Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob hopes for housing policy changes

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob giving a talk at the NUS U@live Forum entitled “A Voice for the Voiceless”, where she spoke about her strong belief in advocacy concerning issues such as the mentally ill. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob giving a talk at the NUS U@live Forum entitled “A Voice for the Voiceless”, where she spoke about her strong belief in advocacy concerning issues such as the mentally ill. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Kids will benefit if single mums allowed to buy HDB flats before 35, she says

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said she hopes housing policy will change so young single mothers can buy their own HDB flats.

The biggest reason for allowing these single mothers to buy direct from the Government and benefit from subsidies - rather than from the open market and only after they turn 35 - is to benefit their children, she said on the sidelines of a National University of Singapore forum.

Currently, single unwed mothers are only eligible to buy flats directly from the HDB under the singles scheme, meaning they have to wait till they are 35 years old.

Madam Halimah acknowledged that the Government has to take into account whether society is willing to accept change in this area.

"This is also an issue fraught with difficulties because the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to move on these issues. And if the Government moves, is society prepared to accept it?" she said.

During the forum, she also said she agreed with the Government's overall approach to helping the poor, saying having multiple lines of assistance ensures greater flexibility.

While she is not against a poverty line, which some have called for, she said that it "can have its own rigidity".

"What we have now is that different schemes have different cut-offs when it comes to family income levels. There is tremendous flexibility in this way rather than saying, there is one line and it cuts across all schemes," she said.

When asked at the dialogue why it was difficult for the Government to say how many poor people there are in Singapore, she said data was available.

What matters most was to make sure help reaches those who need it, she added.

Madam Halimah also shared with forum participants, numbering over 100, her strong belief in advocacy, which has seen her take up the causes of the mentally ill, migrant workers, the elderly and women.

She gave pointers on how to be a strong advocate for a cause, saying that she struck a deal with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when he asked her to be the Speaker of Parliament, to be allowed to continue engaging on the ground about issues she was concerned about.

She is now the adviser to the National Council of Social Service, and she also teaches classes on labour laws, which, she said, was another form of advocacy.

While she loved her job at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, she said about her decision to say "yes" to being appointed Speaker: "Don't forget that Parliament is a very important institution in our society, it is an institution that upholds democracy."

chanckr@sph.com.sg