Priority is to 'grow citizen core'

WHEN it comes to population policy in Singapore, the most fundamental goal is to grow the core of citizens.

So regardless of what else is done, the main thing is to encourage citizens to marry and have more children, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who oversees the population issue.

"And this is the starting point of all that we do," he said yesterday, introducing the enhanced $2 billion-a-year Marriage and Parenthood package. The stubbornly low birth rate among Singaporeans is the reason the country has a population challenge, he said.

Estimates put last year's total fertility rate at 1.28 to 1.3 - an increase from 2011's 1.2 - due to a "mini Dragon Year effect" when more Chinese couples had babies in the auspicious year.

But the rise was smaller than the bounce previous Dragon years had produced, he noted.

If there is no improvement in the birth rate, the citizen workforce will start to decline by 2020 and the citizen population by 2025 if there is no immigration.

The new suite of measures is the first and most important part of the Government's population road map, said Mr Teo.

Two other components will follow. They will be on providing good education and good jobs, and on maintaining a high-quality living environment.

Mr Teo set the scene at yesterday's press conference which was attended by six office-holders from four ministries. This, he noted, illustrated the scope of the new package.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later posted on Facebook that he hoped the new measures would "encourage more couples to start planning, and we will see more babies soon".

Mr Teo was also asked if he thought Punggol East residents, who are in the midst of a by-election, would welcome the improved incentives. He said he hoped so, but added that the by-election was "not a factor in consideration". He said the Government had been discussing the measures for almost a year.

rchang@sph.com.sg