Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Assistance comes too late for bank robber 

This is most unfortunate, but somehow, knowing the official attitude towards welfare in Singapore, you could see it coming.

State to assist would-be bank robber’s family
HE TRIED to rob a bank and has been condemned to years in jail, but his family members will not be left high and dry. The family of Brian Khoo, who attempted to rob a Maybank branch with a toy gun in November last year, will be assisted while he serves out his four-and-a-half year sentence, which was passed down last Friday...

The family’s plight — their electricity supply had been cut off, their telephone line was disconnected and they had little food when Khoo went jobless for 10 months — became public, when Khoo gave his mitigation plea last week.

For [Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan], the “sorry episode” impressed strongly on him how Singaporeans who need help are not turning to the right channels and to people who are willing to help. Ensuring that everybody knows where to turn to for help will be one of his priorities over the next few years...
Lawyer Siew Kum Hong had warned as much in an opinion piece last month:

Heart of the State
... The Government has long maintained that anything resembling welfarism would mark the start of the end of Singapore. It is the slippery slope leading to a downward spiral from which there is no escape. The best way to solve the problem of unemployment and break the poverty trap is to ensure job availability and to provide education for children in low-income households.

But in this day and age of structural unemployment, I wonder whether such a dogmatic approach is hard-headed or hard-hearted. The harsh reality is that for whatever reason, some Singaporeans are unable to support themselves and some families struggle in circumstances that are entirely unsatisfactory in a society as rich as ours...

There is a variety of financial assistance available to the poor. But when assistance is as highly targeted as it is here, it also becomes extremely fragmented, because each scheme only provides a specific solution to a narrowly defined problem.

When you have a range of problems stemming from the root cause of poverty, you will require a whole host of specific solutions to address each of them. But is it realistic to expect the very poor to hunt down the different schemes available and still have time and energy to work hard? I have never been in that situation, but I can imagine that the desperately poor would find that extremely difficult...
Little wonder that many people are cynical about Singapore’s welfare policy.


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