Lightening the caregiving load of women

By Carrie Tan, MP for Nee Soon GRC and representative of PAP’s Women’s Wing

One in four Singaporeans will be over 65 years old by 2030. This will become one in two, by 2050. Will Singapore be able to provide care for its seniors in a way that is sustainable, affordable and accessible for today’s families, and the next generation?

Despite educational and economic advancement for women over the past 57 years, women still bear most of the caregiving load at home, whether childcare or elderly care.

When I was managing local charity Daughters Of Tomorrow from 2014 to 2020, I saw firsthand how caregiving created real barriers for low-income women to obtain stable employment. The inability to access sufficient care to replace their own time and presence in caring for loved ones prevented many from holding down jobsor pursuing their own aspirations.

Furthermore, a 2020 survey by the Singapore Alliance for Women in Aging revealed that due to the pandemic, the shortage of care-related resources such as daycare centres and domestic workers added to the stress and financial burden of caregivers.

In my constituency at Nee Soon, several families in distress have reached out, hoping to find care support either for their children or aged parents. They sought help in the hope of preventing a situation where one of them would have to quit their jobs. For such low-income families, this would exacerbate their financial challenges: they lose income at the same time as they incur higher caregiving expenses.

So I was glad to hear of the Government’s announcement this year to increase the Home Caregiving Grant, in response to the Women’s Development White Paper’s proposal highlighting the challenges faced by caregivers. 

But beyond policy efforts, I hope we can involve all Singaporeans in mutual support and aid through a strong care ecosystem within the community – and that we do this sooner, rather than later. 

Community care

Growing mutual support in the community can help to spread the care load that women shoulder, and enable more women to participate better in the workforce. In this respect, my proposal is that we reduce reliance on institutional care by strengthening community care, with last-mile volunteerism as an intentional effort. 

I got to know of KampungKaki, which built up networks of buddy systems in neighbourhoods to help elderly and vulnerable residents with needs such as picking up groceries and meals, providing a listening ear to isolated seniors, or helping those who are less tech-savvy to navigate resources. 

Goodhood.SG is another – an online platform matching neighbours who have needs with those who would like to give. All these initiatives create and encourage accessible ways for Singaporeans to step forward to help one another. 

These efforts help to fill the gaps in the system for high-touch support work that government agencies are hard-pressed to provide. 

Having run a charity, I have seen the positive impact of customised support for families and individuals; how hand-holding, befriending and one-to-one support can greatly alleviate the emotional and mental stress of those feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances. 

I have often spoken up in Parliament about how social service agencies will play a bigger, if not critical, role in helping our country deal with its increased care load in the years to come. Such work often requires contingents of well-trained and committed volunteers, which is not a simple thing to build up. Volunteer management, development and retention is an intentional effort that requires both financial and manpower resources. 

But most charitable start-ups are challenged when trying to scale their impact; they usually run on very lean teams, trying to reach as many people as possible with limited resources to build up awareness, raise funds, and recruit committed volunteers to serve the many beneficiaries they have identified. 

Helping social service agencies

We will do well to help social service agencies build up their professional and fundraising capabilities – something the Government’s Community Capability Trust aims to do. I hope corporates, philanthropists and other private sector funders, too, will quickly recognise the value of investing in people and talent in more ground-up, not-for-profit initiatives, and help to fund manpower and professionalism. 

In the spirit of growing our care ecosystem, the People’s Action Party’s Women’s Wing is organising a community exhibition, showcasing some 20 local ground-up groups and social service agencies providing Singaporeans support in the areas of caregiving and parenting. #ActionForHer: Growing Our Circles Of Care aims to equip families with diverse resources, services and knowledge to care better with less effort. At the same time, we hope to rally our activist community and members of the public to sign up as volunteers.

A helpful neighbour beats a faraway relative. As more individuals take that first step into volunteerism within their own circles and neighbourhoods, relationships in the community will be strengthened. Only then, can care be better distributed to help lighten the loads of women. When families’ loads are reduced, they, too, may spend more quality time nurturing relationships within the home. 

This week, as we mark International Day of Charity, which falls on Sep 5, let us take home the knowledge that as individuals, each of us has the capacity to play an essential, humanitarian role in this country’s care ecosystem.

It is my hope that through forging these connections and taking steps towards strengthening care within the community, we will come to shape a more generous, compassionate and resilient Singapore – a home where care is easily accessible and affordable to all.

#ActionForHer: Growing Our Circles of Care takes place Sep 10, 1pm to 6pm at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre. Admission is free. Click here for more information.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

Cover photo credit: Council for Third Age