Seniors, social workers weigh in on new schemes for the elderly

Seniors, social workers weigh in on new schemes for the elderly

Two new programmes for seniors were announced in Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget statement on Thursday (Mar 24). Channel NewsAsia spoke to seniors and social workers on the possible impact of the Silver Support Scheme and Community Networks for Seniors programme.

SINGAPORE: Goh Soo Peng, 68, was recently diagnosed with dementia. He lives with his wife who suffered a stroke 17 years ago, and his 41-year-old caregiver son who is unable to work because of a rare auto-immune disease.

He is currently on the Comcare Long Term Assistance Scheme, which gives him a monthly payout of S$150.

However, even as their medical bills are covered by schemes like Medifund, his son says they can barely afford the monthly utility and grocery bills.

Mr Goh Kok Hoat, who suffers from Sjogren's Syndrome, said the family was "struggling" as expenses were high.

"Maybe the Government can increase the financial help so that we can have a much better life on a daily basis," he said, listing grocery vouchers as one way the Government could help lighten the load on poor families.

SILVER SUPPORT SCHEME: A 'SAFETY NET' FOR SENIORS

With the Silver Support Scheme announced in Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget speech on Thursday (Mar 24), the Goh family can now receive an additional S$100 to S$250 every month to supplement the family's income.

Eligible seniors under the Scheme will receive between S$300 and S$750 every quarter, depending on their flat type. They will get a payout for the first two quarters of the year this July, and receive subsequent payouts in end-September and December.

Member of Parliament Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said the Silver Support Scheme was an essential “piece in the safety net” for senior and vulnerable groups.

“The Public Assistance Scheme, which has been ongoing for a while, reaches out to a very small number - the lowest income or no-income group,” she said. “Therefore one group just above that, the 20 to 30 per cent segment, this is the group we need to help and this is where Silver Support comes in, to ensure that those neither very affluent or poor enough to be on the Public Assistance Scheme are included in the safety net.”

But social workers say that even though the scheme is expected to reach about 140,000 seniors, some cases are bound to fall through the cracks.

Tsao Foundation Chief of Clinical Affairs Dr Ng Wai Chong said some poor families are not able to fit the criteria of the Scheme.

"I have seen seniors living together in a relatively big house but they don't make any income, they're all living on their savings ... And they won't be able to fit the criteria."

He added that the advantage of the scheme was its simplicity and user-friendliness, but it would also be good to have flexibility "so that you can cover people who fall through the cracks".

COMMUNITY NETWORKS FOR SENIORS: MORE COORDINATED SOCIAL SUPPORT

In his Budget statement, Minister Heng also announced a pilot programme to coordinate local services that keep seniors active and engaged.

Previously, most voluntary welfare organisations for seniors relied on their own ground networks for resources to serve the elderly.

But the new Community Networks for Seniors programme will allow them to tap into a ready network of help that's put in place by the government. This will include a small team of full-time officers who will study the health and social needs of seniors and a variety of local stakeholders who can provide coordinated support to the organisation.

One voluntary welfare organisation that welcomed the move was PEACE-Connect, which runs an activities centre for seniors.

PEACE-Connect Director Lucy Tan said the programme will provide structure and support for the social services for seniors.

"I think many of us in the industry would also like to see that there's a balance between bureaucracy in the system - in the structured networking - and also in the free-spirit approach in our ground networking," she said.

"It's good to ride on each other expertise and professional resources so that the elderly would be served faster, more accurately, and in the end age better in place."

72-year-old Madam Siti, who joined PEACE-Connect six years ago, participates in activities such as helping out at a Malay dance class in her neighbourhood and getting in touch with the news through the centre.

"It freshens our mind," she said.

"We're old. If we keep still and just stay at home, our minds will not work. If we go down (to the centre), we get to listen to things and we make friends."

Source: CNA/mz