Friday, 29 June 2012

Tharman stresses need for social mobility

Deputy PM is confident Singapore can avoid having a permanent underclass
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2012

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday warned of the danger of an underclass becoming a permanent feature of Singapore society, but expressed confidence that the country can overcome the challenge.

He made the point at the 60th anniversary dinner of the Malay Muslim Women's Association, or PPIS, as he called on the members to partner the Government to ensure social mobility.

He told the gathering of about 600 people: 'This happens in every society... the disadvantage of one generation is very easily passed down to... the children and grandchildren.

'We have to do our utmost to ensure that those who start off behind have the best chances of catching up, so that disadvantage does not get repeated across generations.'

But he is confident that Singapore 'can avoid the cycle of disadvantage that comes very naturally in any society' by adopting three approaches.

It will, however, require a lot of energy, spirit and passion, with 'partners supporting each other', he added, pointing to PPIS as an important partner in the Government's goal to help the less well-off move up the socio-economic ladder.

The three approaches he outlined are: early intervention, addressing specific disadvantaged groups, and building up a force of social workers and specialists.

Mr Tharman said that intervention, even before the child enters preschool, is needed to identify and correct learning difficulties.

This would prevent the 'deficit of confidence' that could arise for a child entering school with the feeling of being behind the rest of his peers.

In the second approach, he said, more resources have to be poured into addressing the distinctive problems of specific groups, such as the aged poor, the disabled or single mothers.

The third plank for building social mobility is to develop a strong force of social workers and specialists, by providing good pay and career opportunities.

Specialists such as speech therapists, learning support specialists and counsellors will play an important role in helping a person overcome his or her problems.

PPIS social worker Nooraini Razak was heartened by Mr Tharman's comments.

Said the 36-year-old, a specialist in single mothers' issues: 'When he talked about how the problems can become generational, that's something that resonates with us social workers. It echoes our experience.'

Low-income single mothers, she said, face more than just money problems. Some have no idea of how to enter the working world, and as a result can get only low-paying jobs.

But the plight of these woman and other needy families will be the target of a new programme launched by Mr Tharman last night.

Under the Family Economic Sustainability Programme, PPIS case workers will develop strategies that include counselling the needy over five years to ensure they make progress in attaining their economic aspirations.

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