Elderly woman whose devastating story went viral ‘very stressed’ by attention

File photo of an elderly woman’s hands. Photo: Cristian Newman
File photo of an elderly woman’s hands. Photo: Cristian Newman

The Ministry of Social and Family Development said it would assist an elderly lady and pleaded with the public not to bother her after the story of her financial struggles circulated online.

Since the woman’s account of struggling to find a better paying job to support herself spread online, the ministry said social workers investigated the issue and found the woman, identified as Mdm L, living in a five-room flat with her son’s family and a domestic helper who are providing her with food and shelter. 

“Our Social Service Office (SSO) colleagues have identified the elderly woman, 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,” it wrote online yesterday.  

“Our SSO colleagues visited her yesterday to see if she needed any help and how we can lend support.”

It said full compensation was paid to Mdm L’s family after her son died while training with the Singapore Armed Forces in 2009.

“The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has verified that Mdm L’s elder son, a regular warrant officer, 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 wrote.

That contradicts what was said in the social media post by Meng Shuen Koh, which was spreading online since Monday before it was deleted. According to him, Mdm L said she was living with two friends and did not receive compensation for the death of her son.

Koh said that she approached him for directions to Sentosa for a cleaner job that pays S$10 per hour. This was more than her other cleaner job at Tampines Hub that paid only S$20 a day without a food and transportation allowance.

Koh declined to answer questions for this story.

The ministry said it would convert Mdm L to a full-time employee with a monthly salary of S$1,300 after being downgraded to part-time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Prior to the COVID-19 circuit breaker, Mdm L received a monthly gross salary of about $1,300 (excluding CPF) from her employer. Due to reduced business volume, her employer had arranged for her and other full-time employees to work part-time as a way to retain staff. She is currently paid $675 for working part-time in 4-hour shifts (or about $6.50/hr). We understand from her employer that when business improves, they will review and reinstate the cleaners’ part-time employment to full-time,” it wrote.

As a permanent resident who was born in Malaysia, Mdm L will not be eligible for the Silver Support and Workfare schemes that provide financial support for the needy elderly. Instead, she will receive the Solidarity Payment payouts, monthly food vouchers, help for medical expenses and will be assessed to get the COVID-19 Support Grant that will give provide her with monthly payouts from S$500 to S$800.

The ministry said that Mdm L did not know that pictures of her and her account would be posted on social media, and asked the public to be more sensitive and to contact them directly instead. 

“We appreciate the effort of members of the public in reaching out to those who seem to be in need. However, posting and sharing their circumstances on social media may lead to further distress for these vulnerable groups of people and their families,” it said.

Koh in a Tuesday update urged people to stop approaching her, as she has been stressed out after being bombarded with attention at her workplace and even at home. 

“When we engaged her, she recounted to us that she has been approached by many members of the public, even at her place of residence. She thanks everybody for their concern, but is personally feeling very stressed out by the unwanted and unexpected attention,” he wrote.

“For the sake of acting in her best interests, I implore everybody to respect her wishes to be left alone, so as not to cause an elderly person any more stress, or possibly even risk her losing her job from the constant attention she receives at her workplace,” he added. 

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