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68Misperceptions or Gaps: An Assessment of Low-Income Malay/Muslim Households’ Perceptions of Social Assistance Provided by Malay/Muslim Organisations
Misperceptions or Gaps: An Assessment of Low-Income Malay/ Muslim Households’ Perceptions of Social Assistance Provided by
SITI ADRIANA BTE MUHAMAD RASIP
In Singapore, Malay/Muslim organisations (MMOs) are commonly seen by Malay/ Muslim (MM) households as responsible for undertaking efforts towards the socio-economic development of the MM community. Despite the MMOs’ efforts, some members of the MM community still view MMOs negatively and find them lacking. This study aims to juxtapose such common perceptions of MMOs against an examination of social assistance, based on data collected from 27 low-income MM households, in order to determine if these perceptions are misperceptions or genuinely reflect gaps that need to be addressed. This paper concludes that negative perceptions held by some of the MM households are misperceptions, based on a lack of information or clarity about the realities that the MMOs face. MMOs also face limitations in outreach due to limited resources and capabilities, which might have given rise to these negative perceptions as well.
In Singapore, Malay/Muslim (MM) households commonly view Malay/ Muslim organisations (MMOs) as bodies responsible for undertaking efforts towards the socio-economic development of the MM community. Even though the MMOs’ social assistance efforts are aimed at developing the MM community, a handful of members of the MM community still perceive them to be lacking. Some common criticisms of the MMOs include their lack of public outreach, their highly stringent requirements that render social assistance difficult to obtain, and the administrative hassle of applying for assistance. While there have been a few studies that examine the perceptions of the Malay/Muslims towards MMOs, these studies have often been one-sided, and have left out the perspectives of the MMOs. Hence, this research juxtaposes these commonly held perceptions towards MMOs against an examination of actual social assistance rendered to determine if these perceptions are
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misperceptions or reflect existing gaps that need to be addressed. For the purposes of this research, I focus primarily on the perceptions of low-income MM households.
This research has three main objectives. First, I aim to draw insights into the level of engagement, experiences, and perceptions of low-income MM households vis-à-vis MMOs, to compare against existing literature on commonly held perceptions. Secondly, I aim to investigate the general experiences and challenges faced by the MMOs in their social development and assistance efforts, as well as their responses towards commonly held perceptions. Finally, this research juxtaposes past research against our data collected from MM households and MMOs to offer a more balanced judgment on whether these perceptions are misperceptions or reflect gaps that need to be addressed.
The Singapore government places great emphasis on the ‘many helping hands’ approach in terms of social service provision, which advocates the active involvement of non-state actors to meet the welfare needs of the disadvantaged or less privileged in Singapore (Yap, 2008). A part of this approach involves the disbursement of social assistance via community self-help organisations established along ethnic lines, with each ethnic self-help group responsible for the welfare of its own ethnic community (Wijeysingha, 2005). Many MMOs were established to assist the MM community. Formed in 1970, Pertapis is one of the oldest MMOs in Singapore to provide social services for the community. Likewise, the government-funded Yayasan Mendaki (Mendaki) was set up in 1982 to further the socio-economic development of the Malay/Muslims through social assistance and social empowerment programmes. The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) was also formed as an alternative independent organisation to provide thought leadership and social development programmes. In addition, although the organisation 4PM is heralded as a Malay literary youth organisation, it has recently started providing social services to youth at risk, and food rations to the needy in the community.
Despite the MMOs’ efforts in developing the MM community, the community has mixed attitudes towards the MMOs. In a survey commissioned by AMP in 2011 about the perceptions of the MM community, about 72 percent of the participants perceived the MMOs to be effective in providing community services to the society
70Misperceptions or Gaps: An Assessment of Low-Income Malay/Muslim Households’ Perceptions of Social Assistance Provided by Malay/Muslim Organisations
(AMP, 2012). However, the Suara Musyawarah report, which sought to investigate the aspirations, successes, and challenges of the MM community through focus group discussions, brought forth grievances about the MMOs. It found that those individuals who were most in need of assistance were unaware of the social services or programmes available to them, despite the various modes of publicity (Suara Musyawarah, 2013). Some of the focus group participants also lamented the administrative hassle of filling out the forms and submitting various documents for the social services they were applying for, only to be informed that they were ineligible for the programme. They also mentioned that there were instances where frontline social service staff were condescending and displayed a judgmental attitude towards the applicants, which made them feel reluctant to seek help. The report also discovered that while the focus group participants acknowledged the significant contributions of MMOs, they “questioned the overall impact these MMOs had on the development of community over the years” (Suara Musyawarah, 2013).
Nevertheless, past research has examined these perceptions rather one-sidedly, without factoring in the positions and perspectives of the MMOs. Hence, this study aims to fill that gap by also documenting the general experience and challenges of the MMOs in administering social assistance and welfare for the MM community.
This research involved the study of perceptions of low-income MM households towards MMOs in terms of social assistance. These perceptions were opinions or judgments formed based on past experiences that one had with MMOs, and hence might not be entirely representative in depicting realities. Nevertheless, such perceptions were important in shaping households’ attitudes and behaviours towards MMOs, including their level of engagement with the MMOs. Owing to the limited sample size, this study was more exploratory than conclusive.
I collected data on 27 low-income MM households who resided in rental flats in the eastern part of Singapore (see Appendix A for the profiles of the households). During my door-to-door house visits, I surveyed and interviewed members of these households to understand their engagement with and perceptions towards MMOs. Each household was asked a series of questions pertaining to their opinions on and perceptions of MMOs (see Appendix B for the interview questions). I examined the
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data vis-à-vis existing literature, to explore the nuances within the commonly held perceptions towards MMOs.
I also investigated the perspectives of the MMOs and their general experiences and challenges. I conducted interviews with the representatives of 5 different MMOs, who had first-hand experiences with administering social assistance and development programmes to MM households (see Apppendix C for the interview questions). The interviews aimed to understand the MMOs’ general experiences and challenges faced in administering social assistance and executing development programmes, as well as their responses to some of the commonly held perceptions of MMOs. Table 1 outlines the MMOs involved in this study and a brief description of what they do.
• Self-help group formed in 1982 to empower the community through “excellence in education”
• Targets mainly the bottom 30 percent of the MM population, specifically families with school-going children
• Programmes are mostly developmental and preventive in nature, to provide early assistance to the beneficiaries
Organisation B • Has religious affiliations • Social assistance programmes focus on the disbursement of zakats (tithes)
and complementary socio-economic empowerment schemes
• Heralds itself as a thought leader for the community, providing solutions and mobilising stakeholders for the advancement of the MM community
• Social development programmes include an all-encompassing family empowerment scheme, micro-business schemes for housewives, and family counselling services
Organisation D • Formed in 1970 to address social issues in the MM community • Runs a few homes for the elderly, ex-offenders, at-risk youth, and children
Organisation E • Works with youth to ensure that at-risk youth attend and remain in school,
and provides food rations and empowerment programmes for families
Table 1. Description of the five MMOs involved in this study
From these interviews, insights were generated and then juxtaposed against the perceptions data from the 27 MM households, to yield a more informed analysis of these percep