Giving extended families a helping hand

It is laudable that the Government is not just continuing with the enhanced Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS) but also planning to do more next year to help extended families live in the same locality. This was promised recently by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, who noted that the scheme has proved popular with flat buyers in the latest Housing Board flat launches.

That members of extended families are choosing to live close to one another is in itself encouraging, showing that the culture of close familial ties is still holding its own despite the fading attraction of extended family life among some, especially when privacy and independence are valued more by successive generations.

Three-generational families either living together or near each other gain from mutual support, a richer family life and wider social connections. This is a social good that is proper for the state to promote indirectly through housing schemes.

For some young parents, the scheme means not having to live with the stress of shuttling long distances each morning - and adding to the congestion on roads - to leave their children with grandparents who act as babysitters. Living close by also allows extended families to have meals together, a boon for working married couples. Apart from managing household costs better, they and their aged parents are able to use their time well when basic household chores are shared. Indubitably, children are more likely to blossom in a nurturing multi-generational environment.

Creditably, the HDB is not short of programmes to help families. Apart from the MCPS, the Studio Apartment Priority Scheme sets aside a proportion of studio flats on offer for senior citizens purchasing a home close to their married children. And the Multi- Generation Priority Scheme keeps families together by integrating studio apartments or two-room flats with other flat types.

The growing impact of demographic changes over time will no doubt prove the wisdom of keeping the elderly close to their children. The number of seniors will grow threefold to 900,000 by 2030, even as the base of working-age citizens shrinks. With better health care, Singaporeans' life expectancy has extended to 82 years - among the highest in the world. Given the inadequacy of current provisions for retirement faced by many, those without family support might pose a burden to the state and charitable organisations.

There are cogent reasons, therefore, for the HDB to continue pro-family housing policies. More should utilise them.

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