updated 3 Sep 2013, 09:57
Login password
Tue, Jan 22, 2013
The Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Dad's view: Cash is no magic bullet
by Aaron Low

IF MONEY could buy babies, Singapore would be flooded with them.

But it can't and that's why I think the bulk of the parenthood measures, announced yesterday, is only going to have a marginal impact in encouraging couples to have kids.

At first glance, the cash seems appealing enough.

The Government will spend an additional $400 million in taxpayers' money every year to solve one of the most urgent issues the country is facing - ensuring that there will still be Singaporeans in 50 years' time.

Although it was not stated, the bulk of the additional money is likely to go towards the enhanced Baby Bonus scheme.

Parents whose babies were born on and from Aug 26 last year will get an additional $2,000 in cash grants per child. That is $6,000 for the first and second child and $8,000 for their third and fourth.

Newborns will also get $3,000 of grants in their Medisave accounts.

For a first-time parent, that's in total worth $9,000 right off the bat.

In all, Singapore will spend $2 billion a year on these parenthood and marriage incentives.

Generous? Certainly.

But whether it's enough, the answer is probably no.

For one thing, bumping up the cash incentives, around since 2001, is unlikely to reverse the falling birth rate.

Paternity leave? That's a sweetener but the last big move to extend maternity leave from three to four months was probably a bigger incentive.

I have two wonderful kids. Emma was born in 2008 and David came last year.

For me, the money is helping to pay off the kindergarten fees.

But the biggest reason for us having children at a relatively early stage of our marriage is not money.

It was because we were blessed to have my mother be the primary caretaker in our home while both my wife and I work.

Talk to any working couple and the biggest headache they have is not paying the hospital bills; it is how they are going to care for the baby if both of them are working.

The Government said it will address child care tomorrow. It is likely to raise subsidies and lift the quality of child care.

These will be timely moves.

Infant-care services cost an average of $1,300 a month, or $900 for children of working mums. On average, full-day child care is about $850 a month, or $550 after subsidies.

Why not just make child care free? Or, make it so inexpensive that it is no longer a disincentive to having more children?

The other much bigger and more complex problem is "work-life balance".

Singaporeans put in some of the longest hours every week - about 46 hours a week on average, according to International Labour Organisation surveys.

Add to the fact that many couples have to ferry their kids up and down between home and school, and there isn't a lot of family bonding going on.

Work-life balance is hard to achieve and it cannot be dictated by public policy. Individuals also have a role to play in deciding what is more important: career or family.

But it is undeniable that there is an unhealthy culture of working late in Singapore, where working long hours is confused with working hard.

The Government can and should do more to shift bosses' mindsets towards mums and dads in their offices.

For baby, one hug and kiss from Dad - and Mum too, of course - is worth more than all the fat balances in the bank.

[email protected]

<< Back >> Next

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


readers' comments
Do greatful with the new scheme, is really help to me, as working mother. But on another, employer attitude toward the scheme and "work life balance" issue also equal important. Some employer can be very meant when come to this issue. Is either we leave the job or we sacrify the time with our kid, miss out all the precious moment with them, just to bring back the money for food and education.
Posted by on Thu, 24 Jan 2013 at 10:31 AM

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