When I spoke on last year's Budget (my maiden speech to boot), I said:
"In my view, the WIS is one of the most important programmes to help the low-income in Singapore’s history, and I applaud the Government for introducing it."
Back then, I pointed out that the requirement for the self-employed and casual workers to make Medisave contributions before they are entitled to the WIS payments is likely to deter them, making it a self-defeating proposition. I think the numbers bear it out -- it seems that only one-third of those eligible have signed up. In our effort to ensure that no resources are wasted, are we effectively barring people from the help we want them to get?
Workfare Income Supplement Payment
12. Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Minister for Manpower in view of the first Workfare Income Supplement payment on 1st January 2008 (a) how many persons received this payment; (b) what was the aggregate amount paid under this first payment; and (c) what was the average amount received by each person.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Manpower (Mr Hawazi Daipi) (for the Minister for Manpower): Sir, the first payment of Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) was made on 1st January 2008 for work done in the first half of 2007. 287,000 workers received a total of $146 million. On average, each recipient received $510. The WIS for work done in the whole of 2007, less the first payment, will be paid in April for employees, and in May for self-employed persons.
Mr Siew Kum Hong: Sir, I have two supplementary questions. My first question is what is the Ministry's preliminary assessment of Workfare to date?
My second question is: what are the ongoing efforts to encourage more persons, especially casual workers, to sign up for Workfare? Because when I went back to the 2007 Budget Statement, it seems that the estimate was that there were 438,000 persons who could potentially benefit, and only 287,000 workers had received Workfare.
Mr Hawazi Daipi: Sir, our assessment is that workers are quite aware of WIS and the benefits of it. People are gainfully employed and we want to encourage employment of Singaporeans and this has worked. As to how to encourage more casual workers to sign, I think we have done some work. MOM has worked with grassroots organisations, reaching out to hawkers and other casual workers, and self-employed persons to inform them about WIS. We have published a booklet on Workfare Income Supplement Scheme distributed at grassroots outlets, including the community clubs. So, people can look up this information.
The public can also look up the website. If they want to find out how much they need to contribute as casual workers or part-time workers to their Medisave account, they can look up www.wis.sg. It is very simple. Even if they do not have a computer and do not have access to Internet, they can go to a community club and find out for themselves.
Mr Speaker: Mr Siew, last question.
Mr Siew Kum Hong: Sir, given all these outreach attempts, it seems that there are still a number of workers who are not signing up for Workfare. What is the Ministry's assessment as to the reasons why they are not signing up?
Mr Hawazi Daipi: We have not found out the reasons. But it is true that quite a large number of casual workers and self-employed have not signed up for WIS. Only 54,000 such workers received WIS, as compared to 160,000 workers who received Workfare Bonus the year before. Some informal workers may not be aware of this. So, we want to step up effort and reach out to them through various organisations. Already in the past year, quite a number of activities were organised - briefing grassroots leaders and voluntary welfare organisations, including residents, hawkers and hawker assistants.
Secondly, unlike the Workfare Bonus Scheme, self-employed and informal workers need to fulfil their Medisave liabilities before they can receive WIS. Many such workers did not receive WIS because they have not yet contributed to their CPF. Nevertheless, if they contribute before 31st March 2008, they will get the full sum of WIS on 1st May this year.
Mdm Cynthia Phua: Sir, just one question. I would like to inform SPS that during the recent walkabout, the residents complained that they did not -
Mr Speaker: Mdm Phua, are you asking a question or informing the SPS?
Mdm Cynthia Phua: The question is this. A lot of them do not know that they need to apply every year. Can the SPS do a little bit more publicity?
Mr Hawazi Daipi: Sir, the suggestion is taken.