MSF and Tan Chuan-Jin respond to viral post about elderly woman seeking more work

Elderly woman swollen feet putting on shoes
(FILE PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Wednesday evening (29 July) clarified a viral Facebook post detailing a netizen’s encounter with an elderly woman who allegedly was on her way to Sentosa to seek additional employment.

The MSF said on Facebook that its Social Service Office (SSO) colleagues have identified the elderly woman, whom they referred to only as Mdm L.

“She is staying in a five-room flat with her son’s family. The family has a domestic helper. Her son provides her with food and shelter but she works to supplement her other expenses,” said the ministry.

Facebook user Meng Shuen Koh had posted details of his encounter with Mdm L in the train station on his personal account on Monday. He wrote that the elderly woman – whom he identified as an 82-year-old Malaysian citizen – had asked him how to travel from Bedok to Sentosa.

The woman had reportedly told him she resided in a flat in Sembawang with two friends and that she was on the way to the island to seek additional employment as a dishwasher.

In his post, Koh also wrote that Mdm L had related that she is working as a cleaner and dishwasher at Our Tampines Hub hawker centre with a wage of $5 per hour. According to Koh, the woman also told him that her only son had died during an exercise while serving his National Service.

In MSF’s clarifications, the ministry said that its records indicated that Mdm L is a permanent resident here and that she has not applied for Singapore citizenship in the past.

The ministry also shed light on her current employment circumstances, stating that prior to the COVID-19 circuit breaker, the elderly woman was paid about $1,300 per month for her full-time job before Central Provident Fund deductions.

Because of reduced business, her employer had arranged for her and other full-time employees to work part-time as a way to retain staff, it added.

“She is currently paid $675 for working part-time in 4-hour shifts (or about $6.50/hour). We understand from her employer that when business improves, they will review and reinstate the cleaners’ part-time employment to full-time,” said the MSF.

To mitigate the impact of Mdm L’s wage loss during this period, the ministry said it is assessing her eligibility for the COVID-19 Support Grant, which provides monthly payouts of $500 to $800 to eligible applicants with certain criteria in place.

As Mdm L is not a Singaporean, she does not qualify for Silver Support or Workfare, the MSF noted, adding that she currently receives benefits like the Solidarity Payment, which are also extended to PRs.

“In addition, we will support her in other ways. Grassroots organisations will support her with $120 food vouchers monthly for the next six months. We are also arranging for her to get some help for her medical expenses,” said the MSF.

The ministry also said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) had verified that Mdm L’s elder son, a regular warrant officer, had died during a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) freefall training session in South Africa in May 2009.

“Full compensation was paid out to his family. Mindef and the SAF extend their deepest condolences to the family,” it added.

The MSF highlighted its appreciation of the efforts made by the public in reaching out to those who seem to be in need but cautioned against posting and sharing their circumstances on social media as it may lead to “further distress” for these vulnerable groups of people and their families.

“Such posts may not correctly reflect the circumstances of vulnerable groups of people, who may be elderly, or may not share all the details accurately because of the stressors they are facing,” said the ministry.

“We encourage members of the public to please link them up directly with us through our SSOs or any Family Service Centre. In the case of Mdm L, she indicated she was unaware of being photographed or that her comments and photo would be shared in public on social media.”

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who shared the ministry’s post on his Facebook account, wrote on the social media platform, “This is the consequence...(The) lady is distraught by all the attention the post has brought to her. The manager at the hawker stall there has stopped any further contact with her.

“She said that ever since the post went up she has been harassed at home by people who have been flocking to where she is staying,” he added.

“I know many of you mean well. But please stop going to her place of work or approaching her and her family. They are in significant distress.”

Koh later took down the viral post and on Wednesday explained the rationale behind the move in a separate Facebook post.

“In light of new knowledge I received affecting the accuracy of the initial story (and) her turning down aid from members of the public, I have decided it would be best to remove the original post,” wrote Koh, who also called on for the public to refrain from approaching Mdm L at her workplace.

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