An accompanying podcast to socialservice.sg, a bi-monthly newsletter on social service research in Singapore for researchers, practitioners, and the general public.
Three sections each newsletter: "So what?" (the academic and practical significance of journal articles and books); "What it might have been" (publications and newspaper articles on research or data); and "What's going on?" (summaries of the most important news stories around the world).
The coronavirus pandemic has been described by some as “the great equaliser”, yet we now know the disproportionate impact of the virus. Individuals from low-income households and communities of colour are at higher risk of infection, serious illness, and death. And in this vein, the pandemic has revealed the persistent inequalities in our societies, including in Singapore.
In one of the most insightful and powerful conversations of the podcast series thus far, we speak with Professor Mohan Dutta on marginalisation and the role of academia. He explains the "culture-centred approach", describes the prioritisation of those of the margins of the margins through sustained voice and communicative infrastructures, and draws from his centre's research in Singapore and beyond.
Then, we consider the role of academia. Are us academics and researchers too used to being in the limelight? What about the exclusionary effect of academia and jargon? And what does change look like, both politically and economically as well as, academically?
Before the pandemic, building communities was difficult. Maintaining and sustaining these communities, after they were built, was even more difficult. And now, with a pandemic and a circuit breaker in Singapore, community organisers who run social initiatives and programmes have had to adapt, so as to remain connected to and engaged with their communities.
We hear from three such organisers: Debra Lam, co-founder of the social enterprise Society Staples; as well as Grace Chua and Tham Jun Han, co-founders of the social organisation Friendzone. Through their experiences, we want to learn about how they have shifted their regular programmes and services - very much premised upon face-to-face interactions - to online platforms. How has the transition been? What were the challenges? And what have they learnt, through this COVID19 experience?
Amidst the pandemic and the ongoing circuit breaker in Singapore, the needs and concerns of foreign domestic workers deserve greater attention. Groups such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics and A Good Space have highlighted these issues, yet many of these needs and concerns had surfaced even before this pandemic.
If “business-as-usual” was already problematic, what are the necessary policy and perception changes? How do we better the employment conditions of these workers? And more broadly, what is the complicity of Singaporeans, under these circumstances? Today, we speak to Nessa Swinn, who leads the youth advocacy group, MaidForMore (https://www.instagram.com/maidformoresg/), which aims to challenge dominant - and oftentimes problematic - cultural ideas and perceptions that Singaporeans hold about these workers.
Countries around the world have brought attention to domestic, family, or intimate partner violence in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, especially since rising unemployment is associated with a higher number of personal crises. In Singapore, cases of family violence, child abuse, spousal abuse, and elder abuse were documented even before the pandemic, and now - amidst a circuit breaker in Singapore - these worries deserve greater and continued attention.
On May 14, the Singapore Police Force said that police reports related to family violence increased by 22 per cent since the beginning of the circuit breaker period.
We focus on domestic, family, and intimate partner violence: Before, during, and after the pandemic. How should the public understand these forms of violence and abuse? What does help, support, and assistance look like? And more importantly, what are the important steps to make sure that policy recommendations and actions on this issue remain priorities, even after we emerge from the circuit breaker? For that, we turn to Chong Ning Qian, Senior Research Executive at the Association of Women for Action and Research.
The discourse surrounding the universal basic income (UBI) and its experiments has gained traction around the world, including in Finland, which just announced, last week, the findings of its two-year UBI evaluation study. And while Finland was preparing to launch its UBI experiment in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore cannot afford a basic income.
And yet, in April this year, in the midst of a pandemic and the circuit breaker, Dr. Ong Qiyan - deputy director of research at the National University of Singapore's Social Service Research Centre - and nominated member of parliament Walter Theseira proposed the Majulah UBI in parliament. Funded by a temporary personal income tax increase, the proposal will see all Singaporeans receiving $110 a week, for 12 weeks. While noting important design differences between the Majulah UBI and the general conception of a UBI, we were interested to learn more about their motivations, the state of UBI and its experiments around the world, as well as their thoughts on social welfare policies and interventions in Singapore.
Singapore faces a rapidly ageing population. And before the pandemic, social service interventions to address isolation and loneliness revolved around community befriending programmes, counselling services, as well as day activities and rehabilitation. However, what happens during a pandemic, especially with a virus most deadly to the most vulnerable?
How do we overcome the risks of social and emotional distancing, while maintaining physical distancing?
We speak to Justina Teo, Senior Manager at Lions Befrienders (https://www.lionsbefrienders.org.sg/). Since 1995, Lions Befrienders has been matching trained befrienders to seniors through weekly home visits, and we chat about the work of her agency, the needs of the elders they serve, as well as the future of befriending services in Singapore.
The late American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain described Singapore’s food scene as having: “More variety, more options, more specialties from many lands. And cheap”. Yet, since the first coronavirus case was announced in the country, F&B businesses have had to adjust. Through conversations with an F&B owner and a team which created a crowdsourced hawker directory, we want to understand both the problems as well as the ground-up solutions.
We speak to Chua Ee Chien (Jekyll & Hyde cocktail bar https://www.facebook.com/JekyllAndHyde.SG/ and bars.sg) as well as Lim Yi Fan (FoodLeh?: https://foodleh.web.app/). We also highlight the online gift-card initiative Chope & Save (chopeandsave.com), started by a team of five in their 20s.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus among migrant workers has reflected serious lapses in Singapore’s pandemic planning in the country, but it would be remiss to not discuss the policies surrounding migrant workers and immigration in a more systemic or structural manner. For this, we turn to Professor Kenneth Paul Tan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, at the National University of Singapore, who is an expert on Singapore’s politics, society, and culture. He has written extensively and holistically on the tensions and contradictions around Singapore’s transition from a developmental state to a neoliberal global city.
On Labour Day, we focus on chapter 6, “Moral panic and the migrant worker folk devil”, of this 2017 book, titled, “Governing global-city Singapore: Legacies and futures after Lee Kuan Yew” (https://www.routledge.com/Governing-Global-City-Singapore-Legacies-and-Futures-After-Lee-Kuan-Yew/Tan/p/book/9781138344150). In the chapter, he discusses the effect of Singapore’s deeper participation in neoliberal globalisation and the tensions resulting from higher levels of immigration.
We first invite him to explain theories such as neoliberal globalisation and political authoritarianism (as well as pragmatism and technocracy), to set the context of our conversation. Next, we trace our growing reliance on migrant labour in neo-authoritarian Singapore, leading to an evaluation of the present migrant worker situation. We also cover events in 2013 - the Population White Paper, the protests, and the Little India riot - and the extent of continuity we might be experiencing. Finally, we think about how ideological shifts in the country might look like.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Singapore, I’ve been closely following the Facebook updates of former colleague Brenda Tan, with whom I used to work at the former news site “The Middle Ground”. A few days ago, she posted a powerful reflection about her personal experience, which you will hear in this episode. Singaporean blogger mrbrown also shared Brenda’s post on Twitter.
On regular episodes, we document community initiatives and discuss structural challenges. Yet, inspired by her post - as well as a recent podcast by “The New York Times” titled “Voices of the pandemic” - we speak with Singaporeans about their daily lives, studying, working, and staying at home, and ask them how routines have been disrupted.
This week, we caught up with seven Singaporeans in their 20s: Undergraduate Jaime Han and working professional Estella Ho (10:31); First-time mother and social worker Nur Sakinah Rahmat (17:41); Working professional Lim RuiWen (22:00); Undergraduates Lee Gui An (26:25) and Amirul Hakim Bin Abdul Hamid (33:35); and Journalist Keshia Naurana Badalge (38:50).
In the context of the pandemic and the circuit breaker in Singapore, the designation of psychological treatments as a non-essential service is an obvious starting point. Yet, it also seems appropriate to both consider the state of mental health wellness and advocacy in the country before the pandemic, as well as our aspirations for where we want mental health wellness and advocacy to be.
Nominated member of parliament Anthea Ong has been an advocate for improved affordability, accessibility, and quality of mental health services, who started her advocacy even before her appointment in 2018. In addition to her motivations and perspectives, our conversation revolved around the evolution of her thinking, her concerns during this circuit breaker and pandemic, and her important calls to action.
Singapore is expected to enter a full-year recession, and the ripple effect of pay cuts and hiring freezes is just beginning. Even with the Unity, Resilience, and Solidarity Budgets, graduating students from the institutes of higher learning and the universities are justifiably anxious.
We focus on the internship and employment challenges faced by Singaporean students. We speak to Adriel Yong, who started a spreadsheet to collate opportunities for students looking for summer internships (tinyurl.com/summeropps2020), and Mock Yi Jun (Advisory Singapore: advisory.sg), who leads a non-profit dedicated to empowering young Singaporeans to make informed career and further education choices.
Not having a computer or an Internet connection, it might be argued, is symbolic of the many challenges faced by low-income Singaporean households (with school-going children). And even with government assistance - beyond the provision of such technological necessities - individuals and community groups have also stepped up, offering other forms of assistance to Singaporeans who may have fallen through the cracks.
We speak to Lim May-Ann (Engineering Good's Computers against COVID: https://engineeringgood.org/computers-against-covid/) as well as David Hoe (Project Stable Staples: projectstablestaples.sg).
Mutual aid initiatives - facilitating the exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit - started as Google spreadsheets, but could potentially evolve into virtual and ground communities which last beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
We speak to Rachel Ooi (Mutual Aid Hub: aidhubsg.com) as well as Abhishek Bajaj and Vincent Ng (A Good Space: agoodspace.org) to learn more about their work and motivations, the challenges, and the way forward.