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New S$200 monthly grant, respite services among plans to ease burden on caregivers

SINGAPORE — A new monthly grant of S$200, services that allow caregivers to get some respite from their duties, and an option for Singaporeans to pay their siblings’ medical bills. These are just some of the initiatives of a government action plan designed to support those who have to look after the aged, the sick and people with disabilities, and they will be rolled out in the next two years.

New S$200 monthly grant, respite services among plans to ease burden on caregivers

By 2030, one in four residents in Singapore will be aged 65 and above, close to where Japan is today.

SINGAPORE — A new monthly grant of S$200, services that allow caregivers to get some respite from their duties, and an option for Singaporeans to pay their siblings’ medical bills. These are just some of the initiatives of a government action plan designed to support those who have to look after the aged, the sick and people with disabilities, and they will be rolled out in the next two years.

Announcing the Caregiver Support Action Plan in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 13), Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said that a new means-tested Home Caregiving Grant of S$200 a month will be introduced by the end of this year, replacing the existing S$120-a-month Foreign Domestic Worker Grant.

Recognising that not all caregivers may need a foreign domestic worker for help, the grant may be used to offset other caregiving expenses such as home- and community-based services, and transportation for medical appointments.

Mr Tong said that the Ministry of Health will be enhancing its suite of respite options for caregivers who may need to take a break to rest or recharge, especially for those who need such services at short notice.

For example, the Agency for Integrated Care under MOH, which facilitates eldercare schemes, will pilot a new night respite service for those taking care of seniors with dementia who have sleep and behavioural issues, so that they may catch up on some rest.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), who tabled the motion in Parliament to provide more support for caregivers, suggested allowing families to pre-register essential information with respite providers, which reduces the time needed for administrative work in the event that respite services are needed urgently.

Mr Tong said that a pre-enrolment system is in the pipeline and will be piloted at the end of this year.

Also by the end of this year, caregivers will be allowed to tap their savings in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Medisave accounts to pay for the healthcare expenses of their Singaporean siblings. This came after a suggestion by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira.

By 2030, one in four residents in Singapore will be aged 65 and above, close to where Japan is today.

Shrinking family sizes also mean that the old-age support ratio will fall from 4.8 last year to 2.1 by 2030.

In a cross-agency review led by Mr Tong before the action plan was announced, caregivers and employers spoke about flexible work arrangements, which will allow them to take time-off whenever necessary, instead of applying for leave.

Mr Tong said: "Often (caregivers) do not need a full or even half day's leave, and two to three hours would be sufficient."

In aiming to work towards this, the Government may increase the Work-Life Grant budget, which now allows eligible companies to get up to S$105,000 over two years for their employees’ flexible working arrangements on a regular basis.

And while some MPs called for more legislation on caregivers’ leave, Ms Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Manpower, said that "having more legislated leave on top of the existing leave provisions could add cost to businesses".

A total of 24 MPs spoke about the need to ensure that caregivers get enough support.

OTHER INITIATIVES IN THE CAREGIVER SUPPORT ACTION PLAN

  • To allow quicker referrals to services and facilitate easier access to information, four walk-in locations operated by the Agency for Integrated Care will open by the second half of this year in the Silver Generation Office’s satellite branches.

  • The portal on eldercare and caregiving, Singapore Silver Pages, will be revamped this year to enhance user experience.

  • A new health marketplace e-platform will be available by next year to allow caregivers to buy consumables and access services such as transportation and medical escort.

  • A new Moments of Life portal for Singaporeans to pre-plan for their end-of-life journey such as will-making and post-death estate matters. The beta version will be ready by end of this year.

  • A pilot home-based respite service for caregivers of cancer patients under palliative care.

  • Having more caregiver support networks.

  • Enhancing training for family caregivers and new foreign domestic workers.

OTHER PROPOSALS

  • Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC MP): Increase male participation in active ageing programmes, as only about 20 per cent of the participants now are men.

  • Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC MP): Extend active ageing programmes to more communities and build more senior activity centres.

  • Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC MP): Have more facilities such as toilets and benches near fitness corners and parks to encourage exercise among seniors.

  • Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC MP): Socio-economic support such as CPF top-ups for full-time informal caregivers in low-income households.

  • Miss Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC MP): More support for vulnerable seniors who are at high risk of social isolation and loneliness.

  • Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC MP): Review the Build-Own-Lease funding model for nursing homes. The model was introduced in 2012, where the ministry builds and owns the nursing homes and tenders the operating rights to an operator.

  • Miss Cheryl Chan (Fengshan SMC MP): Develop various forms of innovative transport service for seniors living in less accessible locations within private estates.

  • Ms Anthea Ong (Nominated MP): Convert paid childcare leave into a longer quantum of family-care leave of at least 10 days.

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