Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim (Sengkang): The Social Services Office (SSO) supports the less fortunate and less able in our society with the Community Care Endowment Fund or ComCare payouts. The Fund was launched in June 2005 and in FY2021, it amounted to $2.4 billion, disbursing around $177 million to about 100,000 individuals, a non-trivial number, including cash assistance for a shorter as well as longer duration.
During my Meet-the-People Sessions, I have occasionally encountered residents who had shared with me about their reluctance to pursue ComCare assistance because they find that the approval process is intrusive, onerous or demeaning. SSO officers often require a careful and complete accounting of a household’s income and expenses, and offers strong indications of what they regard as reasonable or not.
At some level, this is fair and expected. ComCare are public monies and the Government has to be responsible with the disbursement of such funds. But, on the other, it is important to allow the needy to retain their dignity, even as they seek financial assistance.
There is one way that we can potentially soften the intrusiveness of this process. A significant share of assistance rendered is in the form of regular bills with public and semi-public agencies, such as rental, utilities and S&CC. Could these be obtained directly from these entities rather than provided by the resident?
I understand that this would mean potentially additional costs, at least at the outset, in terms of setting up informational exchange systems. But once established, the automation will reduce the need for additional verification or data entry. This is the added advantage that the system could be tuned to flag extraordinary increases or decreases, should these occur to better target assistance.
There is yet another strategy that we can also deploy to reduce the need for documentary scrutiny. We can deploy conditional cash transfers, or CCTs, in exchange for supplementary educational expenditures, such as tuition or fees and equipment spending for co-curricular activities, or CCAs. Such support will enable low-income children who would otherwise be unable to pursue such opportunities, which are increasingly becoming de rigueur in a holistic education in Singapore. Of course, disbursements will be conditional on their continued participation in these activities.
CCTs have been successful deployed in many advanced and developing countries settings for the purposes of social protection, especially in terms of improving outcomes for school-going children. CCTs are also not alien in the local context.
In this regard, the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund supports around 12,000 beneficiaries, providing cash in exchange for school assistance. Research suggests that the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund has achieved is educational goals. But such beneficiaries are likely to be a fraction of those of school-going age who are in need of financial help, the support is of a limited duration and the grant amounts are also relatively small.
Mr Chairman, I believe that the SSO already applies some conditionality for ComCare payouts, requiring households that receive financial support ensure that their children attend school. A CCT explicitly for ComCare targeted towards supplementary educational expenditures will fill a gap in our educational support for low-income households while keeping children as well as their parents accountable.
Ministry of Social and Family Development
3 March 2023