Over the last few months, government schemes which were swiftly put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 12,000 successful job placements, a secure supply of food and essentials, and mental support in the form of a mental wellness hotline which has logged nearly 23,000 calls as of 6 July.
On top of an unprecedented four Budgets where nearly $100 billion has been set aside to support Singaporeans, these government schemes to secure jobs, investments and care for the people have effectively softened the blow for thousands of Singaporeans.
In a press conference today (8 July), the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s 2nd Assistant Secretary General Chan Chun Sing, Central Executive Committee Member Ng Chee Meng and Organising Secretary Desmond Lee gave more details as to the impact of these schemes and how these – delivered by strong leaders and a strong united team – will continue to help Singaporeans in the challenging times ahead.
Creating and Saving Jobs
In the face of job losses, Mr Ng, who is also the Secretary General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), shared that more than 16,000 jobs, traineeship and training places across the public and private sectors were available at the inaugural SGUnited Jobs and Skills Fair last Friday (3 July).
To date, the Government has made over 12,000 successful job placements under the SGUnited Jobs Initiative and close to 70 per cent of these places were in the public sector including COVID-19-related, healthcare and digital positions.
This is against a backdrop of a rising retrenchment and unemployment rate.
2nd ASG Chan said that the job vacancies to unemployment rate for the fourth quarter last year was 0.84 compared to 0.71 in the first quarter this year. This shows weak consumer and investor confidence, he added.
While there will be more retrenchments in the next few months, Mr Ng said that the Government has put together concrete plans to create jobs, and do the necessary skills matching with the Labour Movement and businesses.
On bridging the skills gap of workers, Mr Ng said that the NTUC, together with education partners including the Ministry of Education, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore, are working hard to provide courses for workers who are willing to upgrade and match them to different jobs through the Employment and Employability Institute.
He said,” These are concrete plans that already have some concrete results. We don’t make empty promises.”
Providing Care and Support
As COVID-19 can deal a devastating blow to those who are more vulnerable, a slew of funding measures were put in place help them.
OS Desmond Lee revealed that around 450,000 applications for the Temporary Relief Fund – a one-off interim assistance scheme to help Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who lost their jobs, or a substantial portion of their income due to COVID-19 – were approved, totaling $225 million.
More than 35,000 applications for the COVID-19 Support Grant were approved. The grant helps those who lost their jobs due to retrenchment or contract termination.
More people have applied for ComCare, which provides social assistance to low-income individuals and families. An average of about 4,000 new ComCare applications were approved each month in the last few months. This is on top of over 6,000 households who automatically had their ComCare support extended by six months.
Apart from funding, the government worked with its established network of partners to support vulnerable people and families.
Mr Lee said that the SGCares Network was activated to proactively reach out to lower-income households, starting with those living in rental flats who were more vulnerable to economic shocks.
As COVID-19 can cause stress to families, the Ministry of Social and Family Development ramped up its efforts to raise awareness of family violence and encouraged the community to help keep families safe.
MSF’s Adult Protective Service (APS) and Child Protective Service (CPS) saw a monthly average of 7 percent more enquiries in April and May, compared to March before the start of the Circuit Breaker period. Mr Lee added that in the post-Circuit Breaker period, APS and CPS saw a 30 percent increase in the average number of monthly enquiries. Most of the enquiries related to tension within the family and marital conflicts.
MSF has also stepped up efforts with various community groups to provide shelter and assistance to rough sleepers through Safe Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps). It helped over 500 individuals during the Circuit Breaker period.
To beef of Singapore’s psychological and emotional defences, several platforms were set up to support the mental and emotional well-being of Singaporeans. These include the Mindline.SG, the Youth Mental Well-Being Network, and the National CARE Hotline – which has received 22,930 calls as of 6 July 2020. The hotline was set up in April to offer 24-hour support, seven days a week.
All this would not be possible without support from volunteers. Mr Lee said that as of June 2020, about 770 psychologists, counsellors, social workers and other trained CARE officers volunteered as Duty CARE Officers for the hotline.
Also, when the Youth Mental Well-Being Network was started, some 1,000 people responded – ranging from caregivers, recovered patients, professionals, as well as social service agencies – who wanted to play their part in helping young people who need mental health support.
Tapping on Global Networks
As global connections are critical for Singapore’s survival, 2nd ASG Chan said that the government will continue to secure investments by upholding free trade agreements and market access amidst growing protectionism, bifurcation of trade and technology relationships.
He added that the Government will also uphold confidence with consistent and coherent long-term policies.
The continuity and strength of existing relationships is important as global economic challenges remain severe.
Sharing the global economic outlook, he said that for 2020, the United States is contracting by 8 percent and the Eurozone by 10 percent. While China’s economy will grow by one percent, this compares to its growth of 6.1 percent last year. He added that external demand remains weak with recovery being uneven and gradual.
On securing lifelines, 2nd ASG Chan said that the supply chain for food, essentials and even intermediate products is fluid. The disruptions, he pointed out, can come from COVID-19 infections, geopolitical developments and policy induced disruptions.
He stressed that localisation must complement, and not replace diversification, and that Singapore must plug critical parts of the global supply chains of products or services which are in demand, such as medical, ICT, semi-conductors, petrochemicals, banking and finance.