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MSF to strengthen social safety nets ensuring ‘no Singaporean is left behind’ amid COVID-19: Masagos Zulkifli

MSF to strengthen social safety nets ensuring ‘no Singaporean is left behind’ amid COVID-19: Masagos Zulkifli

The Social Service Office at Kreta Ayer. (Photo: Facebook/Masagos Zulkifli)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will review and strengthen social safety nets to ensure that “no Singaporean is left behind” amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic impact, said Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (Aug 25).

The social needs of Singaporeans “have become more complex” and this is “augmented by the deep and far-reaching impact” of COVID-19, said Mr Masagos, as he laid out plans on how his ministry will support key government priorities announced by President Halimah Yacob during the opening of Parliament on Monday.

“More people need help, and lower-income and vulnerable households are especially impacted,” he said.

“The crisis will not divert us from our efforts to improve social mobility, and we will ensure that no Singaporean is left behind.”

MSF will continue to review and strengthen social safety nets, said Mr Masagos, noting that ComCare, the Temporary Relief Fund, COVID-19 Support Grant and The Courage Fund provided financial and social support to vulnerable Singaporeans during the circuit breaker and the phased reopening of Singapore’s economy. 

READ: Opening of 14th Parliament: President Halimah outlines Government’s priorities in fight against COVID-19 crisis

“As we brace for a global economic downturn, we will continue to work with other agencies and community partners to strengthen social support for Singaporeans in need, including strengthening support for mental and family wellbeing,” he added. 

“We will also dovetail our efforts with that of the National Jobs Council to facilitate the employment and training of Singaporeans, and assist those who still need help.” 

READ: Low-income, vulnerable households to receive more coordinated, proactive support: MSF

MSF will also enhance the delivery of social services, which has become especially important, said Mr Masagoes, as the pandemic has “exacerbated the challenges faced by vulnerable segments of our society who have less resources to buffer against the impact”. 

The ministry will expand its networks and programmes, and deepen its collaboration with social service agencies, community partners and volunteers to “proactively reach out to vulnerable Singaporeans”, said Mr Masagos. 

Social service agencies play a critical role in delivering social services to those who need help amid the crisis and beyond, he added. With the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), MSF will support these agencies through the Invictus Fund, Community Capability Trust and other supporting programmes and initiatives. 

“We will work in partnership with the NCSS-led Beyond COVID-19 Taskforce to drive the transformation of the social service sector to emerge stronger,” he said.

READ: Singapore will push for sustainable growth, further strengthen social safety nets: President Halimah

Noting that COVID-19 has “provided the added impetus” for the social service to transform, Mr Masagos said that NCSS is developing a roadmap to help social service agencies build capabilities in leveraging innovation, digitalisation and data to deliver their services more effectively.

Through the Social Service SkillsFuture Tripartite task force, MSF will also partner academia, professional associations, and social service agencies to build the sector’s manpower capability and competencies, he added. 

“We are glad that there has been an outpouring of support for COVID-19 related causes. We will work with partners to sustain the spirit of philanthropy and volunteerism by encouraging Singaporeans to contribute through varied giving and volunteering opportunities in the community.

“We will also steward community resources prudently to benefit more Singaporeans.” 

AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY

MSF is committed to building an inclusive society by strengthening support for people with disabilities, said Mr Masagos, noting that the ministry is working with SG Enable and other partners to implement the Enabling Masterplan and develop plans beyond 2021. 

“We will systematically reach out to persons with disabilities and caregivers to better support them,” he added.

MSF will also sustain efforts to improve the employment and employability of people with disabilities, in line with the National Jobs Council. 

“We will also continue to support independent living for persons with disabilities, and maximise their potential at every stage of life,” said the minister.

“We aim to provide better support for children with moderate to severe developmental needs within pre-schools.” 

MSF will also enhance the accessibility, affordability and quality for pre-schools, said Mr Masagos, adding that subsidies for pre-school fees have been significantly enhanced.

The ministry will work with anchor operators to build more pre-schools and appoint more partner operators so that 80 per cent of pre-schoolers can have a place in government-supported schools by 2025, he said.

As the number of government-supported places increase, MSF will further lower the fee caps to enhance affordability, the minister added.

Pre-school quality will be raised with the enhancement of training and career progression of early childhood educators, via the Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework (SPARK). 

“We will strengthen holistic and upstream support for more children from low-income families with the expansion of KidSTART to more regions,” Mr Masagos added. 

“Through the Growing Together with KidSTART initiative, we will deepen community partnerships to better support KidSTART families.”

KidSTART is a pilot programme by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to help children from low-income families in their early years.

A more preventive approach and “better rehabilitative methods” will also be taken to support youth-at-risk, offenders, and their families, said the minister. 

MSF will work with agencies and partners through the National Committee on Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Recidivism to strengthen its programmes and capabilities.

“Our youths must continue to have opportunities to succeed in life,” he added.

SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES 

"The family is the basic building block of our society,” said Mr Masagos, adding that his ministry will help families through the Families for Life movement. 

 “Together with our community partners and volunteers, we will support couples and families on their marriage and parenthood journey, by providing evidence-based programmes and resources, and encouraging family-friendly practices, such as flexible work and work- from-home arrangements, to help families manage their caregiving responsibilities.” 

MSF will also strengthen preventive work with early-risk families, such as marriages between minors, divorced families, and families with stresses, said Mr Masagos. 

READ: Online portal to be set up to provide early support to couples considering divorce

This includes providing family counselling services and early-risk marriage and divorce support, to “reduce acrimony and improve outcomes” for children and their families. 

During the circuit breaker period, MSF set up the National CARE Hotline to support families and Singaporeans who faced emotional and psychological stresses, providing psychological and emotional support, and referrals for intervention, he noted. 

READ: COVID-19: Worries about pandemic see more calls to mental health helplines

READ: IN FOCUS: The challenges young people face in seeking mental health help

“We will work closely with other agencies and the community. The Youth Mental Well-Being Network will develop and implement initiatives to strengthen support for youths and their families.” 

The ministry will also protect vulnerable individuals who are abused or neglected, and provide alternative support for children and vulnerable adults whose families cannot care for them, said the minister. 

The inter-agency task force on family violence will consult widely with stakeholders and further enhance measures to prevent and address family violence, he added. 

“MSF will continue our mission to nurture resilient individuals, strong families, and a caring society,” said Mr Masagos.

“When the Government and the people work together in solidarity, we will be able to emerge stronger from this crisis.”

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Source: CNA/lk(ta)

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