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The Poor And The Elderly In Singapore: 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

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.

Looking Forward

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.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


10 thoughts on “The Poor And The Elderly In Singapore: Roving Task-Force A Viable Band-Aid?

  1. Guanyinmao: are u aware that MCYS already has a beggars or vagrants squad that you or i can summon when we find people in distress ie begging, starving, sleeping rough etc? The trouble with this squad is that instead of rendering appropriate help, they may just tell the person concerned to move on… I don’t know for a fact this happens. I just suspect it does.

    Also, not all the elderly in desperate straits today have worked hard or contributed. Some might have been irresponsible n squandered away whatever they had when they were younger in the belief that someone wld pick up the tabs later. This said, it doesn’t mean that society should leave this group to starve, of cos.

    Rather than wish for ad hoc teams to be created to help, why don;t you and i just do it? Give the next needy person you meet as much cash as you can afford to part with that day. Too much debate or soul searching or team forming isn’t going to help an individual in need of an immediate short term solution: some food be4 he passes out from desperate hunger!

    Posted by auntielucia | October 31, 2011, 2:02 pm
    • To be honest, I am not aware of such a squad’s existence; perhaps if it gained greater awareness the movement could gain greater traction in terms of getting manpower and resources (though the administration might have intended for the squad to be slightly low-key).

      Agreed on the second point; the intent of the task-force was to deliver assistance on a case-by-case basis. I see your point on lending a hand immediately (which I do), but after that act I wonder if we could – as a society – do more in the short-term to help these individuals.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | October 31, 2011, 6:14 pm
      • Jin Yao, given your powerful portrayal of the poor, especially the poor elderly, in SG, u shld really make an effort to find out more what MCYS and other gov/NGOs have done n continue to do for this category of people. Sometimes the poor, elderly or otherwise, don’t want to be put into homes for destitute which ensure them shelter n regular meals but take away their freedom to go out, to deploy their time as they wish etc

        Also, if you have seen the Mediacorp TV show called Renovaid and read what its anchor woman says in an interview concerning what she finds on return to those homes they’ve cleaned up and made habitable, you will realise that some poor people have problems other than what’s most obvious: their poverty.

        Your idea of having people looking out for the poor is very laudable but may I suggest to you what I’ve posted on ex-president hopeful Tan jee Say’s FB page? For yr easy ref, I’m doing a copy and paste here:

        “Hi Jee Say, a few days (weeks?) ago, saw in one of yr tweets calling for ideas on how SDP can help the poor in Sg. Can’t seem to locate that old tweet. Anyways. Here’s my suggestion: instead of SDP helping all the poor in Sg, why not help one or two poor persons at a time? More manageable.

        For a start, may I suggest SDP help the two vagrants who have been hanging out in the outer balcony of the food court at Square 2, 4th floor (next to Novena Sq and opp TTSH). According to the mixed rice seller whose stall faces the balcony, they come every day in the morning and sleep in the balcony till late afternoon. Then they leave. They sometimes come back at nite. He says they smell.

        I went to check on them and on a closer look, saw that both looked fat, more likely bloated. Appear groggy frm sleeping rough. Wearing tatters. One of them has trousers already splitting at the crotch. A few v v dirty plastic bags with them and that’s abt all. I gave them $2 each for tea tho I know that won’t go far. They need institutional support, not hand outs.

        I wanted to take a pix of them to show on FB but decided against in the end as I don’t think I shld exploit their poverty. Hope SDP and others would do something.”

        Jin Yao, pse do your best for such likes you and/or your friends you come across. One poor person helped in one life-time is better than having grand visions of helping millions, if those visions remain just visions! 😆

        Posted by auntielucia | November 2, 2011, 9:39 pm
      • Haha to be honest I feel a little guilty; I used to volunteer quite actively (with youths at-risk particularly, though rarely with the elderly or needy), but haven’t been able to find the time to contribute more while I am in the army.

        Give me some time – I promise. After I am done with the National Service (NS) survey, and once the Education Roundtable gains more momentum I will dedicate more time to read more about these issues. I’ll be done with NS in December, so I will be able to do more in the micro and macro sense 😉

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | November 3, 2011, 12:28 pm
  2. An Ad-Hoc Roving Task-Force A Viable Band-Aid?

    Yes it is viable, cause it seems that under the current PAP government (over the past decade), visibility is a more important consideration than effectiveness, next to cost of course. For one who does not wish to relook and question fundamentals and policies, band-aid is the way to go. I will stay open-minded, though I am not optimistic given the performance of the recent session of Parliament. We still have a long way to go.

    Posted by sgcynic | October 31, 2011, 2:27 pm
    • It is a stop-gap solution; at the very least we could possibly provide some assistance as we explore broader policy recommendations.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | October 31, 2011, 6:16 pm
      • If it is what you say, then of course it’s fine. Problem is, this government’s track record speaks for itself. We shall see its record over the next 5 years. On matters related to the economy and economic growth, the PAP government’s implementation is swift, but when it comes to social polices and such, it walks a tightrope, one step forward, two steps back.

        Posted by sgcynic | November 1, 2011, 12:41 am
  3. GYM: “After I am done with the National Service (NS) survey, and once the Education Roundtable gains more momentum I will dedicate more time to read more about these issues..”

    Alas, at the rate you r going, it’s a good long time be4 any really poor or needy is going to feel the benefit of big-heartedness. Still, as the Bible says, the poor are always with us. So take your time. But don’t beat others intending to do good but like you haven’t found the time yet to do so, K? 🙄

    Posted by auntielucia | November 6, 2011, 8:04 pm


  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 1 Nov 2011 « The Singapore Daily - November 1, 2011

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