Sunday, August 13, 2006

How compassionate are we?

Workgroup to look into financial security of kids with special needs
By Noor Mohd Aziz, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 19 July 2006 1806 hrs

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) has formed a nine-member parents' workgroup to look into the financial security of children with special needs. President of Autism Resource Centre and MP for Jalan Besar Denise Phua has been appointed to lead it. To ensure a good representation, the workgroup comprises parents who have children with disabilities. Ms Phua is herself the mother of a 10-year-old child with autism. The workgroup will gather and analyse the views of parents of children with different special needs through focus group discussions. Based on the feedback, it will recommend initiatives on how such parents may enhance the financial security of their children. The workgroup is expected to submit its recommendations to the Ministry in September.
When I read the headline, I thought the government has finally decided to do something for the needy. But after reading the text, I was disappointed. (Please see bolded text, emphasis is mine)

It looks like the message continues to be : 'You look after yourselves, ok.'

I had always thought that as a nation, we don't look after our needy enough.I used to have a colleague with an autistic child. Seeing her shuttling all over the island putting her child through the various institutions every week while meeting work targets was heart-wrenching. Despite these demands, she faced life stoically.

According to the MCYS, the subsidy given to families under its 'Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children' (EIPIC) this year is between $368 - $506. This programme is targeted at children under the age of 6 who are diagnosed with a handicapping condition or special need that will affect his or her development.

This works out to a total subsidy of about $36,500 for the entire 6-year duration.
Contrast this with the amount spent on a government scholar. The A-Star had just given out 40 scholarships this year. Each overseas scholarship is valued at more than $200,000 - $300,000 (tuition fees, allowances, airfares, etc).

Now, I fully support the importance of nurturing our local talents. But, I also believe that those who are blessed should help the others around them. As a tax-payer, I will have no qualms if more of my tax money is diverted towards helping those in need. As it is now, the relativity of spending between our talents and our needy is skewed in favour of our talents.

I know that the government had always been concerned about creating a moral hazard in drawing up its financial assistance programmes. I fully support that.I would not want to see a society reliant on welfare instead of individual efforts.I would not agree for my tax money to be given to those who can work but choose not to. These are people who can control their own fates but had opted for the easy way out.

But, in the case of those diagnosed with palsy, autism or other learning disabilities, how much control do they have over their conditions, much less their fates?What moral hazard is there if we set aside more money to help them?

I think I have said enough.
Over to you.
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