updated 9 Aug 2013, 01:46
Login password
Thu, Jan 24, 2013
The Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
A mum's view: Signal for mindset shift
by Jessica Cheam

IT'S been almost a year in the making, but the widely anticipated perks for marriage and parenthood were finally unveiled by the National Population and Talent Division yesterday.

The comprehensive slew of measures addressed key concerns from housing to health care and paternity leave, cementing the perks first hinted at by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech last year.

A new target has been set on total fertility rate or TFR, which is the average number of children a woman here would have over a lifetime. The Government hopes for TFR to reach 1.4 or 1.5 in the next few years - up from the dismal 1.2 now.

The last time Singapore's TFR was in that region was over a decade ago when it was 1.41 in 2000.

If previous efforts to boost TFR have barely nudged it upwards, will the latest measures be any different?

At a cost of $2 billion a year - up from $1.6 billion in the previous Budget - it is no small sum.

Reactions to the enhanced package so far show the results might not be so clear-cut - or appreciated. While it has been welcomed by unions such as the National Trades Union Congress and family and women's rights organisations, couples interviewed and those giving their reactions online have been more mixed.

Some have cheered the enhanced perks as encouraging and an added relief; others said it was the Government "throwing money at the same problem in the same old way".

There is an element of truth to that - some benefits have been retained and merely increased. But in other respects, policymakers have tried to be creative.

What stands out this time around is that the enhancements are more targeted and some policies more progressive.

Married couples with children who are first-time applicants now have 30 to 50 per cent of new Housing Board flats set aside for them; such couples can also rent cheaper flats from the HDB while waiting for their homes to be completed.

Congenital and neonatal conditions are, for the first time, to be covered by MediShield; the Government is paying more for fertility treatments, and paternity leave has finally been legislated.

Together, the measures seek to help families who fall between the cracks.

Together, they also send a new and strong signal that we need a mindset shift - and the Government is prepared to pay for it.

Sure, the new benefits are not guaranteed solutions - and even the Government knows it.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who also oversees population matters, said as much when she noted that the decision to get married and have children "is a deeply personal one", citing personal attitudes and societal values as the greatest influence on such decisions.

But hopefully, the combined effect of the new moves will trickle down and trigger a fundamental soul-searching of societal values and work-life culture which, ultimately, no amount of dangling carrots can change.

Employers need to embrace the cause, just as society at large needs to embrace marriage and parenthood as an enjoyable and fulfilling aspiration.

All this will take time.

But the latest moves might just say to a couple sitting on the fence about children: "Hey, the Government - and society - is behind you. We support you."

In a previous column touching on housing and fertility last year, I wrote that Singapore just isn't trying hard enough.

Now, I think it is starting to.

As a mother of a newborn perhaps considering a second child, I'd say the renewed efforts to support the Singaporean family make the idea slightly less daunting.

[email protected]

<< Back >> Next

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.


readers' comments

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.