Amid positive news of income improvement among poorer households, efforts to help mitigate their predicaments should continue with more targeted initiatives.
One such initiative worth considering involves ways to encourage economically inactive women among lower-income households to enter the workforce, so that the households' financial constraints could be tackled.
Women in Singapore often have to choose between taking care of their dependants and full-time employment, as both society and the economy have yet to become accommodating to the needs of working women, especially those with families to care for.
The Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (Rima) recently conducted a focus group discussion involving women from low- to middle-income households to understand their reasons for choosing not to actively seek employment. Key reasons cited for their economic inactivity include:
•Taking time off work when needing to attend to their children's needs is often construed as a lack of work commitment.
•A lack of confidence in childcare centres.
•Feeling discouraged because of difficulty in finding employment opportunities that offer flexible work arrangements.
•Concern that their absence would undermine their children's educational performance.
It was also found that the participants prefer to work if they are assured that their children and/or their elderly parents would be taken care of.
This is not to say that initiatives to incentivise flexible work arrangements do not currently exist. The Work-Life Grant, for instance, provides funding and incentives for companies to offer flexible work arrangements so that families can better manage work and family responsibilities.
However, more could be done to acquaint employers with the fact that family commitments do not equate to unproductivity. Rather, striking a balance can make for a more positive view of work.
The Integrated Child Care Programme at selected childcare centres allows children with disabilities to attend the centres alongside their peers. However, parents of children with special needs may be unaware of such programmes. Thus, more could be done to raise awareness of its existence.
Existing initiatives have the right idea, but their effectiveness can be improved with a more holistic needs assessment framework, so the families can get the help they need.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
Nuraliah Norasid (Dr)
Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs