Peer Learning Circles are self-directed, peer learning groups, supported by a community circle made up of volunteer tutors who provide academic resources and learning guidance to children and youth in our community.
A study was conducted by Blackbox between children who had attended this learning programme (treatment group) vs children who did not (control group). Students who were part of this programme expressed a strong interest in learning, digital literacy, and recorded improvements in math and science. They also had better relationships with their teachers, parents and peers.
The programme has helped to improve the children’s confidence levels, leading to greater success in their academic pursuits, with many children showing significant improvements in their grades. Additionally, the programme has facilitated the development of social capital among the children as they built strong relationships with their peers and the volunteers.
The positive influence of their peers and the volunteers who have been role models to them has helped foster a sense of ambition and aspiration among the children, many of whom now see themselves as capable of attending university in the future.
However, in 2020, the spread of COVID-19 severely impacted
the livelihoods of low-income residents. As a study elsewhere by Beyond had
shown, median household income among residents who applied for our financial
assistance fund fell by 69%. In addition, 35% of applicants saw their household
income from work fall to zero. The study also showed, based on data from 1,231
applicants, that the fall in work income was higher among those with lower income
before COVID-19, signalling deepening inequality.
With this in mind, Beyond collaborated with South Central
Community Family Service Centre (SCCFSC) to embark on this study. The
organisations conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews, covering health
issues, with 50 residents from families with youth and children in Lengkok Bahru,
a neighbourhood comprising six blocks of public rental flats. These interviews
were organised and conducted by trained residents, students and volunteers.
Beyond also interviewed several medical practitioners to gather their
perspectives and insights.
Based on the responses of interviewees, residents were generally aware of healthy lifestyles—e.g. the need for adequate rest, a healthy diet and regular exercise— but are limited in actualising them due to their constrained individual capacities. Ensuring mental well-being, improving immunity from chronic illnesses, and positive healthcare seeking behaviour were limited by residents’ employment conditions, caregiving stresses, as well as access to and the quality of the healthcare system. The decline in residents’ income from work during the pandemic, therefore, created additional constraints that limited their capacity to ensure that their health needs were met. Low-income non-Singaporean residents were especially disadvantaged in accessing adequate healthcare due to their ineligibility for government subsidies.
Households in Lengkok Bahru generally have the will and
knowledge but lack the capacity to adopt healthier lifestyles and positive
health-seeking behaviour. Community interventions or public policies to improve
healthcare outcomes of low-income residents therefore need to be directed at
increasing their capacities at work and the household, as well as improving the
accessibility and quality of the public healthcare system for more vulnerable
groups. It is also important to ensure that policies do not create further
stressors on the livelihoods and wellbeing of families already living under
The findings from this report were first shared with residents of Lengkok Bahru, from which an action team of residents convened. The team now meets regularly to discuss how to increase the healthcare capacity of the community as a whole. Strategies include networking with relevant medical practitioners and organisations, making care arrangements when residents need to go for medical appointments, pairing up to check in on the health status of one another, and facilitating mutual aid when healthcare costs become insurmountable. Effectively, these residents are training themselves to serve as health ambassadors in the community. These community interventions can help low-income residents cope with and manage the difficulties they experience in the healthcare system. They are also integral in building solidarity and relationships among residents in the community. However, such community interventions, in themselves, remain limited in addressing the root cause(s) of their difficulties—namely, employment conditions, caregiving constraints, and the limitations of the healthcare system. These structural issues require public policy interventions and multi-stakeholder involvement and action.
“Food is just a method to survive … day by day. … If you are talking to me about nutrition … I don’t think we people [in this neighbourhood] get all that. … [it] is going to cost us a lot. For us, in … this small community, we are not rich people. We are just blessed to have food, that is all.” (Interview, Rental ﬂat resident)
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to increases in demand for food and financial assistance. Motivated by a mounting concern with the increased demands for food aid, Beyond Social Services embarked on a study to better understand the nature of food insecurity and food aid in a public rental neighbourhood.
Food insecurity, which occurs when persons have limited or unstable access to safe and nutritious foods in socially acceptable ways, is inextricably linked to economic inequality. In current contexts, the socially acceptable way of obtaining food is through commercial transactions: people shop for food in supermarkets, or purchase meals at food and beverage outlets. Depending on food aid provided by charities is a system relegated to persons marked financially disadvantaged—in Singapore, many organisations apply a means-test or use housing as a proxy to determine eligibility for food aid.
This qualitative study was conducted between July and December 2020, involving semi-structured interviews with 54 public rental ﬂat residents, four stakeholders involved in providing food aid, and a focus group involving eight members.
Interviewees shared their decision-making processes when it came to the acquiring, preparation and consuming of food on a daily basis—they talked about what they ate, and why they didn’t; they spoke of sharing, of sustenance and, often, of deprivation. As parents, they were resolute that their children’s food needs took precedence over their own, and their accounts amplified the tradeoffs many grappled with in trying to balance tight budgets and feeding their families adequately.
The implications of prolonged and endemic food insecurity on residents remain a grave concern: food insecurity is a serious public health issue and is linked to increased mental stress and the development of chronic health conditions.
The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated food insecurity. Quality of life, across all domains, decreases as food insecurity increases: there is also a mutually reinforcing dynamic between these deteriorating conditions and food insecurity. Food insecurity in communities experiencing entrenched disadvantage can also extend beyond the individual and households to affect social networks and erode capacities for self and community organising.
The persistence (and growth) in food insecurity demands attention to fundamental questions about inequalities in our food ecosystems and the political commitment required to deal with the social determinants of food insecurity. Such efforts will certainly include food aid, but must extend beyond charitable food responses to allow for multi-scalar, collaborative action that shifts us, collectively, towards more socially just and environmentally sustainable food systems. Food insecurity in afﬂuent societies poses important ethical and political questions that demand our attention and scrutiny: if we recognise the human right to food, access to adequate food should no longer be treated as a gift or act of benevolence, but a fundamental right and statutory obligation.
Beyond’s report on the COVID-19 situation through the eyes of those who had applied for our COVID-19 Family Assistance Fund, received many favorable responses from the media. Listed below, are links to the main articles which you can read
It has been more than a year since COVID-19 landed on our shores and we have adapted to stay relevant; responding quickly and helping families who have been badly hit recover from its impact. Beyond has worked on a report on the COVID-19 situation through the eyes of those who had applied for our COVID-19 Family Assistance Fund. Currently, we are sharing the finding of this report with these families and in discussions with them to understand how we may work together to provide stability for their families and to navigate a post-COVID-19 world.
In March 2020, shortly before the circuit breaker was announced, Beyond Social Services launched its COVID- 19 Family Assistance Fund. Since then, Beyond has provided financial assistance to over 1900 families. We have also undertaken a study to examine the economic circumstances of these families, and share some preliminary findings here.
In Singapore today, 26.65% of households have incomes less than half of the national median income. Families in 276 public rental housing blocks across Singapore are also getting by on a gross monthly income of $1,500 and below – just enough to meet their daily basic needs.
In helping these families, non-profit organisation, Beyond Social Services (Beyond) remains true to its conviction that the community plays a key role. Over the past eight years, Beyond has been creating their own community development model, which takes on a whole-of-society approach and emulates key practices from around the world.
To measure the impact of their work thus far, Beyond embarked on a study with Blackbox Research to evaluate the effectiveness of its approach and the efficacy of a community development approach.
The Evaluating Community Program study evaluates existing youth community programs at Beyond Social Services. Funded by the Changi Foundation, the study examines the effects of various community-based youth programs on low-income youth volunteers and participants, specifically in the curtailment of youth-related delinquency.
Taking from realist evaluative practice, and the Circle of Courage Model, the report makes assessments across five key mechanisms—the development of (i) belonging, (ii) mastery, (iii) independence, (iv) generosity, and (v) identity as well as self-esteem.
Our findings suggest that community programs can, in specific capacities, serve as useful buffers to hedge against forms of youth delinquency, as well as other community-related transgressions.
These effects can emerge in varied ways, whether by providing youth with a sense of connectedness to their communities, both persons and location, as well as a space to discuss difficult issues pertinent to their neighbourhood. In addition, programs can also support youth in the development of relevant skills across various areas of life, including scholastic performance, as well as professional trajectories. Most notably, these developments can serve to kindle feelings of achievement, often with positive effects on youth self-esteem.
Our findings however also suggest limitations to community-based programs. Because existing programs only target the community, they remain less effective in addressing extraneous variables (including financial stability and inadequate family support) that may lead to forms of youth delinquency or other community-related harms.
Thus, it is recommended that interventions aimed at minimizing youth-related delinquency in low-income communities ought to remain comprehensive, by attending to relevant motivators at all levels of the interpersonal, community, and national.
Based on the views of parents whose children attend the Healthy Start Child Development Centre (HSCDC) across two years (2017-2018), this report assesses the effectiveness of the centre’s resources, teaching, and parental engagement. It also suggests innovations to better address the needs of children, parents, and staff.
By Stephanie Chok, 18 March 2020, BEYOND SOCIAL SERVICES
Almost a month ago, Beyond Social Services started calling members to find out how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 situation. We were especially concerned about impacts on employment and household income. Here’s what we found:
Low-Paid & Precarious Work
Members who voiced concerns in the area of employment are disproportionately engaged in low-paid and precarious forms of work. They are part of the gig economy (e.g. Grab driver), are casual, contract, or part-time staff (many in the service sector, e.g. F&B and cleaning), and are involved in seasonal work (e.g. baking/catering). As this TIME article on the coronavirus and inequality among workerspointed out, for many service sector workers, in-person interaction is necessary: if they don’t show up for work, they don’t get paid. ‘Working from home’, a measure available to a select pool of white-collar professionals, is not a viable option.
Members in these jobs have reported the following impacts:
Reduction in working hours (including overtime hours) and work days, thus leading to a reduction in overall income;
Reduction in demand for services (e.g. catering, Grab rides);
Cancellation of events and contracts (affecting those in events management, for example, and outsourced workers);
Being asked to take (unpaid) leave, including leave of absence (LOA);
Not being paid when on medical leave;
Business temporarily closing (e.g. pasar malam stall, because business is bad);
There were also a number who were unemployed and looking for work, but indicated this is more difficult now. Not only are parents affected, older children who take on part-time work to supplement household and personal expenses (e.g. transport to school) have also been affected.
Caregiving & Employment
It is a stressful time for working parents (in particular mothers), should their children fall sick. One mother was planning to look for employment once her children settled into childcare, but her children have fallen sick consecutively; not only is she unable to look for work now, her husband’s reduced income has been spent on taxi fares bringing the children to and from the hospital and paying for food during long waits at the hospital. At another neighbourhood, a childcare centre where one teacher tested positive for COVID-19 has been closed for 14 days: affected children have been given Leave of Absences (LOA). A mother of one of the children is anxious about having to take two weeks off work at this time, concerned that her employers will dismiss her.
While there is nothing irregular about children falling sick and parents having to care for them, the current situation is different because childcare centres are now on high alert and bound by much stricter measures. Doctors are issuing longer medical leave for persons displaying respiratory symptoms,and shifting social norms related to being ‘socially responsible’ in the age of COVID-19 mean it is no longer acceptable to attend childcare or work when one displays mild flu-like symptoms.
Caregiving responsibilites also extend to siblings, parents, and extended family. One member, a 23 year-old who works in a restaurant, is her family’s sole breadwinner: she supports her mother, her brother (who has special needs and requires milk and adult diapers), and her 5 year-old nephew. With the restaurant sector suffering significant drops in revenue, she recently had her pay cut by about 20%. There is an underlying fear that job loss may be imminent if business continues to dive.
The financial strain families are under is, understandably, causing emotional distress. Several respondents expressed feeling stressed and anxious, and concerned about paying for household expenses (including rent and food, as well as children’s school-related expenses) in the coming months. With the economic impact of COVID-19 expected to last at least a year,there will be cumulative impacts from these reductions in income; this will not only affect families’ current expenditure, it will also compound their arrears, if they have any. While some members are adjusting their spending in order to cope (“still able to tahan for now”, one said), this is a limited strategy.
Beyond intends to continue monitoring the impact on families, and mobilizing resources to support them. Our crowdfunding siteremains open for donations, and both financial and in-kind support is being harnessed and distributed. It is a time for generousity, and public concern towards those in financial hardship has been heartfelt and encouraging.
It is also, as pointed out by academics Teo You Yenn and Ng Kok Hoe, a time for structural reform:
The current crisis illuminates. It shows us where we most need to intervene to strengthen our social policies: Improving wage protection across all low-paying jobs, shoring up job security in new sectors of the economy, strengthening alternative retirement income sources, enhancing the social assistance regime, and extending the provision of public goods like care services.
As the authors remind us, “the problems that poorer households faced in normal times have not been suspended because of the crisis. All the things that should have been done to help them then, now must be done”.
“Since the start of an initiative to enhance the skills of bakers in rental communities, the women involved have found support from one another, extra money during the festive season and new possibilities for the future.”