SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other Government agencies have stepped up measures to address various needs arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Monday (Apr 6).
Mr Lee was responding to questions in Parliament from Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong.
Ms Ong asked how the ministry would be monitoring and assessing the impact of COVID-19 on “low-income Singaporean and transnational families, low-income seniors, the differently-abled, and persons with mental health conditions”.
In response, Mr Lee said: “Our SSOs proactively contact past or present ComCare clients who have been issued quarantine orders or stay-home notices to see if they require any financial assistance, and facilitate their applications where needed.
“We have also made the application process more convenient by allowing them to submit their documents electronically.”
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The minister added that MSF is also working with the People’s Association (PA) as it provides assistance in buying food and groceries for individuals who are under quarantine or serving stay-home notices, but lack support from their families or neighbours.
Additionally, Silver Generation Ambassadors from the Silver Generation Office have started visiting seniors who are frail or live alone in their homes to let them know about the COVID-19 precautionary measures.
“They also identify seniors who require additional assistance during this period, and link them up with the appropriate social service agencies and service providers to ensure that their needs are met,” said Mr Lee.
MSF TO SET UP NATIONAL CARE HOTLINE
In a supplementary question, Ms Ong asked what measures are in place to ensure that individuals at risk of family violence continue to receive support, even as the public is encouraged to stay home during this period.
“There is a trend we are observing – higher rates of domestic violence, domestic quarrels and friction in the family,” said Mr Lee in response. “We are going to set up a national care hotline where anybody can call in to be supported by psychologists, counselors and other people. We then refer these people to specialist services to enable them to get the help they need.”
The minister added that Family Violence Specialist Centres and Child Protection Specialist Centres are essential services, which will be “adequately resourced during this time”.
“While we want to put in place safe distancing measures for the protection of the vulnerable individuals, as well as our social sector professionals, these social service agencies will continue to function as essential services,” said Mr Lee.
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“WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY APPROACH” IMPORTANT
In his reply in Parliament, Mr Lee also said that the ministry will continue to “make social services and help more comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated”.
Responding to Ms Ong’s question on multi-ministry efforts that are put in place to support Singaporeans, Mr Lee gave the example of food insecurity.
“We have convened a multi-sector workgroup comprising food organisations, volunteer groups, and government agencies to address issues of food waste and distribution inefficiencies,” he added.
“Such partnerships complement ongoing schemes such as ComCare that assist low-income households with daily living expenses including food, and MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme for school-going children in lower-income families.”
Under the COVID-19 Support Grant, which was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Mar 26, low- and middle-income workers who have lost their jobs can also receive a grant of S$800 for three months as they look for a new job or undergo training.
Mr Lee stressed the importance of “a whole-of-society approach” to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, because caring for each other and the vulnerable is a “national imperative”.
“We see an outpouring of support from corporates, unions, volunteer groups, grassroots, and religious groups to support those in need. Many have also donated generously to The Courage Fund to support our healthcare and frontline workers, and lower-income families affected by COVID-19,” the minister said.
“Beyond cushioning the economic impact, it is also about sustaining relationships and strengthening our social capital as a collective.”
“COVID-19 may have brought challenges for us, but this is also an opportunity for us to strengthen our communal bonds and build a stronger Singapore for all,” he added.