Lower pre-school expenses for many families from 2020

Full-day childcare may cost only $3 a month for needy; more help too with fertility treatments

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor (left) and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo (right) with pre-schoolers from My First Skool at 2 Punggol Drive. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Pre-school expenses will be cut for many and more help will be offered with fertility treatments - even for older couples - as part of the latest moves to encourage more Singaporeans to start families.

From next year, lower-income families may only need to pay as little as $3 a month for full-day childcare. The monthly household income ceiling for additional childcare and kindergarten subsidies is also being raised to $12,000.

Meanwhile, there will be no more age limit for women undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments from January. It currently stands at 45 years old.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced the measures at a My First Skool pre-school in Punggol yesterday.

With the higher subsidies from next year, more families could find themselves paying between $3 and $390 a month for full-day childcare at pre-schools run by anchor operators that charge monthly fees of $770.

With the measures, eight in 10 young children should have a place in more affordable government-supported pre-schools by around 2025.

This is similar to the proportion that receives government help in the housing and healthcare sectors.

Mr Lee said fee caps will also be lowered at government-supported pre-schools as their share of the sector expands. In time, this would allow working families with a child in full-day childcare to pay about $300 per month, even without additional subsidy.

In 2021, the partner operator scheme will also be expanded to more childcare operators beyond the existing 23. For the first time, it will also include a small number of kindergartens which offer quality programmes.

Subsidy amounts for families at different income tiers will go up. From next year, the monthly household income ceiling for additional kindergarten subsidies and childcare subsidies will be raised from $6,000 and $7,500 respectively to $12,000 so that it benefits 30,000 more households.

Currently, 41,000 families receive these means-tested subsidies.

Low-income families will pay even less, with those earning $3,000 or less per month paying just $3 per month for full-day childcare at anchor operators, or $1 per month for kindergartens run by anchor operators and the Education Ministry.

Mrs Teo noted that there is strong interest among Singaporeans to marry and have children. "But it is also a fact that our people are marrying later. And they're also starting families and they're having children later," she said.

She encouraged couples to marry earlier and start trying to conceive earlier, so that they would be more successful in having children.

Nonetheless, older couples trying for babies will also get more support from January next year, amid fewer marriages last year and an eight-year low in the number of babies born here last year.

The Health Ministry will remove the age limit for women undergoing ART treatments.

There will also be no cap on the number of cycles they can go for.

In addition, couples undergoing intra-uterine insemination procedures - a less invasive fertility treatment than ART - will benefit from government co-funding of up to 75 per cent, capped at $1,000 per treatment cycle, for three such cycles.

And to provide even more help, parents of Singaporean babies born in or after January next year will also not need to pay the application fees for their newborns' first passports. The current application fee is $70.

Parents must submit applications for their newborns online before their first birthday to enjoy the waiver.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline Lower pre-school expenses for many families from 2020. Subscribe