The Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is perhaps the ministry which gets the most flak. The reason is simple: it is at the frontline of providing aid to the needy. And any failings in doing this attract criticisms – some of which can be stinging.
MCYS looks after the most vulnerable groups in our society – the elderly, the poor, the sick, special children, the homeless, the unemployed, the abused, single mothers, disabled, the mentally ill, etc. And to do all these with a shortage of manpower. It is quite an unenviable task, especially given how in recent years, our society has fractured and has left some of our most needy folks behind.
I was a critic of the former MCYS Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, and I still stand by my criticisms of him. Which is why I am glad that we now have a new minister in the ministry, and a new Minister of State in Halimah Yacob as well. The two of them this past year, have done very good work. I am aware of the criticisms of the minister, Chan Chun Sing. In particular, the “kee chiu” incident just before the General Election last year. But to keep bringing that up, and paint him as some sort of an “idiot”, would be rather unfair.
What is more important is the work that is done to help the needy, a group of people which we are concerned about.
In this past year, since assuming office, the two MCYS ministers have done, in my opinion, very good work indeed. If you have followed the new schemes, programmes and policies which have been introduced, you might feel the same as well. It is not that I am praising them just for the sake of it – but really, look at the work done. (Halimah Yacob, for example, was instrumental in getting the Government to introduce a mandatory day off for domestic workers, an issue which NGOs have fought for for several years. Halimah has also drawn praises from Ms Bridget Tan, especially. Bridget is the president and founder of HOME, an NGO which works with migrant workers.)
But most of the time, we may feel detached from what the needy requires, unless and until we experience it ourselves, or a loved one experiences it.
Earlier in March, the Ministry for National Development announced that it “is introducing a new scheme to implement elderly-friendly improvements to Housing and Development Board (HDB) homes.” Some of these improvements include slip-resistant floors and grab bars.
I’ve always known that grab bars, for example, are important for the elderly. In visiting some of these folks, it was quite evident that getting out of the bathroom, for example, is quite a task for them. Thus, grab bars are a simple but helpful inclusion in the home.
It became clearer to me when my 75-year old mom fell in the bathroom a couple of days ago, fractured her hips, and had to have surgery done to repair the injury. While her fall was not due entirely to slippery surfaces, it made me realise that she could fall in future due to wet floors, for example. Thus, it would be good if grab bars could be installed.
At times, it is the small, practical things which help the most – and which we miss.
It was thus with gladness that I read about the MND providing these enhancements. Also, MCYS is looking to install motion sensors in the homes of elderly folks. These will monitor and alert caregivers if the elderly person should slip and fall. This is especially important given that many elderly folks live alone. My mom fell while no one was at home. It was fortunate that she had brought her cell phone with her to the bathroom (a habit she has whenever no one is home). I shudder to think what could have happened if she had not, and was unable to move and call my sister. We had to wait about 30 mins for my sister to return with the keys in order to open the main door before we could reach her. Now we’re wiser – we’ll have another set of keys left with one of us who live nearer to mom. Sometimes, we do not expect the unexpected and we learn from it when it happens.
One of the things which I appreciate MCYS doing is getting right to the heart of matters, even to the practical, everyday challenges which the needy face. One of these is the delivery system for aid.
Many a time, we complain that it is no good having all these help schemes if no one knows about them, or if they’re so confusing that no one bothers to apply for them. I was thus glad that MCYS recognised this – it was among the first issues which both MCYS ministers highlighted in their first public statements after their appointments last year. MCYS has since announced several changes to make help more accessible to the needy:
1. Setting up 10 more Family Service Centres around the island. This will make help more easily and conveniently available to those who need it.
2. Enforce the “no-wrong-door” policy where anyone looking for help will not be turned away or re-directed to other departments. In short, no runaround.
3. Step-down healthcare centres will provide more services so that the needy will not have to go to different places to seek different needs.
4. Social workers will be trained to provide more comprehensive assessment of the needy so that help is rendered in a more comprehensive and holistic way.
I feel all these are really good initiatives and I applaud the ministry for these.
Certainly, there are many more challenges which will need to be addressed, and new ones will be thrown up as our population ages, and society’s expectations rise. MCYS, thus, has its work cut out for it. The Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 addresses some of these.
Having interacted with the needy on the ground, in homes and in the flats, and even in areas where the homeless live, I understand the challenges and I also understand that rendering help can be a very complex matter.
In the meantime, I am glad that the two new MCYS ministers have identified the concerns, and have done much to address these.
While we expect the Government to provide help, we should also keep in mind that addressing the needs of such a wide range of people, each with different needs, is a tedious and huge task. By no means is it simple. Anyone who has ever tried to help the needy will tell you that it requires time, effort, dedication and even sacrifices to do so.
But with our society being increasingly stratified between the haves and haves-not, it is important that we all, each of us, do what we can to lend a hand. How our society turns out does not solely depend on the Government alone.