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Speech By Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister For Social And Family Development And Second Minister For Health, At Committee Of Supply 2023

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

Topic(s): Committee of Supply


"WORKING TOGETHER TO STRENGTHEN FAMILIES AND SUSTAIN SOCIAL MOBILITY"

Chairperson,

I.        INTRODUCTION

1.        I thank members for their suggestions. The vision to strengthen families and sustain social mobility is a common one we share.

2.        We are starting on a strong foundation. Singapore has invested in the education and well-being of its people. Singaporeans enjoy stable employment, own homes, have the means to start families and lead meaningful lives. This is a hope that we want to keep alive as a society.

3.        At MSF, we also want all families to enjoy such resilience and confidence in their future. In short, we want all families to achieve the 3Ss: stability, self-reliance, and social mobility.

    a.        Stability, where families are strong and have the means to weather the ups and downs in life. When families face challenges, they weather them because of mutual support from their children, siblings, parents and the extended family. Those who face severe challenges can also look to support from the Government.

    b.        Self-reliance, where families have a strong sense of ownership. Our society is strong because many Singaporeans continue to have this belief. MSF and our partners see many families who receive help, and are motivated not only to do better for themselves and their children, but to actually give back and uplift others.

    c.        Social mobility, where families will always have opportunities to progress and better their circumstances, and where they can aspire for their children to have a better and brighter future. Sustaining social mobility across generations is the most important assurance we can offer to families in Singapore.

4.        The 3Ss – stability, self-reliance and social mobility – is MSF’s hope for all families, but especially for lower-income families. This is Singapore’s unique approach to addressing inequality – we keep social mobility alive by enabling self-reliance and building stability. We have seen elsewhere how rising social inequality leads to the stratification of society, growing distrust for the Government, and increasing disunity amongst the people. To remain a united people, Singapore must do all we can to avoid walking this same path. We have proven to ourselves, during the COVID-19 pandemic that we are a people who will help one another through difficult times. As we look ahead, we must build our social capital and strengthen our social compact as Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Ng Ling Ling have also suggested. But as they also suggested, this means it is not just what the Government can do. It is also what individuals, families, and the community can do together. So that together, we strengthen families and sustain social mobility.

5.        The ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’, in seeking a refreshed social compact through the Forward SG exercise. We have heard many speak of their desire to help less fortunate Singaporeans nurture and build better lives, to forge an inclusive and caring Singapore. I am heartened by this strong desire to give back. It is good that those of us who have found success, are willing to contribute back, and to wish for future generations to have the opportunities that they enjoyed.

6.        We will build on these aspirations of Singaporeans, and focus their energies in three very important areas:

    a.        Building strong families, and uplifting families that require additional support;

    b.        Strengthening the social service sector to deliver services that meet the needs of families; and

    c.        Weaving an extensive tapestry of support around families by expanding partnerships across society in a renewed social compact.

 

II.        BUILDING STRONG FAMILIES

7.        Families are the bedrock of our society, where values are transmitted and our character shaped. This is where we learn self-reliance. A supportive family nurtures children to become compassionate members of society, able to pursue their aspirations, achieve social mobility for their family, and give back to society. A strong nation is built on strong families.

8.        The Government has invested greatly in families to support them across all stages. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Clerks to distribute an infographic detailing the family-related announcements during this Budget for members’ reference. Members may also access these materials through the MP@SGPARL App. Together with these latest measures, families are supported across all stages in life:

    a.        Now, for those starting a family, we will provide them with greater support in securing their first home. Newlyweds are supported in laying strong foundations to their marriage, such as through marriage preparation programmes and mentoring support from their Licensed Solemnisers.

    b.        When couples go on to have children, they are supported in the cost of raising their children through the increase in the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and Child Development Account.

    c.        Parents with children of preschool ages have access to affordable and quality preschools, with more places to be created.

    d.        Families caring for Persons with Disabilities have enhanced support for lifelong learning, employment opportunities, as well as caregiving support.

    e.        We also support our seniors in ageing well. Seniors are supported through preventive health, active ageing programmes and care services. We are building towards a society that empowers seniors to live healthier lives, be socially engaged, and contribute meaningfully.

    f.        The top-up to the ComCare Endowment Fund provides more resourcing and certainty for MSF in supporting lower-income families through ComCare, amid high inflation.

    g.        ComLink has also been rolled out to proactively support families with children in rental homes.

9.        Our efforts continue, as we strive to make Singapore a place where families thrive. Last year, during the Year of Celebrating SG Families, MSF launched the Singapore Made for Families 2025 Plan, a three-year plan that outlines how the Government, community partners, businesses and individuals can together, create a Singapore where all families are valued and supported. As families navigate various milestones, our goal is to ensure they are equipped with the necessary family and parenting skills. Mr Melvin Yong asked about the efforts of Families for Life, or FFL, to strengthen families. FFL started with broad-based public education campaigns and resources. More recently, it intensified ground outreach in Choa Chu Kang and Yishun, by offering localised marriage, parenting and even grandparenting programmes under the FFL @ Community initiative.

10.        I am pleased to share that FFL will expand this initiative to nine towns by the end of this year, and to all towns by 2025. An expected 4,000 couples and 20,000 parents will benefit from these programmes every year from 2025 onwards. 

11.        There will be families that need more targeted support. Today, there are Family Service Centres which provide integrated and multi-disciplinary services to meet the diverse needs of families. We call these centres “FAM@FSC”.

    a.        The services they offer include marriage preparation programmes, parenting programmes, family counselling, and divorce support programmes. We have seen positive outcomes from these efforts.

    b.        For example, participants of our marriage preparation programme, PREP, report better communication skills with their spouse.

    c.        We know that all couples aspire to have a strong relationship and a strong family. FFL and FAM@FSC are there on the ground, to provide support to them if they need it.

12.        Ms Shahira Abdullah spoke about support for single unwed mothers. Our policies reflect the value our society places on parenthood within marriage. However, we also empathise with the challenges faced by single unwed parents. There is appropriate welfare support for them too. In providing support, we put weight on their child's well-being and supporting them in their caregiving responsibilities. Hence, we extend Government benefits that support the growth and development of their children as we do to other children. These include subsidies for education, healthcare, infant care and childcare, the foreign domestic worker levy concession, and the Child Development Account. HDB also assesses their requests for housing holistically, based on their individual circumstances.

13.        The family plays an important role in caring for its loved ones even in old age. Increasingly, the Lasting Power of Attorney (or LPA) and Advance Care Planning (ACP) will be important ways that families have the assurance that they are respecting the wishes and intent of their loved ones, who may no longer be able to express their wishes when they lose mental capacity. In response to Mr Henry Kwek, we are making progress in encouraging adoption of LPAs. More than 10,000 applications have been made online. MSF, MOH and PSD will be launching a public education campaign to promote pre-planning. Some members have raised the issue of possible abuse of LPAs. At the same time, others have asked for the process to be simpler and cheaper. The Public Guardian will continue to be mindful of these considerations, and I seek the support of members to understand that the Public Guardian has to balance convenience and costs, with appropriate safeguards.

Uplifting Families that Require Additional Support

14.        What I have covered are broad-based efforts to strengthen families. We will also extend additional support to lower-income families, through targeted programmes. These families often face complex and interlocking challenges, which cannot be addressed by one agency or partner. These issues need to be addressed proactively, early, and in a coordinated way, preventing them from becoming entrenched.

15.        One example is KidSTART, which is targeted at children in lower-income families. Through KidSTART, parents are empowered to be confident and competent caregivers. Efforts begin at the hospital, with families given close support through home visits as the child grows older. 

16.        KidSTART has supported over 6,200 children from lower-income families thus far, and we have seen good results. As announced by DPM Wong in the Budget, we will be scaling up KidSTART nationwide. This is a major effort to move upstream in our support for children from lower-income families. And MOS Sun Xueling will share more on this.

17.        ComLink further ensures that children from lower-income families are provided with a good start in life and supported on a journey of progress.

    a.        Introduced in 2019, it supports families with children living in rental housing by connecting them to community resources and Government services.  Like the localised FFL presence in each town, ComLink depends on a contingent of volunteers working closely with officers at the SSOs. Over 2,400 volunteers have been recruited to support various ComLink efforts such as outreach, befriending and programmes.

    b.        One such volunteer is Shen Jun, who has helped Mr Wong, aged 68, improve the circumstances of his family. Mr Wong was worried he would not be able to find employment, given his age. But with Shen Jun’s support, Mr Wong secured a full-time job as a security officer. His family is now no longer on ComCare assistance. Shen Jun regularly visits them and shares relevant resources and information, such as HDB launch dates, knowing that Mr Wong aspires to own a flat. He also shares information on bursary awards for their son, who is in primary school, to help them with their expenses. Mr Wong and his family are grateful to Shen Jun for his support.

18.        For families that demonstrate a strong commitment to do their part to create better conditions for their children, we want to be able to support them better – this is our approach in our new social compact. We intend to tailor sustained support to encourage them. Our aim is for them to achieve the 3Ss quicker. We are working out the specifics and intend to share details later this year.


19.        Apart from lower-income families, families caring for children with developmental needs also need additional attention. MOS Xueling will elaborate on our plans to increase early intervention capacity.

20.        We will also provide support for families caring for Persons with Disabilities. Last year, we announced the Enabling Masterplan 2030. Efforts are underway to progressively implement the 29 recommendations of the Masterplan. 

21.        On this note, I am happy to announce the launch of the first Enabling Services Hub in Tampines West Community Centre. This follows the recommendation to provide support services to enable Persons with Disabilities to live independently and well in, and with, the community. The Hub will reach out to Persons with Disabilities and their caregivers in its region to understand their needs, link them to relevant support, and provide onsite services such as continuous learning programmes and respite care for caregivers. SPS Eric Chua will elaborate on support for Persons with Disabilities.


III.        ENABLING THE SECTOR

22.        Integral to our efforts to strengthen families and uplift those in need are our partners. In particular, our social service agencies, or SSAs. Ms Joan Pereira, Mr Mohd Fahmi bin Aliman, Ms Ng Ling Ling, and Ms Janet Ang have asked how we will recognise and continue to support these efforts.

    a.        In recognition of our SSAs’ invaluable efforts, 2023 has been dedicated as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners.

    b.        Significant contributions by SSAs are also recognised through the annual MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards (MVPA) and Community Chest Awards.     

23.        Behind the successful delivery of social services by the SSAs are those who provide resources, funds and manpower – the Government, philanthropists and donors, as well as volunteers.

24.        Over the years, we have witnessed donors stepping forward, and have developed and strengthened mechanisms to support the social service sector in meeting emerging needs. The Tote Board Social Service Fund, for instance, supports more than 70 programmes serving over 362,000 clients, in partnership with various Government agencies.

25.        As social needs further evolve, access to generous financial support remains a key enabler of the sector. I am happy to share that the Tote Board has committed around $846 million to the Tote Board Social Service Fund for the next five years. This is the Tote Board’s largest commitment since the inception of the Fund. It complements the Government’s funding of about $400 million a year to support key social programmes.  

26.        Now, beyond financial support, a strong core of passionate and competent professionals is equally crucial. As raised by Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Denise Phua, they need to be given due recognition and supported in their work. Hence, measures must be taken to better attract, train, and retain staff.

27.        To support SSAs in this area, we have completed the review of the NCSS Sector Salary Guidelines, to keep pace with wage realities in the market, and account for changes in job responsibilities, as well as salaries of comparable roles in competing markets. When implemented, more than 20,000 employees, including social workers, psychologists, early intervention educators and care workers, are expected to see increases by between 4% and 15% in FY2023. I strongly encourage SSAs to adopt the guidelines to continue to attract and retain talent, and MSF and NCSS will support their efforts. Funding for MSF and NCSS-funded programmes will also be adjusted accordingly.

28.        Also working tirelessly alongside our sector professionals, are our volunteers. NCSS will be rolling out new schemes under the Community Capability Trust to help SSAs build capabilities for better volunteer management. This will help SSAs in attracting, engaging and retaining volunteers, as well as their training of volunteers to amplify their work.

    a.        Ms Carrie Tan has also asked about support for our SSAs in building capabilities in research and evaluation. We agree that this is important and there are existing support and initiatives in place.

      i.        The Sector Evaluation Framework, launched in 2021, provides SSAs, funders and public agencies a common language and outcome metric to articulate impact.

      ii.        SSAs may also tap on research advisory support through NCSS’s network of volunteer research consultants, and subsidised research courses and workshops offered by Social Service Institute and universities.

IV.        EXPANDING PARTNERSHIPS

29.        Chairman, beyond SSAs, there are many more who make a difference in the social sector – including businesses and the Institutes of Higher Learning, or IHLs.

30.        Businesses are a key touchpoint for different segments of society. At its very core, businesses provide employment – the first step to achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility. Businesses also help shape Singapore into a family-friendly and inclusive society through flexible working arrangements for caregivers and inclusive hiring practices for Persons with Disabilities. Furthermore, businesses possess a wealth of resources, and many have sought to share this, weaving giving into their DNA.

31.        Mr Murali Pillai and Ms Janet Ang said that more could be done to build the culture of giving. We are heartened by and appreciate SBF Foundation’s initiatives on this front, and in particular, as part of the Youth Connections Pilot, as Ms Janet Ang has shared. This demonstrates the strong impact that businesses can make beyond economic returns. Moving forward, we will continue to partner businesses to promote and encourage sustainable philanthropy, which looks to businesses and Singaporeans making sustained contributions, beyond episodic giving of money and goods.

32.        NCSS champions sustainable philanthropy and is working with the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, which recently launched its Corporate Purpose Framework, to define and measure businesses’ impact on social causes.

33.        One example of sustainable philanthropy is the Change for Charity initiative, where businesses enable customers to donate to Community Chest conveniently when they make payments. I am glad that banks such as DBS, Maybank, and UOB, have joined us on this initiative, and that retail brands like Eu Yan Sang are matching their customers’ donations. In the coming years, we believe more businesses will come on board Change for Charity.

34.        Our hope is that more businesses and organisations will not just stop with Change for Charity, but come up with creative ways to leverage their expertise. In each business and organisation is a wellspring of good that can be achieved, tapping on the business’s assets, the expertise and time of its people.

35.        For instance, in 2022, Mendix, a software company gathered over 400 developers for an international hackathon on issues faced by non-profit organisations, including our SSAs. This resulted in impactful digital solutions. For example, New Hope Community Services now has an app that allows social workers to view their programme activities easily, facilitating service delivery.

36.        Another example is the Community Uplift Programme by UOL and the Pan Pacific Hotels Group. Through this, UOL and Pan Pacific tap on their resources to provide enriching experiences like rock-climbing and art classes for children from ComLink families. This offers the children opportunities to bond with their families and participate in activities not easily accessible to them. But more importantly, by bringing these children and their families out of their everyday settings into venues such as hotels managed by the group, the children are exposed to a greater breadth of career choices. This broadens their outlook and inspires them to dream bigger and climb higher in life.

37.        We welcome more of such partnerships.

38.        As for the IHLs – they are where our social sector professionals acquire the knowledge and skills to work effectively. Researchers and academics also contribute invaluable insights to inform our policies and practice.

39.        For example, the research project on Identifying Positive Adaptive Pathways in Low-Income Families in Singapore conducted by NUS researchers inform efforts to better support families in working towards the 3Ss, particularly in times of economic hardship. The study found that building Family Hardiness, which includes the family’s ability to adapt and the family’s sense of control over the situation, helped to bolster mothers’ hope in the short term, and reduce the risk of longer-term mental health issues. Our work through ComLink family coaches and befrienders provides precisely these opportunities to build such resilience, towards the 3Ss.

40.        I hope the research will be as informative to the refinement of ComLink, as GUSTO has been for KidSTART. The GUSTO study by researchers from the National University Health System, KK Hospital, NUS and A*STAR, showed that mothers’ responsiveness to their child’s needs in infancy made a difference to the child’s readiness for school and academic performance. The study also demonstrated that mothers’ physical and mental wellbeing during pregnancy had a large impact on their child’s development. This led us to focusing on reaching more mothers at the antenatal stage, so that they can benefit earlier from KidSTART.

41.        To harness this spirit for a stronger collective impact, we look forward to greater collaborations with universities and academics to develop research. MSF has begun this work through the Asian Family Conference, bringing together researchers, policymakers, and practitioners across the region to exchange learning points and leveraging this research to inform policies and practice. The intention is to build up a robust knowledge base of family-centric research that can inform social policy and practice in Singapore and beyond, something Ms Ng Ling Ling asked for.

42.        SSAs can both contribute to and tap on this base of knowledge as resources for their work. In particular, there is a need for local research that speaks to our context, taking on a family-centric approach, our unique socio-cultural environment, and the cultural nuances of the diverse communities in Singapore.


V.        CLOSING

43.        Chairman, allow me to continue in Malay.

    a.        Chairperson, families are at the centre of what we do and will remain the focus of our efforts. We will strengthen support in the community as they go through the various stages in their family journey, from the point a couple contemplates marriage, to when they start a family, to raising their children and so on.

    Tuan Pengerusi, keluarga kekal menjadi tunggak dan tumpuan semua usaha Pemerintah. Kami akan mempertingkatkan sokongan kepada masyarakat, di sepanjang tahap perkembangan kehidupan berkeluarga mereka. Ini bermula seawal pada waktu pasangan itu merancang untuk berkahwin ketika mereka menimang cahayamata, hinggalah sepanjang mereka membesarkan anak-anak dan selanjutnya.

    b.        The Government is committed to building a better future for all, and we will leave no one behind. But the Government cannot do this alone. We need a coordinated ecosystem of partners. Key programmes such as ComLink and KidSTART will involve community partners, and help low-income families, including our Malay/Muslim families, achieve stability, self-reliance and social mobility.

    Pemerintah komited untuk membina masa depan yang lebih baik untuk semua, dan kami akan pastikan tidak ada sesiapa yang akan ketinggalan. Namun, Pemerintah tidak boleh melakukannya secara sendirian. Kami memerlukan satu ekosistem rakan kongsi yang bersepadu. Program-program utama seperti ComLink dan KidStart akan melibatkan rakan-rakan masyarakat dan membantu keluarga bergaji rendah, termasuk keluarga Melayu/Islam, memperoleh kestabilan, berupaya untuk berdikari dan mencapai mobiliti sosial.

    c.        We have introduced several initiatives to better support Malay/Muslim families. Through Project Dian@M3, more effective and integrated support is provided to Malay/Muslim families staying in rental flats, by connecting them to the national and community programmes for education, employment, social support and health.

    Kami telah memperkenalkan beberapa inisiatif untuk membantu keluarga Melayu/Islam dengan lebih baik lagi. Melalui Projek Dian@M3, sokongan yang lebih berkesan dan bersepadu dapat diberikan kepada keluarga Melayu/Islam yang tinggal di flat-flat sewa, dengan menghubungkan mereka kepada pelbagai program di peringkat nasional dan masyarakat untuk pendidikan, pekerjaan, sokongan sosial dan kesihatan.

    d.        At the same time, we must encourage our young to dream big and to work towards those dreams. One of the ways is to provide role models and positive influences. Through Project Pathfinder, students at ITE College East are paired with mentors who provide guidance towards attaining resilience and equipping them with knowledge and discipline.

    Pada masa yang sama, kita harus mendorong anak-anak muda kita untuk bercita-cita tinggi, dan rajin berusaha demi mencapai impian mereka. Salah satu cara adalah dengan mendedahkan mereka kepada para individu contoh atau mentor dan pengaruh-pengaruh positif. Misalnya menerusi Projek Pathfinder oleh sukarelawan SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), para pelajar di Institut Pendidikan Teknikal (ITE) Kolej Timur dipadankan dengan mentor yang membimbing mereka supaya berdaya tahan serta mengajar mereka ilmu pengetahuan dan disiplin.

    e.        The Government will work closely with our partners to provide stronger support for Singaporeans. To highlight their efforts, MSF has dedicated 2023 as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners.

    Pemerintah akan bekerja rapat dengan rakan kongsi kami untuk memperkukuh sokongan bagi rakyat Singapura. Untuk menonjolkan usaha-usaha baik mereka, MSF mendedikasikan tahun 2023 sebagai Tahun Meraikan Rakan Khidmat Sosial.

44.        Strengthening families and sustaining social mobility for our people is a whole-of-society effort. Our SSAs, social enterprises, businesses, community groups, academia and more have been invaluable partners. In this Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners, I encourage Singaporeans to join us in applauding the contributions of our partners and encourage more partners to join hands with us.

45.        Together, we can build a Singapore Made for Families – where our strong social compact supports all families in achieving stability, self-reliance, and keeps social mobility alive.

46.        Thank you.