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|CPF Building, Singapore|
There will be a million reasons why the public assistance model in East Asia is not applicable, unworkable, ridiculous, impossible, or politically dead in the water for the United States. I do not care. Their system is worth a look: a successful model, surely imperfect, but worth describing.
The argument along economic lines will be circular: Singapore has a growing economy, low unemployment--they can afford to have less expenditures in public assistance. Yet the cost of U.S. public assistance and two wars (let's don't leave that out; however you may feel about them, they are expensive) has caused the U.S. to swim in debt. We are a sluggish, water-logged ship on turbulent economic waters. Let's see what Singapore does for Welfare. Maybe they know something we don't.
Most of my info and quotes come from:
David Seth Jones (June, 2002)
Welfare and Public Management in Singapore: A Study of State and Voluntary Sector Partnership. Asian Journal of Public Administration, 24:1, pp. 57-85. HERE. (Download; pdf)
Jones states that East Asia follows a Confucianist model of public assistance rather than a Western model. As such, it privileges "correct behavior" in regard to public assistance rather than what I think we do, which is "redress of wrongs, forgiveness, and mercy, to apathy and despair". The "correct behavior" applies to every individual in society, on public assistance or not. Those who have money have duties; those who accept assistance also have requirements. The level of conformity is high.
The following comes from one long paragraph that I separated for easier reading. All emphases are mine:
"Although the classic model of state welfarism has been eschewed, the Singapore government has sought to ensure that certain basic needs are met. This has been done in three ways.
The first is by subsidization. Services such as education and health care are provided by the state with the consumer required to pay a proportion, sometimes a quite small proportion, of the cost. In this way the consumer assumes a shared responsibility in financing the services from which he or she benefits.
The second is through state-administered asset acquisition. The cornerstone of this is the Central Provident Fund scheme. Under the scheme, each employee is required to set aside 20% of his or her income every month, with 16% contributed by the employer. This amount of money is lodged in the employee's own personal account in the CPF--essentially a form of compulory savings. The employee can invest ...a certain proportion of the savings, or may use it to purchase a residence or to pay for costly medical treatment. The primary objective of the scheme, though, is to provide finance for retirement.
The third way by which social needs are met is by voluntary involvement. This relates to welfare provision and personal social services for the most needy and vulnerable in the community, which will be discussed below. (pp.61-62)Jones says (p. 62) "At the heart of the model is the primary role of the volunatary sector and the community--welfare organizations, community associations, charities, religious bodies and even businesses, as well as the family--in the management and delivery of welfare services. The government is considered essentially a regulator and a facilitator, rather than a deliverer."
1. So Singapore does have public health care. They also require a co-pay.
2. Singapore has public education. That also requires a co-pay, and probably other steps such as entrance exams.
3. Singapore has a kind of Social Security, a little more direct than our Social Security. They have an Ordinary Account, a Medisave Account, and in some years a Special Account was also used. The government allocates, say 24% to the Ordinary and 6% to the Medisave. In times of economic downturn, they lower percentages in order to stimulate the economy. (Vandine, p.2).
II. Voluntary Welfare OrganizationsParaphrasing Jones: VWO's include: charitable organizations, community associations, ethnic self-help groups, religious groups (Christian, Taoist, Buddhist, and Muslim). The volunteer aspect is that a (church) might agree to fill a particular need and become a VWO. Volunteerism comes from their membership, although a lot of people do seem to get paid. It's subcontracting with citizen participation. The government pays about 25% of the Total spending on Public Assistance.
As a group, VWOs do the following:
1. provide care for elderly and disabled
2. individual and family counseling (either in need or under stress)
3. accommodations and 'support in kind' for the destitute
4. assistance to needy families.
5. preschool education
6. supervising children before and/or after school
7. child and adolescent counseling
8. therapy and rehab for drug addicts
9. home health care
10. their version of "Meals on Wheels"
11. operate residential institutions for addicts in rehab, abused children or children 'out of control'; elderly; disabled, and destitute.
In many of these activities, day-care centers for children provide the locus also for child or adolescent counseling; other centers will do elder counseling, socializing, or care during the day.
Jones does not specify what number of these people are paid. I suspect most of them. But they are hired through a VWO organization, not civil service. The VWO might also seek informal, free consultancy: a food kitchen might benefit from a (ethic association member's) grocery store acumen, or "Meals on Wheels" might get its restaurant layout looked at by a (neighborhood association member) who owns a restaurant. This help would be graciously accepted but is also part of one's civic duty.
III. FundingSingapore's citizens may donate directly to a VWO or to Singapore's state-run Community Chest, which allocates funds for VWOs. This is also voluntary giving, frequently through regular paycheck donation. The donated C.C. funds are apportioned according to governmental criteria by the National Council of Social Service. This Council is quasi-governmental and works closely with the Ministry of Community Development and Sports. There is also a fund for Corporate Giving. Corporations can choose broad areas of concern, or specific charities, or the general welfare. Then the NCSS takes that into account.
Last of all, the Government of Singapore also chips in, up to 50% of of what it considers an appropriate operating cost for an approved VWO. Many times this is done on a per-capita basis (by number of people served).
IV: The Government of Singapore Generally Pays for:1. Start-up grant, for first months of investment.
2. Building/remodelling costs for facilities (including furniture, transportation, all initial costs), up to 90%, based upon a budget submitted by the VWO and approved/checked beforehand. Therefore, the VWO is kicking in 10% or more of the cash, plus the sweat equity.
They also pay 'hidden costs':
3. Rents are high in Singapore. Part of the government funding is to arrange low rent in federal property, and then pay that rent. The lease generally must be renewed every year or some agreed period of time. It is not automatic.
4. Auto licenses are expensive in Singapore. The government pays that.
5. If there are many voluntary donors for a particular Local project, sometimes the government matches funds. In that case, locals get a little more say in what is put into their area. Otherwise it follows the federal formula. In other words, citizens have to put their $$ where their commitment or perceived need is, not wait for a Congressman to pork it up for them.
V. The Ministry of Community Development and Sports is responsible for:1. Training and advising paid staff of volunteers, occupational therapists, aides, etc.
2. Training in motivation, administrative, and career skills for VWO managers.
3. Consulting for continual training and advisement.
4. Manuals and guidelines to set standard best practice. Every VWO operates from a standing government-determined framework. Frequently there are targets and quotas.
5. Expects quarterly reports from each VWO
6. Expects conformation with guidelines/manuals--everything from how much space to staff/service ratios, hygiene, safety
7. Measures performance and holds VWOs accountable for government guidelines.
Thus Singapore has a public/private partnership that "avoids dependency on direct state welfare". The government supplies funding, regulations, guidelines, and limits duplicate efforts in the same region. The private sector is the partner who delivers the care. It is perhaps paternalistic--it requires conformation to societal norms by all parties--and it requires a significant amount of private donations.
What do you think? Consider my first example, a "disadvantaged youth in trouble." He would go to school, be supervised before and after, his parents would be counseled or he would be housed in a charity arrangement. The difference is perhaps that he might be expected to conform against inner inclinations (to violence, good; but to a certain profession, maybe that's un-American?). The standard set before him would be the only one to attain. On the other hand, encouragement and attention would be given when he made those steps.
or take my second example, the temporary food stamps. A person in crisis might have gotten a little financial counseling, or, a follow-up to be sure they no longer required assistance. That follow-up may have been an appointment that I would be duty-bound to make. They also may have been making sure I DID spend those food stamps on staples or canned goods, rather than Kool-Aid or candy bars.
That's what I'm seeing, though I could be wrong in details. I don't think one paper is enough to know how Singapore and East Asia's social contract works--but I do think this gives us plenty to think about.
Another question: are we too corrupt/special-interest driven to implement this system fairly?
Is our land-mass too widespread to implement a standard system?
Another question: despite our opinion of ourselves, the U.S. is not by per capita measure or % of GDP the most charitable nation in the world. Could we get into the culture of giving?
Government of Singapore, Central Provident Fund Web site. in English
Vandine, Comparing U.S. Social Security to Singapore's Central Provident Fund
Wikipedia, Central Provident Fund, linked above.
Hat tip to Inspector Gadget at Police Inspector blog. He wrote that Blair was interested in Singapore for UK welfare reform, and then never reformed UK public assistance. That got me started.