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Before 1942, clan associations , religious groups and wealthy individuals provided communal housing, jobs, education and medical care for disadvantaged groups.
In June 1946, the returning colonial government set up the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to administer the Public Assistance Scheme , and the Tuberculosis Treatment Allowances Scheme. The SWD also administered other community-donated funds such as the 1935 Silver Jubilee Fund , Malaya War Distress Fund, Far Eastern Relief Fund , as well as the widows and orphans funds of some commercial firms. In 1950, the SWD revised the monthly Public Assistance allowance and introduced a means test . Subsequently, the Public Assistance Board was established in 1951 to advise on the administration , the rates and qualifying criteria of the scheme .
The SWD also administered charitable trust funds (for example, the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Relief Fund , Cheang Hong Lim Burial Ground Charity Fund, and Lee Foundation ) for other needs such as schooling essentials and emergency payments.
Besides financial assistance, Public Assistance recipients also received free medical treatment at government hospitals, remission of school fees, free textbooks for children, and grants for funerals . SWD delivered payments to recipients in hospitals, as well as those who were homebound or living offshore .
By the early 1970s, the focus shifted to economic and social rehabilitation rather than simple hand-outs . The government provided grants and interest-free loans for families to set up small businesses , and introduced the Work Incentive Credit Scheme which encouraged recipients to supplement their income with odd jobs or part-time work.
Today, ComCare provides Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance to tide low-income families through temporary periods of financial difficulty, and Long-Term Assistance (also known as Public Assistance) for those who require permanent support. Help is also made more accessible through the network of Social Service Offices.
Work is ongoing to further enhance the way social assistance is delivered, so that it is more family-centric, better coordinated across government and community partners, and better addresses the root causes of problems faced by families.
By Ministry of Social and Family Development. Published January 2019.