MP Carrie Tan’s views on Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Committee of Supply Debate 2022
The lengthy pandemic has left many families unable to find steady footing. Because the pandemic looks set to stay, we need to adjust our policies to grant lower-income families more stability through enhanced financial assistance.
I recommend two things: 1) extending and standardising ComCare assistance post-employment; 2) putting more human touch in the assistance application process.
First, I recommend extending Comcare automatically for 12 months upon employment and tapering it off throughout their first year of work. Employment alone is often not enough for families to leave poverty behind permanently. Although Comcare recognises the need for continued financial assistance post-employment, it is on a case-by-case basis, providing no certainty and hence creating anxiety. It’s a real fear for some that their family will be cut off from financial aid once they obtain employment.
For years, we’ve been afraid that more financial assistance would make people less willing to work – but this is simply not true. In fact, withdrawing financial support upon employment has created a disincentive in some families who become reluctant to secure a job. The trade-off of giving up time to care for their family members, or bearing with physical ailments and pain to go to work is not worth the net benefit in added income they get after losing their financial assistance.
Getting out of poverty is not a simple matter of “bouncing back”, it is a long hike, and we need to give them the tools and support for them to do the climb.
Reliable & consistent financial assistance can be those necessary tools to allow people to achieve financial independence in the long term.
Second, although I appreciate MSF’s continuous efforts to streamline and digitalise aid applications for vulnerable families, these families may still be left behind. Many residents who see me at MPS struggle to use even Gmail on their phones – and these are residents who are in their 30s and 40s. They would find it hard to log into a portal and navigate it independently, especially those who aren’t good at English. We should bridge the digital gap by training Comlink Befrienders to help lower-income families with their applications and provide the necessary PDPA allowances and safeguards.
Until we grant stable and free internet connection to Comcare recipients and significantly raise digital literacy rates among the lower-income, we can reduce the social service workers’ administrative burden by granting automatic extensions. We do not need complex technology if we can simplify our policies. It is possible to achieve a win-win on both fronts, increasing expediency and human touch in our social services.