BY MR LEE HSIEN LOONG,PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE, AT
THE LAUNCH OF COMCARE, 28 JUNE 2005, 3.30 PM AT THE NTUC
Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon,
Chairman of the ComCare Supervisory Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to be here this afternoon
to launch the ComCare Fund. ComCare is an expression of our
concern for the weakest members of our community. We will support
these Singaporeans as our economy and society changes.
independence, as the Singapore economy took off and developed year
by year, life improved for all Singaporeans. The fruits of growth
were spread widely. Incomes rose across the board. But since the
Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, income gaps have widened.
Globalisation has caused incomes to stagnate at the lower end,
while incomes continue to rise at the higher end, albeit less
quickly than before. This is a worldwide trend, and the latest
Household Expenditure Survey (HES) shows that Singapore is not
immune to it.
The Government continues to help
every Singaporean benefit from the country¡¯s progress. Our public
housing programme has made us a home owning society. Our education
system gives every student, regardless of family background, the
opportunity to do well and rise to the top. Our healthcare system
delivers good, affordable medical care to all, rich or poor. These
crucial policies and systems greatly mitigate the impact of
globalisation on Singaporeans, even though they cannot nullify
the powerful economic forces which hold down the wages of
unskilled workers everywhere.
As a result, low income Singaporeans
are much better off than low income groups in any other country in
Asia. We do not have destitute persons sleeping on the streets.
Our unemployment rate remains one of the lowest among developed
economies. The health status of our population is among the best
in the world. A young Singaporean has a better chance of getting
a tertiary education in Singapore than in many first world
I studied the HES closely, because
our aim is to take care of every Singaporean, and not just those
at the top. I focussed particularly on the lowest income group ¨C
those in the bottom 20% in terms of per-capita household income.
Their incomes have hardly risen over the last five years. But I
was relieved to find that in terms of home ownership and of their
possessions, many in this group are not that badly off. Four out
of five of these households own their homes. More than half (51%)
actually stay in 4-room or larger HDB flats. A large proportion
of these households also own consumer durables. Despite their low
incomes, 61% have audio/video compact disc players, 42% have
air-conditioners, and 63% own handphones. All these figures have
gone up substantially in five years between 1998 and 2003. This is
a remarkable and encouraging picture.
A Government that Cares
We must do all we can to help lower
income Singaporeans and their dependents break out of the poverty
trap. We must prevent an underclass from forming and growing, as
that would undermine and fracture our social cohesion. This is a
multi-faceted problem with no quick and easy solutions. It will
require a comprehensive effort ¨C by the government, the employers,
VWOs and most importantly, the people themselves. They must take
responsibility for their own situations, and do their part to
improve their own lives. But these Singaporeans will often need
assistance to prevent them from being overwhelmed by their
immediate problems. We must also open up more opportunities for
them through redesigning and re-creating unskilled jobs, which are
more productive and can pay better. We need to upgrade the skills
of the present workers, and to educate the next generation so that
they will not face the same problem when they grow up.
On the government¡¯s part, the effort
involves multiple ministries, working together to solve a national
problem. I have therefore set up a Ministerial Committee on Low
Wage Workers, chaired by Dr Ng Eng Hen, to study the problem in
all its aspects, and recommend policies and measures the
Government can take.
ComCare¡¯s goals are more narrowly
focussed. With economic restructuring, a small but growing
minority of Singaporeans will face hardship. The breadwinner may
lose his job, a family member may fall ill, or the children may
have problems meeting school expenses. ComCare will provide a
safety net for this small group. By targeting our resources, we
can make a real difference to their lives, without inadvertently
discouraging other able-bodied Singaporeans from making the effort
to work and provide for themselves.
ComCare complements the other
elements of our social safety net. We already have CPF for old
age, Edusave for our children, Medifund for basic medical care,
and the Lifelong Learning Fund for skills upgrading and training.
Now with ComCare, we can do more to reach out to needy
Singaporeans, in focussed and effective ways.
With ComCare, no needy family who is
prepared to work hard towards self-reliance will be left hungry.
No child will be deprived from going to school because of
poverty. No poor elderly or disabled person will be left alone
without community care and support.
Self-Reliance as the Goal
ComCare aims to help the needy help
themselves, and work towards being able to support themselves and
their families again. This is important because it invests the
individual with confidence and dignity. It also ensures that the
assistance rendered is sustainable in the long run.
avoid a welfare mentality in Singapore. It is important therefore
that we stress mutual responsibility on the part of the
Government and the individual needing help. ComCare will be a
springboard that will help needy Singaporeans to bounce back from
ComCare will work actively with the
community to achieve its goal. Many Singaporeans care deeply
about their fellow citizens, and are prepared to come forward, and
spend the time and effort to help those who are less fortunate.
ComCare will build on and reinforce this strong capacity of the
community and people sector to care for and help the needy amongst
In particular, ComCare will get the
CDCs, and the grassroots and community organisations more involved
in delivering assistance programmes for needy Singaporeans. This
will be more flexible than a central government bureaucracy, and
better able to exercise discretion and judgment. Being closer to
the ground, our grassroots leaders know their residents best, and
are best placed to identify those that need help, and the kind of
help required. As one grassroots leader put it, ¡°we know because
of our solid neighbourhood network and we move around a lot.¡±
Based on these broad principles, the
ComCare Supervisory Committee has been working with the grassroots
and community organisations to initiate several new programmes and
to enhance existing ones. Let me highlight four examples.
First, ComCare will establish a
ComCare Enterprise Fund (CEF) with a Fund size of $3 million a
year. The CEF will provide seed funding to start viable social
enterprises which will provide jobs and a means of support for the
The Ministry of Community Development
Youth and Sports (MCYS) has been helping to establish such social
enterprises on a smaller scale. Several enterprises have already
started operations, with services ranging from gift-wrapping to
selling home-made items such as candles and soap products. The
CEF will enable MCYS to expand this programme, and support more
Second, ComCare will increase the
assistance per child under the Kindergarten Financial Assistance
Scheme (or KiFAS). KiFAS was set up in 2004 to help low income
parents pay for their children¡¯s kindergarten fees. This year,
KiFAS has provided financial support for 9,000 children in low
income families. This constitutes 80% of the children aged 5 to 6
years from low income families. We will now enhance KiFAS, so
that more of these children are able to attend kindergarten.
Education is the key to breaking out of the poverty cycle, and
these children must build strong foundations for their future.
With this additional support from
ComCare, a needy family will typically only pay $20 each month to
send a child to kindergarten. The grassroots and voluntary
welfare organisations will reach out to needy families to ensure
that no child misses out on this opportunity.
Third, ComCare will set aside $10
million each year to develop new programmes run by community
organisations. Some of the programmes being piloted include a
Meals-at-Home service for the home-bound elderly, a home-based
therapy scheme for the disabled, and an initiative by the
Tampines-Changkat Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) called
¡°Silver Connect¡±, which will specifically reach out to the elderly
who may be lonely and draw them out into the community.
Fourth, ComCare will help to set up
CCC ComCare Funds, which will be run by the CCCs. ComCare will
allocate $4 million this year to establish these Funds, which will
enable the CCCs to help needy residents quickly and flexibly
through local schemes. I believe that the CCCs will exercise
their discretion wisely, and focus their resources on the
residents in most urgent need.
The Government is committed to do
more to assist the needy. Through ComCare, we will provide the
vulnerable members of our society with the means to support
themselves and their families. To succeed in this endeavour, all
Singaporeans have to do their part. Through our collective
efforts we can build a more compassionate society, where everyone
has a place and a purpose, and where every Singaporean can share
in the benefits of globalisation and the promise of our nation.
www.mcys.gov.sg Press Release
28 Jun 2005