SINGAPORE – An effort is under way to coordinate resources and community efforts on the ground, and possibly provide training, so those who want to volunteer are conscious of the issues faced by those in need, said Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah.

She was responding to a representative from a social service agency who highlighted that there are many well-meaning people who want to help low-income families, but may sometimes end up doing more harm than good without an insight into issues such as poverty and inequality.

The dialogue was part of a conference held by the National University of Singapore’s Social Service Research Centre. It was attended by about 300 representatives from social service agencies, academics and policymakers.

Ms Indranee, who heads the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift) to better support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, had earlier set out the fourth-generation leadership’s approach to tackling inequality in a speech.

Ms Carrie Tan, founder of the Daughters Of Tomorrow charity, asked the minister whether the Uplift Programme Office (UPO) could help sensitise volunteers before they hit the ground.

The UPO is meant to improve coordination in tapping community efforts and resources more systematically.

Ms Indranee said: “UPO is at the ministry level. We’re still working out another piece, which is to do the coordination at the ground level. That’s a work in progress and that would involve working with various either welfare organisations and volunteer groups, and then we’ll see how the training can be done at that level.”

Another issue raised was the gig economy.

Mr Fang Xinwei, a senior social worker at the Singapore Children’s Society, said quite a number of people from low-income families are “gig” workers doing freelance work.

This deprives them of benefits such as annual leave and Central Provident Fund contribution, and as a result, many face difficulties securing housing or planning for retirement, he said.

Responding, Ms Indranee said the Ministry of Manpower is studying the issue.

“Because like you, we are quite concerned with the gig economy which gives a kind of short-term income but, like you point out, it doesn’t build up your retirement reserves,” she added.

Ms Indranee said those who are in such jobs because they cannot secure more permanent employment can be helped through schemes such as SkillsFuture and Adapt and Grow, which help people to reskill.

She noted that the Government already helps to top up the CPF accounts of those who may not have accumulated enough, through the Silver Support scheme for needy seniors.

“For those who are at a young age now, what you really hope is that when they become older, by the time they retire, they won’t be in a position where their reserves are low. So we’ll have to try and figure out a way to help them build up their reserves” she said.