Parliament: Do more to subsidise cost of raising kids, such as having $10 pre-school fees, says MP Ong Teng Koon

Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Ong Teng Koon said many young couples face "intense financial pressures" as costs of living rise and job security becomes less certain.
Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Ong Teng Koon said many young couples face "intense financial pressures" as costs of living rise and job security becomes less certain.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

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

His suggestions include charging $10 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?" said Mr Ong in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 27). "Would we consider it a worthwhile investment of national resources?"

Elaborating, he said many young couples face "intense financial pressures" as costs of living rise and job security becomes less certain.

"There seem to be fewer stable jobs these days. Many companies are also moving towards contract and freelance work, which increases income uncertainty," said Mr Ong, adding that retrenchment is also no longer a once-in-a-blue moon event.

"To delay or avoid having children altogether would be a rational response when faced with such financial uncertainty," he said.

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

 
 
 

But countries such as Sweden and Norway have managed to raise their total fertility rates, and their experience suggests that addressing cost of living issues is important, Mr Ong said.

The two countries, he added, have shown that providing good work-life balance for mothers can help boost a country's fertility rate. At the minimum, mothers would benefit from being able to work remotely and having flexible hours.

"But how many employers are enlightened, or do they need government nudging or government coercion?" he asked.

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 to stand still", he added.

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

"This allows us to keep money in our pockets and let us decide how we would like to spend it," he said.

Mr Ong concluded his speech by saying that if Singapore's low fertility rate poses an existential threat to the country, tackling it should be the country's highest priority.

"Singapore has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the problem," he said. "Perhaps, it is time to consider the kitchen sink."