Needy needs more help not ‘faster help’?

Photo: Narin BI/CC BY 2.0Photo: Narin BI/CC BY 2.0

What the needy needs is ‘more help’ not ‘faster help’?

I refer to the article “Faster help for needy families” (Straits Times, Jul 30).

It states that “Some social workers believe families that need help are more likely to take the first step in seeking aid when social service agencies are accessible and visible. That is why a new integrated support system to bring key services closer to rental flat residents is an apt move.

Announced last week, it will not only bring social services closer to rental blocks, but also ensure tighter coordination between government agencies and voluntary welfare organisations.

An earlier initiative, Project 4650, had illustrated the merits of a coordinated approach. Initiated by South East District Mayor Maliki Osman – a qualified social worker – it brought together different government agencies and community groups to help residents in two Bedok South Interim Rental Housing blocks become self-reliant.

When the new integrated support system for rental flat residents is in place, individuals will ideally be directed to a single touch point in their area for assistance so they can get help quicker.

A tightly coordinated effort can also help to reduce the frustration of being referred to different agencies for their various needs.

The new system will be introduced in two to three neighbourhoods for a start and, as the devil is in the details, to see if it can achieve a level of success similar to Project 4650.

If it can, then hopefully it will be extended beyond those few estates so that all 50,000 or so rental households islandwide – and those living in interim housing – can benefit from it too.”

Arguably, which is more important to the needy – ‘faster help’ or ‘more help’?

In this connection, according to the article “Wanted: Master media agency to handle bulk of govt ad spending” (Straits Times, Apr 14) –  “According to this year’s Budget, the Government spent $275 million on public relations and communications in 2016, $296 million last year and has allocated $339 million for the current financial year.

Separately, the Housing Board issued a $2.9 million tender to marketing communications agency J. Walter Thompson, which beat six agencies for a two-year research and communications campaign. The goal, tender documents said, is to “enhance confidence in HDB’s capabilities to provide affordable and quality public housing, and address perception issues about HDB’s policies and programmes””.

Most of the “communications” that I have seen in various media, like television, billboards, etc, seem to be focused on how people are being or can be helped.

I suggest that we need to review the balance between the amount that we spend on PR and communications versus say the amount of financial assistance that the needy gets.

Is spending $339 million versus just $130 million for ComCare, arguably, rather off-balance?

Are there any countries that spend 2.5 times more on “PR and communications” than social welfare?

According to the article “Helping to tide them over a difficult phase” (Straits Times, Dec 10) – “In the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF’s) last financial year, the MSF gave out $130 million in ComCare help schemes to about 83,000 beneficiaries”.

If you total the number of households in the three categories (long-term, short to medium-term and student care fee assistance) – the total number of households is 40,738 (28,409 + 7,942 + 4,387).

Does this mean that this is 1,190 unique households or three per cent more than the 39,548 unique households according to the ComCare annual report for FY2015 which said that they received $130.2 million of financial assistance from ComCare.

So, does it mean that the amount of assistance remained the same at $130 million, despite the increase in the number of households helped?

Since the year ended March this year was a period of one of our worse economic downturns, with rising unemployment and hardly any jobs growth that actually went to Singaporeans – why has the amount of ComCare assistance remained the same at $130 million?

Less than 0.1% of GDP?

As out GDP is about $400 billion –  our ComCare spending is less than 0.1 per cent of GDP.

Lowest in the world?

Is this the lowest spending as a percentage of GDP of all the developing and developed countries in the world?

Less than 0.25% of govt expenditure?

With government operating expenditure in the Budget at about $60 billion – ComCare spending as a percentage of government operating expenditure is less than 0.22 per cent.

What about the additional millions that are spent running the 24 new social service offices (2014 – 2015) and the existing family service centres, Community Development Councils (CDCs), etc – which should be costed into the delivery of ComCare?

According to MSF – for FY2016 – ComCare disbursed $130 million to 83,000 beneficiaries.

$131 assistance per beneficiary?

Does this mean that the average assistance per beneficiary was only about $131 monthly ($130 million divided by 83,000 beneficiaries divided by 12 months)?

Doesn’t this amount seem kind of little?

In FY2010, ComCare disbursed about $60 million to 54,041 unique beneficiaries.

$93 assistance per beneficiary in 2010?

Does this mean that the average assistance per beneficiary was about $93 monthly ($60 million divided by 54,041 beneficiaries divided by 12 months)?

‘Real’ assistance didn’t increase much?

Does this mean that the average assistance per beneficiary per month increased by only about $38 in the six years from FY2010 to FY2016?

As inflation was about 12.6 per cent from 2010 to 2016 – does it mean that the average assistance per beneficiary per month only increased in real terms by only about $4 per year, when Singapore has the distinction of being the most expensive city in the world for the fifth consecutive year, according to the Economist?

How much did the costs of delivering assistance increase relative to the amount of assistance?

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.