Use increased taxes to support childcare for all

Pre-schoolers learning Chinese at My First Skool centre at Toa Payoh.
Pre-schoolers learning Chinese at My First Skool centre at Toa Payoh. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Association of Women for Action and Research welcomes the move to cap the amount of personal income that working mothers can claim for tax relief at $80,000 ("New $80,000 cap on personal income tax relief"; March 25).

In fact, last year, we proposed that the Government abolish all subsidies given in the form of income tax relief, including the Working Mother's Child Relief (WMCR).

This might seem counter-intuitive, given our well-known advocacy for women's rights. However, in our view, the Government should provide financial support for all mothers, not just higher-income working mothers.

Income tax relief is not an equitable form of support. Such relief is not available to people who do not earn taxable income.

Most income earners do not pay income tax, meaning the majority of working mothers derive no benefit from such subsidies.

In fact, even with the proposed cap, nine in 10 women can continue to claim the WMCR fully.

A fairer way for the state to address the needs of all mothers is through state investment in childcare and early childhood education. This would be available to all children.

Moreover, in contrast to income tax reliefs, the positive impact of this investment would be felt more strongly by those with lower income and less wealth, as their childcare options are more limited.

We describe this as an "investment" very intentionally.

The assurance of quality childcare is a valuable service which has positive effects, not only for the children and parents concerned, but also for society as a whole.

In addition, a 2011 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that the provision of such services, as well as other measures aimed at helping women combine employment and family commitments, are more likely to increase fertility rates than direct subsidies such as income tax relief and Baby Bonus cash gifts or top-ups.

Investing in public childcare infrastructure would be a wise, redistributive and inclusive way to use the additional tax revenue raised as a result of the announced income tax relief caps.

Goh Li Sian (Ms)

Research and Advocacy Coordinator

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Use increased taxes to support childcare for all'. Print Edition | Subscribe