A plea for more help in our families

“We are not a welfare society”

“Welfare will bankrupt a country” 

“People will abuse national welfare”

We’ve been told these things again and again, we start to believe the bullshit that welfare is evil. We walk around our shiny office buildings, our colourful HDB estates which seem to be always freshly painted and sit at our hipster cafes sipping $8 coffees and wonder “What poverty? Singapore has no poverty! There’s no need to discuss welfare!”

It would be rare to see homeless people. The authorities would whisk you away and put you in a shelter, to keep you out of sight from the public. (Contrary to belief, it is not illegal to sleep on the streets in Singapore. There are however, penalties for begging on the streets or being a public nuisance.)

So, shut behind HDB doors are people left behind while the rest of society pursues GDP growth.

Who are these people? 

The most sorry case I’ve ever seen doing volunteer work was this woman whom had both legs amputated. Her husband, though able does not have the skills to land adequate work. They’re both in their late 70s. She told me, in a bold strong voice, that the best favour she can do for everyone is to throw herself off the building. She’s a bull-headed woman, refusing to see her Member of Parliament until she could hold it in no longer.

In her house, a rotting smell hangs in the air. There is blood on her bandages, a sign of poor care. The food she cooks is nutritionally inadequate and smells heavily preserved and salty.

In another unit, there is a pair of elderly persons. Both are strangers and don’t know each other. They’re asked to live together because HDB policies require a destitute person to find a housemate before they will grant you an apartment at concession. One has his foot self-treated for some kind of rot and the other is confined to the bed and struggles to get on a wheelchair. They don’t talk to each other, that’s how they get along. Other unwilling housemates have fought with each other and end up on the streets again.

In another house on another occasion, I saw a man with a terrifying hole in his head, the size of a 50 cent coin. It was throbbing and oozing yellow pus. I didn’t understand much Hokkien, but he told me it was something to do with an injury and how he can’t afford the doctor. There is CHAS, but why doesn’t he go? I can’t figure it out – maybe he needs social workers to come by regularly, but they don’t come. I don’t know why – maybe he doesn’t pass means testing, maybe there is no such program.

These are extreme cases.

In everyday middle income life, we have single child families that are now of age and must bear the brunt of looking after our aging, diseased and helpless elders. Many of us are torn between the demands of day-to-day work and shouldering the pressures of providing care at home.

“But you have maids, maids are so cheap to hire”, you argue.

Managing maids is a skill in itself. If Human Resource people undergo years of study and training in order to manage staff in corporations, how is it any different from a staff that lives and works in our homes? The burden of care does not disappear when you hire a maid – it gets transferred to the poor girl and if you don’t manage this well, this time bomb can explode in your homes.

In June 2017, a maid was suspected of murdering two elderlies in their homes in Bedok Reservoir.

In February 2017, a maid was arrested for the murder of a 77-year-old woman in Tampines.

In March 2014, a maid was charged with the murder of an 85 year old in Bukit Timah.

Caregiver’s fatigue is real.

Babies have been strangled (http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/maid-charged-killing-employers-baby-simei-home), elderlies smothered (http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/maid-killed-grandma-win-employers-favour) and maids have taken their own lives (https://coconuts.co/yangon/news/videos-capture-myanmar-maid-suicide-in-singapore/).

In the 90s, there were reports of caregivers that had intentionally killed themselves and their dependents through vehicle carbon monoxide poisoning.

As a student of criminal law, we learn of how people bottle up and endure problems. With no assistance, no hope and barriers faced at every turn, the mind will crumble under the immense burden. The end result is sad and horrifying – and it is not uncommon.

I once wrote about how stress “melted away” when my maid came. I now learn that it doesn’t melt into nothingness, it gets transferred to her…and I can’t pay her enough for to handle this. In high risk, high difficulty jobs, people get paid risk and hardship allowance. I simply cannot afford this, on top of that, MoM now wants me to pay the full $260 levy even if she was hired to look after my father.

Other countries have pension funds, retirement villages, nursing homes and a structurally sound home care program. I’ve even read about how Denmark has built a village for victims of dementia (http://www.thisisinsider.com/inside-hogewey-dementia-village-2017-7). I’ve been told that Japanese nursing homes have a system where the elders provide services and care for each other in a sustainable manner.

Most importantly, these countries give their citizens dignity. They have a means to enroll themselves into such programs without fanfare, without making it look like they’re beggars, that they’re helpless. No matter how down and out you are, people have pride and dignity and they’re much more willing to die than to call for help.

And they have: people dying in their apartments alone and unknown… is far more common than you think.

Today, the country cannot afford any of this. 

It is not a matter of a million dollars, not even a few hundred million dollars. If there was to be a sustainable care system for our elders, the country needs a multi-billion dollar budget.

The theory of getting citizens to help themselves was a good one, but this was in a time when there are more people in a family and social and economical demands were not that high. This was also a time when people passed on at an earlier age. Today, we live longer in a society that costs more and demands more. There are also less people in a family to help – who can you turn to?

You may say welfare can be abused. But this cannot be our attitude to it. Even criminals are innocent until proven guilty, how can we say that everyone that comes asking for help is a fraud?

If we keep believing the bullshit that says welfare is evil and welfare will rot the nation – then I think you better stock up on incense, holy books and prayers: because when the Almighty decides to touch you with trials, your life will downtrend faster than NASDAQ on a bad day.



Categories: Local Issues

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