SINGAPORE: Caregivers will be able to tap on a new S$200 monthly grant to offset costs by the end of this year, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong announced in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 13).
The Home Caregiving Grant (HCG) forms part of a new Caregiver Support Action Plan developed by the Ministry of Health, which will be rolled out progressively from this year.
The grant will be means tested, and available to care recipients with permanent moderate disability, regardless of age, and granted based on criteria similar to the Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) grant, Mr Tong said in his response to debate in parliament on two motions: Ageing with purpose and support for caregivers.
He said HCG will replace the FDW grant.
Explaining, Mr Tong said that the current S$120 FDW grant is limited, as it can only be used to offset the cost of hiring an FDW. Not all caregivers might need or want to employ a FDW, and there will be a greater flexibility to the new grant, he said.
“Some might use it to help with the cost of hiring a FDW, if that's what's needed, whilst others could choose to use this sum to defray caregiving expenses, such as the costs for home and community-based services, and transportation to medical appointments,” he said.
Care recipients who qualify can choose to nominate their caregiver to receive the HCG. It will complement severe disability schemes like ElderShield and CareShield Life, by providing support earlier, and at a stage when care recipients are still able to perform these Activities of Daily Living albeit with some assistance, he said.
These activities are washing, dressing, feeding, using the toilet, moving around and the ability to transfer oneself from a bed to a chair. In order to qualify for disability schemes, policyholders have to be unable to perform at least three of these activities.
“In other words, HCG will be available at an earlier and less severe stage of disability, when compared to the criteria in disability schemes such as ElderShield or CareShield Life,” he said.
He also said that caregivers will be able to use their MediSave to help pay for the healthcare expenses of their Singaporean siblings by end 2019.
“Family caregivers are key to supporting our seniors to age-in-place,” he said. He added that the new measures will complement the existing long-term care financing measures supporting family caregivers.
To strengthen family caregiving, CPF members will be able to use their MediSave to pay for the healthcare expenses of their Singapore Citizen/Permanent Resident siblings by end-2019, Mr Tong said.
MORE CAREGIVER RESPITE OPTIONS
To increase caregiver respite options, he said the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will pilot a new night respite service with selected nursing home providers to support caregivers of seniors with dementia who experience behavioural and sleep issues at night.
“The respite service will allow caregivers, especially those who are working or caring for the senior in the day, to catch some rest at night. These seniors will be engaged through cognitive activities and tasks to help manage their behavioural and sleep issues," he said.
The pilot is expected to start in the second half of 2019.
From the first quarter of 2019, AIC will pilot a pre-enrolment system with a number of senior care centres and nursing homes to shorten the activation time for respite services, he said.
Caregivers will be encouraged to register and complete some of the administrative processes early (e.g. assessment of eligibility for subsidies), so that less time is required when they need to tap on respite services, Mr Tong added.
A home-based respite service will also be piloted for caregivers of palliative care cancer patients.
Mr Tong said caregivers of terminally ill patients are fulfilling the desires of their loved ones by caring for them and enabling them to pass on at home which is often physically and emotionally tiring.
READ: Government looking at grants for caregivers to the elderly to boost support for community care
“The pilot would provide custodial care service for home palliative care patients so that caregivers can take a break with the knowledge that their loved ones will still be well taken care of at home,” he said.
SOCIO-EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS
Beyond having a strong suite of formal services to support caregivers, Mr Tong said good socio-emotional support for caregivers is also crucial.
He said some of the community outreach teams who currently reach out to those at risk of or with mental health illnesses will evolve to provide a more dedicated focus on caregivers.
They will provide outreach to caregivers, case management and support through counselling, and socio-emotional programmes.
AIC will pilot these community outreach teams with community providers such as Caregiver Alliance Limited by the end of this year.
In addition, he said more caregiver support networks will be set up.
Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sam Tan said his ministry is always looking at improving the services offered to caregivers.
To that end, SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities, is developing a new online portal that will act as a 24/7 information hub pointing caregivers to social support available for their care recipients and for themselves, he said.
He added that MSF plans to strengthen case coordination and management to provide better social assistance in cases of complex needs, he said, adding that these plans will be shared soon.
"The action plan reflects the Government’s commitment to strengthen support for senior caregiving, and our call for a whole-of-society effort to partner caregivers in their caregiving journeys”, Mr Tong said.
“Each of us must do our part to recognise, value, support and celebrate caregivers.”
MPs ADDRESS CAREGIVING COSTS, NEED FOR MORE ACTIVITIES FOR SENIORS
More than 20 MPs joined the debate on the two motions.
Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee for Health Chia Shi-Lu pointed out that caregivers have to incur out-of-pocket costs for consumables, medication, transportation and others.
“For those who left their jobs to look after the elderly full-time, additional financial support would be helpful,” he said.
He also urged the Government to consider committing additional resources to speed up the adoption of flexi work arrangements in order to help working caregivers.
“We must support those who would like to remain in the workforce. Otherwise, not only would our economy suffer from the loss of their skills and knowledge, their loss of income would have a negative impact on their families’ finances and their own futures as seniors,” he said.
MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira, who is also vice-chairperson of the PAP Seniors Group, suggested building more Senior Activity Centres (SAC) at locations within walking distance of seniors’ flats and apartments.
“Having such centres near to their residences will encourage our elderly to take part in the activities there more frequently. The proximity will allow seniors to easily walk home and rest without worrying about transportation,” she said.
In response to the suggestions, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said that going forward, the Government will work closely with community partners to provide a good range of “customised active ageing programmes” to suit different profiles of seniors in their neighbourhoods.
She also addressed an observation about the low participation of men in such activities made by MP for Jurong GRC Ang Wei Neng.
“There is scope to increase male participation in our active ageing programmes and are determined to do so,” she said.
Ms Pereira, as well as fellow PAP Senior Group vice-chairperson Henry Kwek spoke on the need to provide more assisted living options in both public and private housing.
Dr Khor said that the Government is reviewing “how we can develop new options of assisted living for seniors to facilitate ageing in place”.
“Longevity is not a curse but a blessing and offers us possibilities to live more meaningful and productive lives. As future cohorts of seniors are more educated and skilled, there is no better time to take advantage of our longer life years than now,” she said.