Debate on ministries’ budgets: Social and Family Development

Parliament: Calls for more childcare help for families with low income

All non-working mothers whose children are in infant care or childcare now receive a basic childcare fee subsidy of $150. In contrast, working mothers enjoy a higher childcare subsidy of at least $300, and may receive additional subsidies of up to $4
All non-working mothers whose children are in infant care or childcare now receive a basic childcare fee subsidy of $150. In contrast, working mothers enjoy a higher childcare subsidy of at least $300, and may receive additional subsidies of up to $440.ST FILE PHOTO

Subsidies should not depend on parents' job status: MPs

More childcare subsidies should be given to low-income families, regardless of the parents' employment status, said several MPs in Parliament yesterday.

Currently, childcare subsidies for qualifying families are based on the parents' employment status and household income, with working mothers given more, but this system penalises parents who do not have employment, said Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC).

Mr Ng was one of six MPs who spoke on childcare and early childhood education matters during yesterday's debate on the Ministry of Social and Family Development's budget plans.

Altogether, 19 MPs took part in the debate, in which issues related to disability also featured prominently, with three MPs raising questions in relation to the community of people with disabilities.

All non-working mothers whose children are in infant care or childcare now receive a basic childcare fee subsidy of $150, which they can use to pay fees at childcare centres.

In contrast, working mothers enjoy a higher childcare subsidy of at least $300, and may receive additional subsidies of up to $440.

In his speech, Mr Ng called for subsidies to be given fairly, and suggested the amount should depend solely on a family's household income instead of the mother's employment status. "Our policies should not penalise parents who are not working so that they can be there for their child," he added.

UNFAIR

Our policies should not penalise parents who are not working so that they can be there for their child.

MR LOUIS NG (NEE SOON GRC), on why non-working parents should not receive less childcare subsidies than working parents.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong also said childcare support should be given regardless of the mother's employment status, and proposed that free childcare services be offered to all low-income families.

Families often face multiple hurdles in accessing the maximum level of subsidies, such as meeting requirements for work, she said, noting that some parents also might have difficulty providing proof of work because they have ad hoc or informal jobs. "Whether these children from low-income families can access such childcare services should not be dependent on the employment status of their parents," said Ms Ong, who is a social entrepreneur.

Other MPs focused on the special needs community, with Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) welcoming the ministry's move to provide early intervention services to families of children with developmental needs. Ms Rahayu, whose 23-month-old son has Down syndrome, said it was important to find the best support and curriculum for such children, and asked for clarifications on how the customised early intervention plans would be implemented.

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) also noted that children with special needs are likely to require help when transitioning to mainstream schools, a move that is becoming more available to them. The ministry should look into maintaining a continuity of support so that the transition is not jarring, he added.

However, while most MPs called for updates or new measures to address social issues, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said it is also imperative that the Government makes sure its current social support schemes are easily accessible and understood by all. A possible danger is that people do not know about or understand the various help schemes available, he said.

Mr Seah added: "We tend to think that if a person needs help, the burden is on them to think of the avenues available and whether they qualify... but people who need help are often stressed on time. How can the Government make these services more accessible and streamlined, so families are better supported and can strengthen their bonds?"

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee will address the points MPs raised when the debate on the ministry's budget resumes today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2019, with the headline 'Calls for more childcare help for families with low income'. Print Edition | Subscribe