Child Poverty: CCT or SPMF programme
The effects of childhood poverty are multi-facet. Those in poverty experience deprivation across a range of dimensions such as limited access to healthcare, education services resulting in inadequate standards of living, increased risk of poor health, and lower self-esteem and isolation to name a few (Barrientos &DeJong, 2004; Saunders, Naidoo, & Griffiths, 2007). The effects of childhood poverty are also enduring since it is strongly associate with fewer years of schooling and poorer educational achievements. Both of which limit future productive capacity and standards of living. Some factors that have contributed to fewer years of schooling include the high cost of education and educational-related expenses. Opportunity costs from not going out to work early, and poor.
Conditional Cash Transfer programmes
Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programmes have been introducing to tackle child and intergenerational poverty. By providing child-related cash benefits, the CCT intends to encourage children to attend schools and to report health conditions regularly. The CCT programmes are characterise as a mix of traditional social assistance policy. And incentives for behavioural changes in low-income households by increasing investment in human capital. Families in CCT programmes receive cash transfers that are conditional upon completing certain pre-determined behavioural tasks. To date, it is estimate that about 30 countries have implementing some form of CCT programmes. Since the first CCT programmes were initiate in Latin American countries, the CCT has expanding to countries in Asia and Africa.
A growing body of research has examined effectiveness of CCTs. In general, CCT programmes have be successful in meeting their objectives. They have been found to meet the basic consumption needs, encourage the use of health services, decrease malnutrition and its effects on children, and raise educational levels and lower school drop-out rates. However, there are critical discussions about the effectiveness of CCT programmes target at helping children in poverty increase their years of schooling.
Firstly, Calvo’s review of CCT’s educational impact found that where school enrolment was already high. Such programmes yielded far less significant gains.
Secondly, Calvo exerts that most literature focusing on school attendance does not consider the school achievements of children on such CCT programmes in addition to their attendance.
Thirdly, given that CCT programmes do not single-handedly raise the income or consumption of children directly. But instead, supplement the household income of families with children who are eligible for the CCT. Its impact is dependent on the response of the household and the decision of its most influential members on how and what the cash transfers are spending on. Decisions on how money is spent are therefore dependent on cultural contexts of familial roles and each member’s bargaining power. In Singapore, the Straits’ Times – Singapore’s largest English language daily newspaper started a charity project in 2001 called the School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF).
The Fund was designed to help low-income children with basic school-related expenses by providing cash transfers conditional on attendance. However, we do not know how effective SPMF is because there have been no evaluation studies on SPMF. Given the dearth of literature available on SPMF, it remains largely unknown whether the CCT programme in Singapore is effective in enhancing the well-being of children locally. There are studies that aim to explore the associations between Singapore’s ten-year-old CCT programme and children’s well-being.
More specifically, those studies examine how SPMF has influenced children’s school attendance, level of engagement in school, and school performance.
CCT with Context of Singapore
The majority of the research on childhood poverty has taken place in developing countries or Western developed countries. Singapore is neither. The Republic of Singapore has achieved rapid growth and development within 50 years. Joining the ranks of the world’s most developed countries. Today, her per capita nominal Gross Domestic Product is higher than that of most Western developed countries. And has seen a remarkable 100-fold increase from US$400 in 1960 to more than US$40,000 in 2010 (MOE, 2011). Nonetheless, relative poverty exists amongst those who have not profited from Singapore’s economic success.
Understanding the nature of poverty in Singapore is difficult. Although Singapore does not have an official poverty line. The number and percentage of the population receiving Government’s Public Assistance Scheme (PAS) is one indicator of economic hardship. Potential PAS recipients are rigorously means-tested and granted these allowances only. If they are unable to work because of illness, old age, disability or unfavourable family circumstances. Additional, only if they do not have any means of support or anyone to depend on. For these Singapore citizens, they are grant a monthly allowance of S$400 for single-person households or S$263 per capita in four-person households base on the principle of economies of scale on household expenditure for larger families. Given the stringent criteria, only 2,929 persons (less than 1% of eligible population) qualified for the scheme in 2010 (according to MCYS, from the year of 2011).
Another indicator used to identify who the poor in Singapore is the bottom 20% of the per capita household income distribution based on the government’s Report on the Household Expenditure Survey 2007/08. The monthly household income per capita of the lowest 20% was S$365 (MTI, 2008). Most other government financial assistance schemes are therefore made available to those who belong to this segment of the population. For example, the Ministry of Education’s Financial Assistance Scheme (MOE’s FAS) is for students whose households earn less than S$375 per capita per month on average (MOE, 2011).
Given the lack of published data on the extent of childhood poverty in Singapore, a useful proxy indicator. Therefore, is the number of students who are currently on this scheme, which as of October 2011, was 42,430 (approximately 8% of eligible school population) (MOE, 2011). Despite the government’s efforts to provide free primary, secondary and higher education, textbooks and school attire for students under the MOE FAS. There are numerous barriers for low-income children and families. Many children from low-income families may attend school irregularly. Or on empty stomachs throughout the long school day, hindering their ability to focus, learn and do well in school. Children receiving SPMF would receive the transfers as long as they and their families meet the eligibility criteria.
The SPMF programme can be seen as a CCT programme because only children who were in full-time education in approved institutions were eligible for the Fund. Social workers across 64 Voluntary Welfare Organisations(VWOs) assess children and their family’s applicability before providing them with SPMF. Children from low-income families can only receive SPMF for a maximum of two years. Unless under proven exceptional circumstances are they allow to benefit from the programme for an extra six months. Over the past 10 years, 86,000 children have participated in SPMF.
SPMF, therefore, joins the ranks of several other CCT programmes which have been implemented worldwide to encourage and enable children living in poverty to attend school. Besides gains in education, other benefits of CCT programmes are that they facilitate and strengthen the capacity of households to invest in their children’s development holistically. Such programmes have also tended to draw other forms of support such as access to social services to these children and their low-income families. A further benefit of CCT programmes is that there are fewer stigmas associated with the disadvantaged receiving such assistance since the money can be spent as necessary by the child rather than having to be seen collecting food or transport vouchers.
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