we create opportunities for more to give, and build a society that cares for one another.

63.         Chairman, allow me to continue in Malay.

64.         Tuan Pengerusi, keluarga adalah tunjang utama masyarakat kita. Pemerintah akan terus memperkukuh sokongan untuk membolehkan keluarga berkembang maju dan makmur dalam setiap fasa kehidupan. Selaras dengan pelan Melakar Hala Tuju Singapura (ForwardSG), Pemerintah akan mempertingkatkan bantuan buat keluarga bergaji rendah dengan memperkasakan mereka melalui ComLink+.

65.         Para sukarelawan memainkan peranan yang sangat penting dalam membantu keluarga-keluarga yang memerlukan. Saya menyanjungi sumbangan mereka. Misalnya melalui Projek Dian@M³, para sukarelawan telah membantu 250 keluarga Melayu ComLink+. Mereka memperoleh kepercayaan daripada keluarga ini. Para sukarelawan juga sering menghubungi mereka dan membantu meleraikan masalah secepat mungkin dengan menghubungkan mereka dengan skim-skim bantuan yang sedia ada.

66.         Para sukarelawan akan terus bekerjasama dengan pegawai ComLink+ untuk memberikan sokongan menyeluruh untuk keluarga ComLink+. Saya yakin dengan sokongan para sukarelawan, kita akan membantu keluarga ini mencapai kehidupan yang mandiri, mantap dan maju.

Conclusion

67.         Chairperson, carrying forth the spirit of Forward SG, let us work together to build a caring and inclusive society, a brighter and better Singapore for all families. Thank you.