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.
Author(s): Members from LKYSPP, Ng Lin Kai, Chua Hui Chee, Xiong Hao Ming, Mohammed Masrahi
46 in-depth interviews with households in low-income neighbourhoods were conducted to find out how local stakeholders (such as Beyond Social Services, Resident’s Committee, Family Service Centre, and the community residents) can best support low-income families to integrate into the larger community. These interviews analysed the relationships between individuals (micro) as well as between community stakeholders (macro).
The macro analysis revealed that there were problems with community stakeholders collaborating with each other, problems with the representativeness of community leaders and that sources of funding decided the bargaining power of stakeholders. The micro analysis revealed that there was a lack of effective platforms needed to bridge segregated social networks, a lack of meaningful activities and emotional support to bond residents.
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.”
“For these women who come from the lower-income community, self-care is Whampoa Drive, friendship, walks in the park, spending time with children, sitting at the void deck after their family has fallen asleep in order to listen to music in peace, and 10 minutes spent drinking tea (or sometimes five).”
This features the experiences of lower-income women in Singapore, the options they have for self-care, and the ways they care for each other.
“In five years, not only has Yashmin moved from the shelter to a rental flat, she has also met her husband, who also volunteered with Beyond Social Services. At the same time, she organises baking workshops and receives many orders on festive days.”
This article features Bakers’ Beyond new training space at Blk 75 Whampoa Drive. The space was designed by Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s “etc.lab” and will give more mothers an opportunity to generate some income for their families, meet new friends and develop their skills.
Our Deputy Executive Director T. Ranganayaki took part in a panel discussion on privilege and giving back to society, organised by The Straits Times in partnership with the Singapore Kindness Movement.