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    Dec 18, 2015

    $116m in ComCare aid to the poor

    A RECORD sum of $116 million in social assistance payments were made to the poor in the last financial year, ending March 2015.

    This was a 14 per cent jump from the previous year and almost double the $61 million given out five years ago.

    This money was used to help 91,093 individuals last year, up from 54,041 five years ago.

    ComCare is a key social safety net for low-income Singaporeans and it provides three broad types of assistance: long-term help, largely for the elderly poor; interim as well as short-to-medium term help for those facing crises, such as illness or retrenchment; kindergarten and student care subsidies for children.

    A portion of the money - $68.5 million - came from interest generated by the Community Care (ComCare) Endowment Fund, set up by the Government in 2005 to help needy families get back on their feet.

    The rest came from the budget of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

    The biggest jump last year was in short-to-medium-term payouts, which rose from $55.7 million in 2013 to $68.7 million last year, said the latest ComCare annual report. Five years ago, such payouts amounted to $16.6 million.

    One reason could be the rise in the number of people who live alone and therefore need more support.

    Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin noted that one- and two-person households under short-to-medium term assistance rose from 51.4 per cent in 2012 to 55.8 per cent last year.

    Households given such an assistance can receive vouchers for transport and rent, monthly cash grants, medical assistance and help in job search or training.

    Spending on long-term help grew to $18.7 million last year, up from $17.3 million the year before. Data from the report showed that 65 per cent of households on such assistance are the elderly who live alone.

    They receive cash handouts for daily expenses and those with children get help with school expenses.

    In a newly created blog called MSF Conversations, Mr Tan wrote: "The increase (in ComCare financial assistance) is not too surprising because we have increased our efforts in the last few years to bring help closer to those in need."

    The 24th Social Service Office (SSO), that completed Singapore's social services network, was officially launched in Taman Jurong earlier this week. SSOs administer ComCare assistance and plan social services in their neighbourhoods.

    Mr Tan added: "We have also adjusted some of our income criteria thresholds so that more can be assisted."

    Since July last year, the household income cap for short-to-medium-term aid was raised from $1,700 to $1,900.

    National University of Singapore's Irene Ng noted that economic disparity has "improved somewhat" over the past two years.

    But "we are still not past the problems of high income inequality, bottom wage stagnation, high costs of living and fast pace of growth that makes it harder for the less able to catch up", said the Associate Professor of Social Work.