PARLIAMENT: Budget 2019 debate

Parliament: Increase subsidies to raise fertility rate: MP

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) wants the Government to further subsidise the cost of raising children here, given that Singapore's ageing population and low fertility rate are "existential issues" for its survival.

His suggestions include charging $10 a month for pre-school education, increasing subsidies for childcare and infant-care services, providing subsidised school bus services and giving working mothers more support.

"We have to ask ourselves - what is the value of each additional child to Singapore? Would we consider this to be a worthwhile investment for our national resources?" he said yesterday.

In a similar vein, Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) called for the Government to establish free, compulsory pre-school or early childhood education programmes. Currently, a four-hour kindergarten programme at a Ministry of Education facility costs $160 a month, while primary and secondary education is heavily subsidised, with monthly school fees at less than $10.

Mr Ong also said that many young couples face "intense pressures" as costs of living rise and job security becomes less certain.

He noted that many companies are moving towards contract and freelance work, which increases income uncertainty.

Retrenchments are also more common.

"In such a situation, to delay or avoid having children would be altogether a very rational response," Mr Ong said.

In 2017, Singapore's total fertility rate plunged to a seven-year low of 1.16, below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Pointing to countries which have managed to raise their total fertility rates such as Sweden and Norway, Mr Ong said their experiences suggest that addressing the cost of living issues and providing good work-life balance for mothers are important.

On the cost of living in general, Mr Ong said he has met residents who are struggling to cope as the costs of healthcare, education and food go up. Others feel they are "running harder than ever just to stand still".

He stressed the importance of continuing to keep income taxes low.

Concluding, Mr Ong said that if Singapore's low fertility rate poses an existential threat to the country, tackling it should be Singapore's highest priority.

"Singapore has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this problem. Perhaps it is time to throw the kitchen sink."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline Increase subsidies to raise fertility rate: MP. Subscribe