Mr Leon Perera: Mr Chairman, Sir, in my Budget speech, I argued for a war on poverty and a different approach based on defining a poverty line, channeling all schemes through FSC social workers, reducing the stress involved in applying for financial assistance, providing longer lead times and larger amounts of financial assistance based on new research, and with part of it tied to conditions. I also called for more aggressive early intervention for children born into poor families. The overarching goal should be to achieve a massive measurable dent in poverty and the poverty cycle.
Sir, ComLink, which is to be scaled up across Singapore, reflects some of these elements but not all. I am specifically calling for FSCs to be able to approve and administer all the various State financial assistance schemes directly for those defined as poor and at risk. I argued for FSCs being like venture capitalists, making financial investments and coaching and hand-holding to get a return on that investment. Social workers today do not actually administer the aid in all cases. My arguments on the financial aid application process and amounts are also separate issues from what ComLink per se is focused on. To do all this, social workers need visibility on the holistic situation of the family. Vulnerable families often face complex issues, such as chronic illnesses, mental health issues, school absenteeism and other social issues. Hence, more needs to be done to ensure that social workers get that visibility via tools like One Client View and other forms of cross-agency data sharing, with permissions.
Sir, let me speak now on the social worker profession. Social workers should see an increase in their remuneration, given the increased scope of work. In 2019, the overall annual resignation rate of social workers was 17%, which is double that of the estimated 8% attrition rate of healthcare workers in 2021. In a recent SUSS study, 57% of social workers were found to be suffering from anxiety during the pandemic in 2020. Social workers are professionals battling a national crisis on the frontlines and should be adequately compensated. A revolving door of social workers is detrimental to the support offered to vulnerable families. I would like to ask the Government to review social workers’ compensation and progression pathways in a very outcomes-oriented way, with a view to raise retention. Above all, efforts should be made to expand recruitment so as to lower caseloads, as I spoke about in my Budget speech.
And lastly, Sir, one possible objection to all I have thus far said is this. One could say that providing more welfare support to the poor more smoothly will breed welfare dependency. By doing this, we will trap the poor in a cycle of welfare dependency and will doom them and their children to poverty. We used to hear this argument a lot. We still do and it is heard around the world. Such arguments are not without a grain of truth. Hence, I want to be absolutely clear.
I am not calling for unlimited welfare aid that is so much that it discourages work. What I am calling for is enough aid for the basic dignity of the poor relative to minimum wage benchmarks and inflation and based on the latest research; enough aid to break the poverty cycle for the children; and with aid delivered in such a way that it drives better outcomes. Above all – I am just wrapping up – we must set ambitious goals to massively reduce poverty and the poverty cycle. A nation which does not set ambitious goals in any policy arena —
The Chairman: Mr Perera, I am afraid you have to—you are almost a minute over your time.
Mr Leon Perera: Okay, I will end it there.
9 March 2022
Ministry of Social and Family Development