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Speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua at the MSF Committee of Supply 2024

Type: Announcements, Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Eric Chua

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


“EMPOWERING ALL FAMILIES TO ACHIEVE THEIR ASPIRATIONS” 

Chair,

1.          Talking to Singaporeans from all walks of life, one topic that often comes up is “what would Singapore in the future look like?”:

a.         Will we be a more caring and inclusive society? 

b.         Can Singapore be a place made for all families –

i.         One where lower-income families have a fair chance to achieve their aspirations,

ii.        And one where persons with disabilities can fulfil their true potential? 

2.          MSF is working hard with families and communities to make these statements reality. 


I. EMPOWERING LOWER-INCOME FAMILIES THROUGH COMLINK+ 

3.          I recently met Ms Aini and Mr Wali, a young couple who welcomed their first child Laila in 2022. They are currently living in a public rental flat, and they hope to purchase their first BTO flat soon. Aini is looking to return to a cabin crew job, while Wali is striving to turn his passion for stand-up paddling into a full-time business. 

4.         The couple is working hard to realise their dreams: to achieve their career goals, buy a home, and provide a good future for young Laila. But, they are unsure how they can get there. 

5.         This is where MSF’s ComLink+ family coaches, like Mr Zeke, come in. 


A. Family Coaches – A Trusted Partner Journeying with Families 

6.          Our family coaches journey with ComLink+ families and support their aspirations. The family coach considers the family’s unique circumstances, needs, and strengths, and co-develops an action plan with the family, to help the family achieve its goals, one step at a time. 

7.          Through discussions with Zeke, Aini and Wali agreed that an important and immediate goal for the family was to secure stable employment. This would enable them to repay their loans and save for their BTO flat. With Aini on board with the action plan, Zeke then connected her with a career coach at Workforce Singapore. 

8.          Zeke also provided helpful perspectives and suggestions on balancing work with parenting responsibilities. After some consideration, Aini and Wali decided that Wali could take care of Laila when Aini needs to fly for work. Now, with care arrangements sorted, she can now look for a cabin crew job with a peace of mind. 

9.          As the family coach, Zeke is providing Aini and Wali with the sort of structured approach Ms Ng Ling Ling talked about, to achieve stability and make better decisions for the future.

a.        The nationwide roll-out of ComLink started in 2021. Ms Denise Phua would be pleased to know that our Social Service Offices (SSOs) and Family Service Centres (FSCs) now serve 10,000 families with children in public rental flats, in all 21 towns. And we are now ready to proceed with ComLink+. 

b.        Mr Xie Yao Quan would also be pleased to know that with ComLink+, we will have integrated support across multiple programmes, including KidSTART, UPLIFT Community Network and Project Dian@M3. We will continue to strengthen the leadership role of the family coach, to coordinate support across programmes and services, so that ComLink+ families enjoy Comprehensive, C oordinated, and C onvenient support. 

c.        MSF currently has about 120 family coaches and we plan to recruit 200 more. We have also recruited and trained about 1,600 volunteer befrienders, working alongside our family coaches. All in, each family coach, aided by volunteer befrienders, is expected to support between 25 and 35 families, and meet with them at least once every one to two months at the beginning. 

B. ComLink+ Progress Packages – Recognising and Supplementing Families’ Efforts 

10.        In a shift from social assistance to empowerment, we will provide financial top-ups through ComLink+ Progress Packages to recognise and supplement ComLink+ families’ efforts in working towards stable employment, financial stability, home ownership, and giving their children a good start in education. 

11.        The first ComLink+ Package for Preschool will be launched in the second half of this year, and we will roll out the rest of the ComLink+ Packages subsequently. 

12.        The early years are crucial for a child’s learning and development. Enrolling in preschool by age 3 and attending preschool regularly will give Laila a good start in life, and better prepare her for Primary One. 

13.        This is why the ComLink+ Package for Preschool will recognise parents’ efforts to prioritise their children’s preschool education. This is how it will work:

a.        Every child between ages 3 and 6 in a ComLink+ family who enrols in and attends preschool regularly, can receive up to $3,700 in their Child Development Account (or CDA). 

b.        This includes a one-time CDA top-up of $500 when the child is enrolled in preschool in the year that he or she turns 3, and $200 for each quarter that the child achieves at least 75% attendance in the preschool. 

c.        These top-ups are funded by one of our ComLink+ anchor partners, DBS. The Government will also match these CDA top-ups as part of the Baby Bonus Scheme, so that the child can get as much as $7,400 in total in their CDA. I would like to emphasise that the parents do not need to make any monetary contribution. All they need to do is to enrol and send their child to preschool regularly. 

14.        As Laila continues her preschool education, Aini will also benefit from the preschool subsidies given to lower-income households. Mr Gerald Giam would be pleased to know that full-day childcare fees for children from all lower-income families at Anchor Operator preschools cost as low as $3 monthly. 

15.        If Laila regularly attends a government-supported preschool until 6, not only will the ComLink+ CDA top-ups fully pay for her preschool fees, there will also be ample balance remaining in her CDA that can be used for her healthcare and other primary school expenses. 


C. Expansion of ComLink+ 

16.        Since the nationwide scale-up of ComLink, we have been encouraged by the good response from the families, many of whom have agreed to work with us. 

17.        And we are now ready to embark on our next move – to provide ComLink+ support to families beyond those in public rental housing. From this month onwards, and over the next three years, we will expand ComLink+ to cover another 3,000 lower-income families who are not in public rental housing and are eligible for KidSTART or UPLIFT Community Network. These families face similar challenges as our ComLink+ families and would also benefit from family coach support and the ComLink+ Progress Packages. 

Our Approach to Uplifting those in Need: A Refreshed Approach 

18.        ComLink+ embodies our refreshed approach to support our lower-income families, something that Mr Melvin Yong touched upon:

a.        First, our approach has to be family-centric. Our family coaches recognise each family’s unique aspirations, strengths, and circumstances, and work with them to chart their next steps. They also take the lead to coordinate and integrate support for the families they serve, giving families more headspace to plan for their own future and achieve their goals. 

b.        Second, our shift from social assistance to social empowerment, where we help families move forward as they work towards a better future. ComLink+ aims to empower families to achieve the 3S outcomes of Stability, Self-reliance, and eventually, Social mobility over the long term. This is distinct from social assistance that serves immediate needs but may have less direct and sustained impact on longer-term outcomes. 

c.        Third, our greatest support comes from partnerships: our volunteers, and our partners. Our ComLink+ partners across the people, private and public sectors contribute what they can to support others in need.

i.        Our anchor partners, DBS, Singapore Pools, and most recently, The Ngee Ann Kongsi, fund some of the ComLink+ Progress Packages. DBS, for instance, has made a contribution of over $30 million to the ComLink+ Packages for Preschool and Home Ownership. 

ii.       Many DBS staff have also stepped forward as befrienders, while Singapore Pools staff are volunteering at various ComLink+ programmes. Students like Ansel Lim and Adele Koo from NUS, whom I've also met recently, are Aini’s befrienders. They play with Laila and organise outings with the family. And in this Year of Celebrating Volunteers, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to our ComLink+ volunteers for devoting your time and energy to journey alongside these families. 

iii.      We welcome community partners to work alongside ComLink+ to offer complementary programmes where there is a need, such as debt counselling, financial literacy, homework supervision, and sports programmes. In this way, everyone contributes to uplifting our lower-income families. 

19.        Looking ahead, we hope that ComLink+ will support families’ pursuit of long-term aspirations. Going forward, we will track ComLink+ families’ progress towards the 3S outcomes, and work with local academics to evaluate the efficacy of the ComLink+ Progress Packages. 

20.        Aini’s challenges are not unique. In every society, there will be those who struggle from time to time. However, what really reflects our moral fibre as a society is how we work together to make sure that no one is permanently stranded at the bottom of the barrel. As our lower-income families work hard to build a better tomorrow for themselves, let us support and journey alongside them. 


II. Enabling Persons with Disabilities 

21.        I now move on to enabling persons with disabilities. I would like to assure Ms Denise Phua and Ms Rahayu Mazham that we are working hard and making good progress on implementing our Enabling Masterplan 2030. SG Enable plays a key role in galvanising an extensive range of partners towards our EMP2030 goals. Members can refer to MSF’s website for more detailed updates (as Ms Denise Phua mentioned you might have to do a few clicks, but you can find all the details there), but today, I will share key efforts and progress. 


A. Empowering Persons with Disabilities in the Workplace 

22.        First, we want to empower persons with disabilities to pursue their work aspirations – to get a job and to stay employed. To do this, we adopt a person-centric approach, providing a range of employment support programmes to cater to various needs and capabilities. 

23.        SG Enable piloted the Place-and-Train programme in 2021, where employers receive salary support of up to 90% while they train persons with disabilities placed with them. Through Place-and-Train, 131 employers have hired more than 330 persons with disabilities. We will extend the programme for 2 more years and place and train another 200 persons with disabilities by 2026. 

24.        Last December, SG Enable launched the first Enabling Business Hub at Jurong, (or EBH@Jurong), partnering employers, training providers and social service agencies, to bring job opportunities in the logistics sector closer to persons with disabilities in the West. The onsite team at EBH@Jurong also provides enhanced employment support, for up to 24 months at a higher intensity, to support those with higher job support needs. 

25.        For some, the road to employment is a longer journey. I recently met Lek Wei and his parents. 

26.        Lek Wei is autistic and often had meltdowns. After graduation, he enrolled as a Sheltered Workshop trainee with the Knead with Love bakery at the THK Pan-Disability Centre @ Eunos. 

27.        The team provided a structured environment with routines, made efforts to understand how Lek Wei received instructions, and gave him time and space when he was overwhelmed. He picked up skills like weighing ingredients, rolling dough, and found joy in making delicious bread for others. 

28.        Gradually, Lek Wei could regulate his emotions better, and made such good progress that he secured a job trial at Boon Café @ ITE College Central. During this trial period, the Sheltered Workshop and Job Coaches guided Boon Café in job redesigning. For example, Boon Café personalised Lek Wei’s workstation by labelling the ingredients and colour coding the steps to his recipes. The Café employees also learned how to communicate with him. They speak to him slowly, with simple words. 

29.        Through all these efforts, Lek Wei assimilated well and a few months later, Boon Café offered Lek Wei full-time employment. And Lek Wei was Boon Cafe’s first employee with disability, and he opened the door for the hiring of three more at the cafe. I also tasted some of the pastries that he made, I must say they were yummy-licious. 

30.        Mr Ong Hua Han would be interested to know that our Sheltered Workshops provide a structured learning and training environment, with support from allied health professionals and training officers. 

31.        As shown through Lek Wei, such environments enable those with higher needs to learn and develop at their own pace, and hopefully eventually enter open employment. 

32.        As demand for Sheltered Workshop spaces remains high, we will increase capacity by 500 spaces, from the current 1,700 to 2,200 by 2030. We will add 100 spaces to APSN’s Centre for Adults this year, with the rest added progressively over the next few years. 

33.        Because of the good uptake of the range of work opportunities, we raised the employment rate of resident persons with disabilities aged 15 to 64 from about 28% in 2018 to 2019, to 33% in 2022 to 2023. And we will press on towards our aspirational employment target of 40% by 2030. 

34.        I am heartened, as Ms Carrie Tan and Ms Ng Ling Ling would be too, that more employers like Boon Café are hiring inclusively. These employers are accredited with the Enabling Mark. Based on the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey for 2022 and 2023, close to half of persons with disabilities were employed in Community, Social & Personal Services, Manufacturing, and F&B Services. To expand the jobs available, SG Enable is reaching out to employers in emerging sectors such as Transport & Storage, including Logistics, and Financial & Insurance Services. 

35.        We call upon more employers to be inclusive hirers, so that more people like Lek Wei can pursue their work aspirations. 


B. Activating Communities to Build Inclusive Neighbourhoods 

36.        Beyond employers, the community plays a key role in enabling our persons with disabilities to live independently and feel valued. In the Enabling Masterplan, we committed to provide a continuum of support services that enable persons with disabilities to live in the community. 

37.        For those unable to work, our Day Activity Centres (or DACs) help to equip them with essential daily and community living skills. We will add 500 DAC spaces, from the current 1,800 to 2,300 by 2030. We will add 50 spaces to the MINDS Jurong Training and Development Centre by 2025, with the rest added progressively in the next few years. 

38.        SG Enable launched the first Enabling Services Hub (or ESH) in Tampines last August. The ESH complements current support services by bringing services and programmes closer to homes of persons with disabilities. Through working with community partners, we hope to create inclusive neighbourhoods and strengthen support for adults with disabilities and their caregivers, especially for those no longer actively receiving services. 

39.        Take Irfan and his mother Mdm Sheriffa whom I recently met as well, for example. Irfan was not suitable for work after graduation and was staying at home. Thankfully, Sheriffa was connected to the ESH, which engaged Irfan in various activities close to where they stayed. One activity Irfan enjoys is volunteer book-shelving at the Tampines Regional Library. He volunteers every Thursday, so every Wednesday night, he hangs up his blue volunteer T-shirt, looking forward to volunteering the very next day. Irfan also enjoys community fitness activities at Tampines West Community Club, including inclusive floorball activities. Now these activities have brought Irfan out of isolation and into the community.


C. Support for Caregivers

40.        Mdm Sheriffa works night shifts at a fast-food restaurant and takes care of Irfan in the day. Irfan’s engagement in activities allows Sheriffa to run errands or to have much-needed respite before work. Sherrifa has also made friends with fellow caregivers through ESH activities, and knows she is not alone. To date, the first ESH has supported more than 140 persons with disabilities and caregivers living in Tampines and Bedok. Riding on this encouraging progress, we will launch the second and third ESH in 2025, one in the North-East covering Punggol, Hougang, Sengkang and Serangoon, and one in the West focusing on Jurong West. 

41.        We hope that the ESHes will support more persons with disabilities like Irfan and very importantly, provide respite for caregivers like Sheriffa too. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Ong Hua Han that we need to support our caregivers, who play an indispensable role, in fact, it is also a point I also made in my speech in the debate on the Budget statement just a week ago. CaringSG will collaborate with the ESH and other communities to strengthen community and peer support. 

42.        To support persons with disabilities and their caregivers with long-term financial and care planning, more than 1,200 trust accounts have been set up with the Special Needs Trust Company (or SNTC). We share Mr Murali Pillai’s hope that more families will set up trust accounts and tap on the Special Needs Saving Scheme (SNSS) to set aside CPF savings for long-term care. SNTC works with key partners, including SG Enable, SPED schools and Social Service Agencies to reach out to families. 

43.        The Government is also strengthening support on caregiving costs:

a.         For those who require point-to-point transport to commute to SPED schools and community-based programmes, we will increase the Enabling Transport Subsidy or ETS from 1 April 2024 to alleviate the cost of transport services. Currently, about 5,400 beneficiaries are receiving the ETS. With this increase, about 40% of families currently receiving the ETS can expect a reduction in their out-of-pocket transport fees by 10% or more. 

b.         Also, DPM Wong announced that we will update the per capita household income threshold for means-tested subsidies so thatt more families can benefit from subsidies like ETS. Valid means-test results can also be shared across schemes so that beneficiaries need not undergo repeated means-testing within a period of time. This will help ensure that our schemes and subsidies remain accessible to those who need them. 


Whole-of-Society Effort to Build an Inclusive Singapore Made for Families, including those with PwDs 

44.        Lastly, the Enabling Masterplan commits to improving accessibility and inclusiveness in our social and physical environments. We have extensively improved the accessibility of our public transport and public spaces – all public buses and train stations, and almost all public sector buildings are wheelchair-accessible. 

45.        You and I can play our part through small but impactful actions such as looking out for those who need a hand, smiling more, staring less at unusual behaviour, and focusing on their abilities and not limitations. Because together, we can build a caring and inclusive society. 

46.        Chair, in Mandarin, please. 

47.        许多国人理想中的《新加坡》是一个互 关怀,彼此包容的社会,让所有新加坡人都有机会实现‘个人愿景’的家园。今天,让我分享我们如何协助‘低收入家庭’和‘残障人士’追求自己的理想,发挥最大的潜能。 

48.        首先,提升版社区联系计划 (ComLink+) 反映了我们协助‘低收入家庭’提升能力的宗旨:也就是鼓励他们采取行动,积极向前进。 

49.        其中,‘家庭导师’会考量‘各户家庭‘的处境, 需求和潜能, 和他们共同制定计划, 实现目标。ComLink+ ‘前进配套’会为低收入家庭在就业、减轻债务、存钱购屋和学前教育四大方面提供额外补贴, 让他们更快达成目标。我们将在今年率先推出‘学前教育配套’,鼓励家长尽早为孩子报名学前教育中心,并且定期上学。 

50.        ComLink+也聚集了跨领域伙伴们的支持。除了部长提到的义工们,ComLink+伙伴遍布‘社会服务’,‘公共’和‘私人’领域。由‘星展银行’、‘新加坡博彩公司’和‘义安公司’为首的机构,出钱出力协助ComLink+家庭们。 

51.        今年作为‘欢庆义工年’,我要特别感谢我们Comlink+的志工友伴们,尽心尽力、陪伴低收入家庭一起实现他们的目标。 

52.        我们继续致力于为残障人士根据他们个别的需求与潜能,提供不同的就业机会。这包括延长‘入职培训计划’, 和增加‘庇护职场’的名额。 

53.        工作以外,我们致力于协助残障人士独立生活并更好地融入社会。我们将增加‘日间活动中心’的名额,并且在今年内于‘东北部’和‘西部’增设两个‘包容残障服务中心’, 把社交和学习机会带进社区里。 

54.        对低收入家庭和残障人士而言,对未来的期许总是承载着今日的包袱。政府和社会服务伙伴们秉持着‘以人为本’的原则,以‘个人’和‘家庭’的角度出发,推出不同的服务模式满足各种需求,激发潜能。我们希望‘社会各界’对我们阐述的愿景能够产生共鸣,并与我们一同采取行动,打造一个更有爱心,更具包容性的社会! 


III. Conclusion 

55.        Sir, I started my speech asking “whether Singapore can be a caring and inclusive place for all families, including our lower-income families and those with persons with disabilities”. 

56.        Aini, Lek Wei, and Irfran have shown us, we can:

a.         We can, when the person and family do their best to achieve their aspirations;

b.         We can, when our social service partners and professionals journey alongside these families;

b.         We can, when employers hire inclusively;

c.         We can, when our volunteers take time and energy to befriend our families and persons with disabilities; and 

d.         And we can, when you and I look out for those amongst in need. 

57.        This is our refreshed social compact that we set out under Forward Singapore. Together, we can create a caring and inclusive Singapore – where everyone can progress, fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations – a Singapore made for all Singapore families.

58.        Thank you.