Update – The Ministry of Social & Family Development (MSF) issued the following statement on 5 May:
“There has been an allegation that MSF ignored referrals from a group that conducts outreach for people in need. This is not true. Our colleagues from the Social Service Office@Toa Payoh met the representative of this group in July last year and explained how they could refer cases to us via email or phone calls. However, to date, we have not received referrals from this group.
MSF works closely with many volunteer welfare organisations to help those in need, and appreciates the efforts of public-spirited individuals who serve the community. We follow up on cases referred and cases that come to our attention, so as to assist those who need help.
If you know of anyone in need of assistance, please let us know or refer them to the nearest Social Service Office (SSO). You can locate the nearest SSO at www.msf.gov.sg/ssolocator.”
Happy People Helping People Foundation (HPHF), a grounds-up movement which reaches out to the old and homeless, shared in their Facebook the picture of an old cardboard collector lying in the streets, presumably tired after a day’s work collecting recyclables.
They captioned their picture, “Taking a break from “exercising”? Please share this with those who thinks poverty does not exist in Singapore.”
Their caption appears like a dig at Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.
In July last year Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, shared several pictures of cardboard collectors on his Facebook with the caption, “Have you ever Spoken to a Cardboard Uncle or Aunty?”.
He met the cardboard collectors with a group of young Singaporeans from Youth Corp on a project they initiated – to get first hand insight into the lives of elderly cardboard collectors.
The Minister shared that he was surprised by the findings of the project, that the normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is false.
The Minister said, “there will be some who do this as their main source of income. Some do so to supplement what they have. Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.”
Mr Tan’s remarks were severely criticised by Facebook users who commented on his post. They slammed the Minister for being out-of-touch, “delusional”, and some others went as far to say the entire thing was staged for a little public relations boost.
To a question from a Facebook user on their post asking if HPHF had alerted the Prime Minister or the relevant government agency to do something about the problem of elderly cardboard collectors, HPHF replied that they had highlighted some of the cases to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) but that their communications have been ignored by the Ministry.