ST: ‘Sob’ stories that never ask the ‘obvious’?


What’s the point of so many ‘sob’ stories, without linking them to the list of assistance schemes featured?

I refer to the article “Why the poor are poor: Barriers, bad choices and bad luck” (Straits Times, Jul 1).

It states that “Housewife June Tholasiammal, 50, lives in a two-room rental flat and frets about medical costs. She suffers from cancer and asthma and is anaemic; her husband has a long-term medical condition too. Their combined medical fees exceed $1,000 a month and can be higher if she is hospitalised, which happened four times last year. Both their Medisave accounts are depleted.

Her condition does not allow her to work, and the family depends on her husband’s $1,800 salary as a security officer. They also have help – a monthly handout of about $700 from the Social Service Office.

But after setting aside money for medical bills, rent, groceries and expenses for their two teenage girls, there is little left for long-term plans.”

Why is it that this family of four with a household monthly income of just $1,800 can qualify for “a monthly handout of about $700 from the Social Service Office”, but “Their combined medical fees exceed $1,000 a month and can be higher if she is hospitalised, which happened four times last year. Both their Medisave accounts are depleted” – shouldn’t Medifund be taking care of their medical bills?

As to “The 44-year-old cleaner says the cramped conditions in the one-room rental flat, where the family has lived for eight years, make life difficult.

As his epileptic wife cannot work, Mr Chong is the sole breadwinner and earns a monthly keep of $1,300.

It is hard to make ends meet, he says. They have accumulated rent and utilities arrears of nearly $600. Brief respite comes in the form of cigarettes, which he spends $100 a month on” – why is there no mention as to whether they are receiving any financial assistance under ComCare, since their household monthly income is only $1,300 and they have been living in a “one-room rental flat” for eight years already?

On the same day in the Straits Times, there was an article “Multiple layers of assistance, says MSF” which said that “There are “multiple layers of assistance” for low-income Singaporeans, in areas including education, healthcare, housing, employment and retirement adequacy, says the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

“Broad-based subsidies are available for all, and at the same time, we target more help for those who need it the most,” said a spokesman in response to queries from The Sunday Times. “A network of community agencies and partners also support the vulnerable in different areas of need.”

Chief among its suite of programmes is ComCare, which disbursed $130 million to about 83,000 beneficiaries in the financial year of 2016. Besides cash, it may also help cover utilities, service and conservancy charges, medical needs and rental fees.

“MSF’s Social Service Offices work with the families to address other issues they may be facing, to enable these families to stabilise and where possible, get back on their own feet,” said the spokesman” – why is it that the above two families do not seem to be getting any or adequate assistance for their medical expenses (June Tholasiammal family) and cash financial assistance (Chong family)?

Why can’t the Straits Times try to link the stories to what financial assistance they are actually getting under the various schemes, instead of just listing the schemes available?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.