Giving hope to the helpless

Jan 2010    

EVIDENCE OF SINGAPORE’S GROWTH AND PROSPERITY is visibly evident everywhere. New shopping malls and hotels sprout and even in the recession, the malls and restaurants appear full.

But there is still a percentage of Singaporeans who struggle to survive in this modern and fast-paced country. ere are about 100,000 residents who make up the poorest 10 per cent in the country. As at February 2009, there were 2,900 Singaporean households who were on Public Assistance (PA). is assistance ranges from $360 for a single elderly living alone to $950 for a four-member family.

Most of them live in one- and two-bedroom rental flats. In some cases, large families cram into a 33-square-metre room (the one-room flat) without any partitioned kitchen or bedroom. ere are 42,000 such flats in Singapore, and they cater to families with an income ceiling of $1,500.

Based on research conducted in 2008, the average monthly household income per household member from the lowest income decile was $340. Even with PA, some families still have difficulties in making ends meet.

Around Singapore, there are 36 Family Service Centres (FSCs) located in various neighbourhoods and run by various organisations. ey assist these families in applying for financial assistance schemes and jobs. Whenever possible, FSCs also provide food rations, supermarket vouchers and transport card top-ups to tide them over.

Case workers work closely with the families to uncover other needs and try to find ways to help them. Workshops and support groups in areas such as budgeting and parenting provide advice and emotional support, while counselling helps clients to identify and work through their issues.

Breaking the vicious cycle
With 60 per cent of the wages of these families going towards the basic necessities of food, housing and utilities, not much is left for their children’s education, savings or any investment. More than one in 10 of these families also spend up to 70 per cent of their income in debt repayments. Sometimes, the children drop out of school because they do not do well, or they have to earn a living. Other times, with lack of parental supervision after school, they fall prey to negative influences. In adulthood, their low education and delinquency contribute to keeping them in the vicious cycle of poverty.

These are some of the areas which the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) is trying to help address: to minimise delinquency and early dropouts. Our student care centres provide a safe and nurturing after-school environment for children. In addition to providing supervision, structure and discipline, positive values are also imparted to the children. Our reading programmes help children who have difficulty in learning the English language so that they do not get left behind in school. We also award annual bursaries to help families in need to take care of their children’s school expenses.

With the 2008/2009 global recession, our FSCs have encountered an increased number of families looking to them for financial help. But the MWS has also blessed more applicants with the bursaries. More than 350 applicants were awarded bursaries in 2009, a 32-per cent increase over 2008. One of the successful applicants is Sammy (not his real name).

A Primary 4 pupil, Sammy has not been performing well in school. His parents are divorced – his father was released from prison recently and his mother is nowhere to be found. Sammy is cared for by his ageing grandparents, whose medical problems keep them from working. Sammy, his younger brother and grandparents live in a two-room rental flat. e entire household depends on government and community assistance to get by.

Sammy’s story echoes others in Singapore who are likely to need longer term help.

The MWS intends to be here for the longer term, to provide the help that is needed, working towards the day when the poverty cycle can be broken.

Michelle Tan is the Executive (Communications) and Mylene Koh the Manager (Communications) of the Methodist Welfare Services.

MWS on-line research survey on ‘Attitudes about Poverty and Inequality’

THE METHODIST CHURCH IN SINGAPORE will be celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year. As part of its celebrations, a major Community Outreach Project will be launched to bless the community in need, particularly the chronically poor in Singapore.

The MWS will spearhead this project. At the same time, it hopes to promote greater awareness of the needy in our midst.

With the help of NUS Assistant Professor Irene Ng (Social Work Department) and Miss Grace Koh, a final-year student in Social Work, the MWS has put together a survey to understand Methodists’ perceptions of poverty and inequality in Singapore. is is an entirely anonymous survey, so your privacy will be ensured. It would be appreciated if you can just take a few minutes to complete the survey.

To access the survey, please go to http://www.surveymethods. com/EndUser.aspx?DDF99586DD9C8A8D


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