“EMPOWERING FAMILIES THROUGH A CARING AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETY”
1. Strong families are the foundation of a strong society.
a. As the Chinese saying goes, “家家有本难念的经”。Every family’s story is unique. The challenges each family faces too, are unique. Today, I focus my speech on (1) families with loved ones who are persons with disabilities, and (2) lower-income families with children.
I. ENABLING PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES TO PARTICIPATE IN AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY
2. Our vision for Singapore is to be a caring and inclusive society.
a. One with a big heart, and one where persons with disabilities are empowered to pursue their aspirations, realise their potential, and participate in civic life, just as anyone would.
3. Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked about the success and challenges of our Enabling Masterplans over the years. Since our first Masterplan in 2007, we have made good progress in areas spanning education, sport, assistive technology, our built environment, public transport, and societal norms. These improvements have empowered persons with disabilities to live life to the fullest. Let me share through the lens of 16-year-old Aloysius Gan.
a. I first met Aloysius and his father Kagan, when we travelled to Bahrain for the Asian Youth Para Games (AYPG) two years ago. Aloysius is a Boccia athlete. He has Cerebral Palsy and is paralysed in all four limbs. He attends school at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS). Aloy communicates with the help of an assistive technology device, uses a wheelchair and is able to get around on public transport as our bus and train network is largely barrier-free.
b. For me, cheering on Aloysius at the AYPG felt no different from cheering for our able-bodied athletes at other major games. I witnessed first-hand Aloysius’ steely determination to overcome his stronger and more experienced opponents, never mind that it was his international debut in 2021. And overcame he did, making history as he brought home a coveted Gold medal. Today, Aloysius is setting his sights on attaining a sports scholarship and representing Singapore at the Paralympics.
c. In Aloysius, I see possibility. I see a fellow human being, wanting nothing more than just to become the best version of himself, just like any of us, disability or otherwise. In Aloysius, I see hope. Our hope that with the right support, persons with disabilities too can realise their potential and live life to the fullest.
4. Since our first Enabling Masterplan, we have come a long way. But more remains to be done. As noted, a key challenge in building an inclusive society lies in meeting varied needs across a diverse range of disabilities. Our approach must be one of working with persons with disabilities, caregivers, disability sector professionals, and community partners, as we periodically review our policies and programmes. This partnership approach ensures that specific needs are understood and allows stakeholders to work on solutions together.
5. The same partnership approach also informed our fourth Enabling Masterplan – EMP2030 – which we launched in August last year.
a. Because of my work in the disability space, I was privileged to have been part of some very meaningful and some very powerful conversations. Meaningful because many points raised came from a position of care and love. Powerful because a lot of what has been said were real and vulnerable. Months on, I still ‘hear’ these questions in my heart:
- - “After graduation, will my autistic daughter be able to find a job that she can excel in?”
- “Can my brother and I enjoy a basketball game at the neighbourhood court, just like the rest? But because he plays from a wheelchair, we sometimes get weird stares.”
- “How much longer can I last? I feel like I am going to burn out soon…”
- “Ah Boy has intellectual disability! Who will take care of him after I leave this world?”
b. Hearing all this has only powered me and my colleagues' resolve to do our best for disability-inclusion in Singapore. EMP2030 is no panacea, but it sets out a broad vision for the next eight years. For the first time, clear, tangible goals across 14 Focal Areas are penned. However, a Masterplan is of little use if it is merely the exercise of putting pen to paper. To bring the plan to life, we need everyone’s buy-in, support and more importantly, Action.
6. Ms Denise Phua is right that we must tap on mainstream initiatives to support persons with disabilities. This has also been our approach. Where mainstream support is not adequate to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, we provide additional targeted support.
a. One example is education. Today, about 80% of students with mild to moderate special education needs attend mainstream schools. For students with more severe needs, Special Education, or SPED schools provide more intensive and customised support to help them to thrive. Opportunities are also created for students from both SPED and mainstream schools to learn together and interact meaningfully.
7. Ms Denise Phua also asked about the implementation progress of the EMP2030 recommendations. Let me share a few updates.
Enabling persons with disabilities to live well in the community
8. Inclusive communities play an essential role in enabling persons with disabilities to live well and to participate actively in the community. Ms Ng Ling Ling also asked about plans to scale existing initiatives, and provide integrated support. When MSF and SG Enable opened the Enabling Village in 2015, it was the first inclusive community space in Singapore. It demonstrated how we can create communities where persons with disabilities participate as integral and contributing members. Building on our experience with the Enabling Village, or EV as some of us affectionately know it, we plan to bring services closer to where persons with disabilities live. And we are doing this via two new pilots.
9. First, the Enabling Services Hub, or ESH. This will take a regional approach towards strengthening support for persons with disabilities within the community, making our local communities more inclusive.
a. The first ESH will be launched in the coming months in collaboration with SPD in Tampines West Community Centre. A satellite site will also be set up in Heartbeat @ Bedok.
b. The ESH will have an outreach team, which will actively engage persons with disabilities and their families living in Tampines and Bedok, especially those not currently enrolled in any disability services. In addition, community befrienders will be matched to those who need more support.
c. At the ESH, persons with disabilities can take part in social activities to interact with neighbours and volunteers. They can also attend courses to pick up new skills. Caregivers who need a short break can also make use of drop-in respite care services.
d. The ESH will also work with local partners to encourage inclusion within our neighbourhoods. For instance, residents with and without disabilities can join in community activities together, or even volunteer as befrienders. Companies in the area can offer employment opportunities. With your active participation, we can foster more inclusive communities rooted in these Enabling Services Hubs.
10. The second pilot is the Enabling Business Hubs, or EBH, which will bring jobs closer to where persons with disabilities live. Many persons with disabilities can and want to be gainfully employed with dignity, not just for charity. This view was also echoed by Ms Ng. Beyond the benefit to the individual person with disabilities, companies with inclusive hiring practices find stronger empathy amongst co-workers and a more cohesive workforce.
a. Some employers are keen to hire inclusively but may not know how to go about it. Collaborating with employers and industry associations, the EBH will showcase inclusive hiring practices and help companies implement these practices. For instance, by re-designing jobs so that the tasks can be done by persons with disabilities, and using technology to enhance productivity. As Ms Ng highlighted, job coaches play an important role in helping employers looking to hire persons with disabilities. There are currently about 300 job coaches providing a range of disability employment support. The EBH will also have a team of job coaches on site. The EMP2030 Employment Taskforce will explore building up job coach capabilities.
b. The EBH will also help to identify other suitable employers in the region and match them with persons with disabilities who have the necessary skills, and if necessary, prepare them for those jobs.
c. Mr Murali Pillai would be happy to know that the first Enabling Business Hub will be opening its doors later this year, in Jurong West.
d. Along with other measures, the EBH will contribute to our aspirational target employment rate for persons with disabilities of 40% by 2030, up from 31% today.
11. Ms Rachel Ong asked about alternative training pathways for persons with disabilities to work in more sectors.
a. Today, persons with disabilities can access vocational training through SPED schools, the School-to-Work Transition Programme, and SG Enable’s Enabling Academy. These programmes prepare them for work in a range of sectors, including horticulture, online retail, and facility services.
b. We are continually looking for employers and industries who are keen to hire inclusively, so that persons with disabilities can be employed in meaningful roles. For a start, the first Hub in Jurong West will focus on showcasing how persons with disabilities can be a part of the logistics industry.
12. Beyond EBH, we are also expanding the capacity of Sheltered Workshops. This will enable more persons with disabilities who are not yet ready for, or unable to take up open employment, to receive work skills training and work therapy.
a. We will be adding 100 Sheltered Workshop places by early 2024, bringing the total capacity to 1,800. This will help to alleviate the waitlists for Sheltered Workshops, which are currently operating at almost full capacity.
b. MSF will continue to monitor the demand for adult disability services, and will also review service models as needed.
Strengthening community support for caregivers
13. Beyond persons with disabilities, we must also look out for their caregivers and family members.
14. We work closely with our partners to ensure that caregivers are also supported.
a. Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked for an update on the Alliance for Action, or AfA, for Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities. The AfA is supporting Project 3i, a caregiver-led initiative to provide a network of social and emotional support for caregivers, and to equip them with caregiving skills. This is being piloted at two locations, Boon Lay and Kampong Glam.
b. Since its launch in November 2021, Project 3i has supported over 2,700 caregivers. Over 130 community volunteers and caregivers have been trained to support other caregivers of persons with disabilities. Going forward, the AfA will expand Project 3i to two more constituencies, so that more caregivers can benefit from the support network.
Need for whole-of-society effort to build an inclusive society
15. Everyone plays a part in making disability-inclusion a reality. How we perceive persons with disabilities, and how we behave around them, are markers of how inclusive we are as a society.
a. Chair, allow me some time to share about Ms. Sophie Soon. I got to know Sophie in 2021, when she flew our flag high at Tokyo Paralympics. Sophie is a young, bubbly, outgoing swimmer. Whenever one meets Sophie, one can almost be sure that Orinda, her Golden-Labrador Retriever buddy, will be by her side. Orinda’s love for Sophie though, transcends the usual pet-and-owner proportions. Sophie is visually impaired, and Orinda is Sophie’s guide dog. Guide dogs are specially bred, and they go through stringent assessment and training for 18 months, before they are matched to their potential human pals.
b. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness surrounding guide dogs meant the duo sometimes find themselves in awkward situations, to say the least. In January this year, Sophie and Orinda were all stoked about attending their first Candlelight concert, until they were stopped by security, and Sophie got asked some questions. She was asked, “You want to watch the show right?" by security. "How you see? You cannot see, right?” This was in January. Last November, Sophie and Orinda were again the subject of scrutiny when a fellow train passenger’s unfounded fear that Orinda poses a safety risk made its way into the media.
c. Chairman, in an ideal world, the word “inclusion” would be without meaning. But we are not in Utopia. Quite clearly, we have some way to go. Though there is some reason to be hopeful. Just two days ago, one Mr Koh Hock Neo contributed to the Straits Times Forum page, expressing his thanks to a Police officer and a contractor on separate occasions, who had helped his sister who is hard of hearing. So there are glimmers of hope.
d. It is my strong belief that Singaporeans are a red-blooded, big-hearted people, sometimes just a little shy. Time and again, in moments of need, we have shown that we have so much room in our hearts for those amongst us with less, and for those amongst us who are facing, quite frankly, different challenges in life. Therefore, I call upon everyone; businesses, community partners, and Members of this Chamber, everyone in Singapore society, to take interest and be the change, so that Singapore can truly be a shining beacon for the world in disability-inclusion!
II. EMPOWERING LOWER-INCOME FAMILIES TOWARDS STABILITY AND SELF-RELIANCE
16. Sir, I will next talk about families with children and youth living in public rental housing. Through ComLink, we proactively reach out to and journey with these families, to help them navigate life’s challenges and seize opportunities, so that they can build a better future for themselves. Our goal is for these families to achieve the 3 'S': Stability, Self-reliance, and Social mobility. To do that, we place the family firmly at the centre of what we do, and we make sure that government services and community resources are delivered in a Comprehensive, Convenient and Coordinated manner.
Journeying with ComLink families
17. Ms Denise Phua asked about our progress for ComLink. From 4 pilot towns in 2019, we have in the past two years expanded ComLink islandwide to some 21 ComLink communities, each supported by a Social Service Office, or SSO.
a. Community partners, including corporates, social enterprises, and social service agencies, SSAs, have also contributed greatly to ComLink. Together, community partners and government agencies have provided 264 ComLink programmes and services to date, including those such as financial literacy programmes, enrichment activities, sporting activities, etc. Today, 86 of these programmes are ongoing. Other support such as monetary, and in-kind donations have also poured in.
b. We have gone further upstream by extending our outreach, by launching the ComLink Rental Scheme with HDB last year, as shared previously by MOS Faishal. With the new scheme, families will be supported by ComLink officers once they apply for rental housing. With more proactive support, ComLink officers are better able to journey with families, and provide them with support in other areas. This holistic support earlier on in their journey, will lead to better outcomes.
18. Allow me to share the story of Ms Fatin Nabilah, a single mother of three children, who lives in a 2-room rental flat in Boon Lay.
a. Fatin works as an ad-hoc server at weddings. Jean Yi, an undergraduate at NTU, started befriending Fatin’s family last May. When Jean Yi found that Fatin was looking for jobs in the healthcare sector, she offered to recommend Fatin to a suitable job, as her own elder sister is also in the healthcare sector. Over time, Fatin felt Jean Yi’s sincerity. She opened up and began to trust Jean Yi. Jean Yi’s relationship with Fatin’s family soon blossomed into one that is positive and trusting. With Jean Yi’s constant reassurance and encouragement, Fatin feels confident to achieve stability for her family.
b. At Jean Yi’s suggestion, Fatin participated in the SG United Programme (for Nursing and Healthcare) and the “Daughters of Tomorrow” Confidence workshop. Fatin’s children also received academic support from ComLink programmes, like the free tuition programme organised by the Loving Heart Multi-Service Centre.
19. With support from the SSO, Jean Yi serves as Fatin’s cheerleader, listening ear, and a mentor to the young ones. Befrienders like Jean Yi play a key role in ComLink. Today, we have some 760 volunteer befrienders working with some 3,500 families.
a. I thank Ms Carrie Tan for her suggestion to tap on beneficiaries of social service agencies as ComLink befrienders. Indeed, we are looking for people who are empathetic, open-minded, and most important of all, passionate about journeying with ComLink families towards their goals. We welcome all who fit the bill to step forward as ComLink befrienders!
Strengthening integrated support across agencies through ComLink
20. Sir, the delivery of social services must be informed by the family’s needs and considerations. To complement community efforts, we have been strengthening Government services delivery.
21. As DPM Wong mentioned in his Budget Speech, we are working with relevant agencies to further integrate services that support ComLink families. Ms Joan Pereira asked about our plans to achieve this.
a. Families living in rental flats often run pillar to post filling out multiple forms, repeating their stories and struggles at different offices to receive all the help they need. These families are also visited by befrienders from different agencies and organisations, each sharing their own programmes and criteria and this creates plenty of confusion and adds to these families’ bandwidth tax.
b. This must change. We will streamline functions such as outreach, befriending, and case support. Each family will be assigned to ComLink befrienders who will be their consistent touchpoint. The befriender will organise interventions into a single coherent action plan, and work with families to achieve their goals.
22. We started this approach with some 60 families in Jalan Besar over the last few months, and families have found it beneficial. Our intent is to scale and benefit more families this way in other ComLink communities.
23. Ms Denise Phua also asked about challenges in implementing ComLink.
a. Apart from the effort involved in integrating service delivery across agencies, the work on the ground is high-touch and we need more befrienders. Empathy, the human touch and personal connection are crucial as we reach out to ComLink families.
b. To be sure, we also need families to be open and receptive. Not all families may immediately see the need for befriending, or to work on an action plan.
Enhancing other support for lower-income families
24. Beyond ComLink, we have other avenues of support for lower-income families. ComCare supports lower-income households with financial assistance to meet their basic daily expenses.
25. Mr Jamus Lim and Mr Leon Perera made various suggestions to improve support for low-income families, such as reducing the need for documentation and enhancing the financial assistance schemes.
a. On the three specific groups that Mr Perera referenced, today they could already walk into the SSO and the SSO officers will be able to follow up on the cases with each of them. Also, referral protocols are already in place, including between MHA, MINDEF and MSF. Over the past few years, we have been putting in place various arrangements, including system links, with other agencies to reduce the documentation required of ComCare applicants. ComCare applicants who are also account-holders need not separately submit information on HDB rental, Singapore Power utilities and S&CC by the Town Council.
b. We are also streamlining application processes to make it easier for applicants to seek support. For instance, with the introduction of ComCare scheme bundles, eligible ComCare beneficiaries are now automatically referred, and/or qualified for government assistance for education, healthcare, student care and childcare. This is also another example of providing integrated support in a family-centric manner that Ms Joan Pereira also talked about. And Mr Perera will be glad to know that we have also enhanced the SupportGoWhere portal to allow online applications for ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance, so that applicants need not go to the SSOs in person to apply and this is only one example of how we are starting off the process of making different processes more streamlined, starting with ComCare.
c. Today, there are already financial assistance schemes that cover both education expenses as well as subsidies and grants for childcare, kindergarten and student care. For students who require more dedicated help in coping with their studies, our schools run various programmes to ensure that these students receive adequate additional learning support and guidance.
d. Self-Help Groups and other community partners also provide support such as academic help for students from lower-income families.
e. We regularly review the adequacy of our assistance schemes for the lower-income. We introduced temporary measures to provide ComCare assistance for a longer duration and at a higher quantum during the pandemic, and increased assistance for ComCare schemes last August. We will continue to monitor the adequacy of our schemes and make necessary adjustments where appropriate.
26. Supporting lower-income families to help them achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility must be a whole-of-society effort. Within the public sector, we will step up our efforts to coordinate and synergise our efforts across agency boundaries, with support centred on the family. We will enhance training for our frontline officers, including those at our SSOs, to equip them with the knowledge and skills that they need to work effectively in this new paradigm of social service delivery. But we also need the community – social service agencies, corporates, academics, volunteers – to join hands with us, so that we can build a strong and cohesive Singapore for all.
27. Chairman, in Mandarin, please.
Assistance for persons with disabilities and their families
Our vision for Singapore is to be a caring and inclusive society. Much like how it was in the "kampong" days.
Families are the bedrock of society.
Every family faces different problems and challenges in life.
It is not difficult to imagine that the challenges faced by families with disabilities are even more different from those faced by other families.
To strengthen our support for them, SG Enable will be launching the first Enabling Services Hub in collaboration with SPD in Tampines West Community Centre in the coming months.
SG Enable will also be setting up the first Enabling Business Hub this year in Jurong West, in collaboration with social service partners and businesses. This will bring more inclusive employment opportunities closer to where persons with disabilities live.
This collaboration with businesses will drive inclusive hiring with job redesign and technology.
Apart from families with persons with disabilities, another group that we must support is our lower-income families.
These families often face unique and complex challenges.
However, like families with persons with disabilities, we must provide coordinated, convenient and comprehensive support and services that are tailored to the circumstances and considerations of each family.
32. 看到许多受惠于“社区联系站” (ComLink) 的家庭，为了让自己，让孩子们和家人们，有一个更美好的未来而努力打拼，我感到十分欣慰。
I am heartened to see that many families who have benefitted from ComLink are working hard to give themselves, their children and their families a better future.
Some families want a stable job, some want to save enough for their children's education, while some want to own a house one day.
Regardless of their aspirations and goals, we are committed to working with these families and providing them with the support and assistance they need.
As we move towards the future, we must support each other, so that no one gets left behind in the long run.
This is Singapore’s social compact. This is Singapore.
ComLink Families Have Agency
35. Sir, I would like to conclude by sharing a story. Recently, I met a 10-year-old girl, Ratu, at a flea market in Lengkok Bahru. Intrigued by a bucket of cute ‘stuff’ that she was holding, I asked her what she was doing. “I’m selling these handphone charms, 50 cents a scoop!” was her spirited reply and with that, I was a customer, and you can see, this small little thing here, that’s a handphone charm. Boomer me didn’t know that this is called a charm, by the way.
36. My point is this. We often hear of families living in rental flats being beneficiaries of aid and support, and overlook the fact that these very families too have agency. They too can be empowered, take active steps to uplift themselves, and even help fellow families in need.
37. And this was exactly what I observed in Lengkok Bahru. Families connected to one another not by blood, but by their common motivation to help one another out in taking on life’s challenges. And there are the big hearted ‘cheerleaders’ who have consistently journeyed with these families. Mr Raymond Khoo and his team at the S17 Community Kitchen is one great example. So in Lengkok Bahru, I see remarkable resilience, a great deal of love and a thriving kampung spirit!
38. Sir, in closing, we all want to do the best for our families. But to be a truly caring and inclusive society, we must look beyond our own.
39. A quote by disability rights advocate Helen Keller is fitting,
“Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much”.
40. So right now, let me call upon every Member in this Chamber and every Singaporean, young and old, regardless of race, language, or religion, to come together so that we can build an even more caring and inclusive Singapore for our next generation.
41. Thank you.