Parliament Sitting on 4 June 2020


31. Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng:
To ask the Minister for Communications and Information whether the Ministry can list the kinds of help made available for residents, especially seniors, who cannot afford mobile phones to access the numerous online programmes that are useful to them.


Mr Speaker, digital inclusion has always been a government priority, and is doubly important during this COVID-19 period. This applies to our seniors, although we recognise that we need to continue to engage seniors using multiple channels, including digital and many non-digital means like TV and radio programmes, as well as ground engagements. Even as we continue keeping these non-digital channels available, we must continue forging ahead on our efforts to equip every Singaporean with access to digital devices, as well as the skills to use them.

2. To support low-income households to afford digital devices and internet connection, IMDA has been running the Home Access programme since 2014, which provides 2 years of subsidised broadband and the option for a subsidised smartphone or tablet. More than 16,000 households have benefited since the start of the programme. IMDA also runs the NEU PC Plus Programme, which provides a subsidised PC and free broadband to low-income households with school-going children or with persons with disabilities. Together, these programmes support our residents, including seniors, with digital connectivity. 

3. For more vulnerable seniors, the CareLine programme by Changi General Hospital provides 24/7 emergency response, as well as care and social support such as medication reminders and tele-befriending. Changi General Hospital has partnered with Temasek Foundation and the Agency for Integrated Care to provide mobile phones and mobile plans to needy seniors with little or no family support, so that they can access CareLine. Even as seniors stay home to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections, they will have peace of mind knowing that care is just a call away. Service providers can also use digital technology to monitor their wellbeing and convey important messages on COVID-19.

4. Beyond digital access, individuals need to be equipped with relevant digital skills. To address skill gaps, including amongst seniors, there are various ongoing digital upskilling initiatives in the community. For instance, IMDA’s Digital Clinics and the Tech Connect service at various Community Centres provide 1-to-1 support to address seniors’ questions over smartphone usage. Various community partners and social service agencies also run Silver Infocomm Junctions to help seniors upskill themselves digitally. With the support of corporate volunteers from companies like Cognizant, Grab, and Microsoft, IMDA and NLB have also recently launched online learning platforms, such as Virtual Digital Clinics, where seniors can have their digital questions answered remotely during the circuit breaker. 

5. We recognise the importance of bringing more seniors on board this digital journey, especially during this COVID-19 situation where digital solutions can help safeguard our seniors’ health and improve their quality of lives substantially. For example, seniors can remain digitally connected through video-calls with their friends and family, even as they stay home. We will thus be embarking on a nation-wide ‘Seniors Go Digital’ movement, as mentioned by the Deputy Prime Minister in his Ministerial Statement last week, to inspire seniors to widen their horizons through digital adoption, and equip them with the digital skills to do so. As part of ‘Seniors Go Digital’, we will provide needy seniors who aspire to go digital but lack the financial means to do so, with financial support to have phones. Minister Iswaran will announce more details shortly. 

6. Everyone has a part to play. For those of us who have seniors at home, we can encourage them to come on board this digital journey and guide them in picking up digital skills. Businesses and community players can also contribute; many have come forward during this challenging period to support donation efforts that provide digital devices to those in need. Together, we can help our seniors go digital in meaningful and sustainable ways.