How do you feel when you see an elderly lady rummaging through trash bins to look for empty aluminium drink cans? Another clearing dishes laboriously in a food centre or cleaning the premises of a building? When a disabled person is trying to sell you packets of tissue paper at the hawker centre or outside the train station? And when an old man is loitering around void decks, looking to collect cardboard pieces to sell? How do you feel?
In the beginning, my heart sinks, for it pains me to know that these individuals – after years of dedication and hard work – have to put their bodies through tremendous physical and psychological stress so as to make ends meet; thereafter, a sense of helplessness strikes, because I have no knowledge of how I – as an individual – can render tangible, sustainable assistance to those who might have fallen through the cracks. It makes one wonder if significant improvements can be made to the much-heralded “many helping hands” framework – involving important stakeholders such as the non-government organisations (NGO) and the Community Development Councils (CDC) – to heighten accessibility, comprehension levels and outreach capabilities.
An Ad-Hoc Roving Task-Force A Viable Band-Aid?
The general idea of this ad-hoc roving task-force would be to develop a team of Singaporeans, who will go through the respective neighbourhoods and communities in the country, to identify the poor or the elderly who might fit into the aforementioned scenarios. Thereafter, through focused interactions to gain a better understanding of the relevant challenges faced by the target audience, the team would be able to deliver immediate assistance – such as groceries, or helping to make applications to various schemes available – and increase on-the-ground awareness of issues.
Such an endeavour will serve two primary purposes. First, well-coordinated efforts will provide much-needed help to these individuals and households, and would be beneficial in terms of alleviating short-term grievances or challenges. Second, greater synergy within the NGO community – in terms of the organisation of activities or volunteer programmes – will allow for the greater utilisation or allocation of manpower and resources. More intimate vis-à-vis engagements with the poor and elderly will also help the administration and its CDCs to constantly review its methodologies and work.
Quintessentially, the task-force functions as a mobile “meet-the-people” session, supported by ordinary citizens for fellow Singaporeans. This proposal would be a feasible short-term band-aid to match-make existing channels with the ones who need the help.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his Parliament speech last week, commented that “our society is stratifying, which means the children of successful people are doing better, the children of less successful people are doing less well. Fewer children from lower-income families are rising to the top of the heap”. The recognition that more needs to be done to empower low income households – especially in the field of education – should bring about new policy recommendations and efforts to facilitate this movement.
This frank admission should encourage our politicians to look at broader solutions, and review present challenges such as the income inequality gap, strategies for an ageing population, avenues to help the disabled, retirement and saving plans et cetera.
“A world of contradictions”: this was how United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described present world circumstances – with the imminent birth of the seven-billionth baby – with widely-different lifestyles, standards of living and expectations. We in Singapore can definitely do our part to bridge these disparities fairly and justly, one noticeable step at a time.