SINGAPORE: Support for disadvantaged families and healthcare will be the focus of social spending in this year's Budget, which will be delivered next month.
Second Finance Minister Indranee Rajah revealed this on Wednesday (Jan 30) during a visit to Big Heart Student Care centre at Lianhua primary School, which is run by Singapore's four self-help groups - CDAC, Mendaki, SINDA and Eurasian Association.
"On the social part obviously we’re looking at the elderly, healthcare and then of course those from disadvantaged backgrounds and how do we make all of these sustainable,” Ms Indranee said.
She added that the government will also consider ways to keep Singapore rejuvenated in terms of maintaining current infrastructure and developing new ones.
While Ms Indranee said that the exact quantum will be unveiled during Budget, she noted that social spending in the last 10 years has more than doubled.
In 2008, the government allocated S$15.9 billion towards the social development sector, while in 2018 this was raised to S$36 billion.
The spotlight on social mobility though, was cast as early as Oct 28 last year, when MOE convened an inter-agency taskforce, Uplift, to strengthen support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Ms Indranee said that the taskforce’s work will be considered under the social aspect of this year’s Budget. The taskforce will release its recommendations in the upcoming Committtee of Supply.
As it is, efforts to support such students are already underway with school-based student care centres set up across the island.
“If you look at the Uplift part of student care centres, we can see a role not just for tuition for children who aren’t doing well. But also in family mentoring and parenting programmes.
"In some cases for parents who don't prioritise education, we’ll help them to see that this is an important part their children's progress and development,” she said.
About 3,021 students are enrolled in Big Heart Student Care centres across Singapore, with the one at Lianhua Primary joining the fold this month.
There will be 30 such centres by 2020, catering to about 6,000 students.
At the centres, students do their homework and revision under supervision. They also get to attend enrichment and outdoor workshops like art and fitness classes.
Ms Low Yen Ling, who chairs the board of Self Help Groups Student Care Limited (SHGSCL), told Channel NewsAsia that she’s observed progress under the programme.
“After joining the centre, one parent shared that when the daughter goes home, she will not switch on the television like she always does, but she will make sure that she has really completed all her homework.
"This positive learning attitude was what the mother observed and we were very heartened by that,” she said.
Households eligible for the Student Care Fee Assistance (SCFA) scheme can receive up to 98 per cent subsidy of the S$290 monthly fee at Big Heart Student Care.
The same percentage applies throughout other student care centres.
As to whether more subsidies will be given to lower-income families in the future, Ms Indranee said this is currently being reviewed.