PAP group calls for more affordable pre-schools

Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling (far right) greeting PCF Sparkletots pre-schoolers in Fengshan yesterday with fellow PAP Women's Wing members (beside her, from right) Rahayu Mahzam, Cheryl Chan, Cheng Li Hui (in black dress) and Intan Azur
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling (far right) greeting PCF Sparkletots pre-schoolers in Fengshan yesterday with fellow PAP Women's Wing members (beside her, from right) Rahayu Mahzam, Cheryl Chan, Cheng Li Hui (in black dress) and Intan Azura Mokhtar (in dark purple).ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Women's Wing also proposes removing IVF age limit, doing more to promote flexi-work

A call to make pre-schools more affordable has topped a list of proposals made yesterday by the Women's Wing of the People's Action Party.

The group also recommended that the Government do away with the age limit for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, build more pre-schools, step up the promotion of flexible work arrangements and do more to include special needs children in the school system.

"We often hear feedback on the costs of pre-school education," said Ms Sun Xueling, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development, and an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

"So top of our list today is making pre-school options more affordable, as pre-school is now a necessity for most parents."

The group unveiled the recommendations in a position paper based on a series of online surveys and focus group discussions, which were conducted by Ms Sun and five other women MPs to understand the concerns of young parents, would-be parents and employers.

The other MPs were Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, Ms Cheng Li Hui, Ms Cheryl Chan, Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Ms Joan Pereira.

The group will submit their findings and recommendations to the relevant ministries.

A survey of about 1,000 parents found that proximity to home and school fees were the top two factors influencing their decision when choosing a pre-school.

Monthly fees for larger anchor operators are capped at $720 for full-day childcare, while small and mid-sized partner operators have their fees capped at $800.

After subsidies, the amount that households with a monthly income of $4,999 and below typically spend on fees and other pre-school expenses for each child is at least 10 per cent of the family income, the survey found.

Ms Sun said the goal is to cut the proportion to 5 per cent and encourage pre-schools to keep extra-curricular activities cost-effective.

She cited comments from respondents on how the costs of extras, such as excursions and year-end concerts, can add up to a hefty increase.

She also called on the Government to expand the number of government-supported pre-schools, so that eight in 10 children will have a place within a 10-minute walk of their homes.

A separate survey of 700 people found that nearly half believe the age limit for IVF treatment should be increased to 50. Currently, women above the age of 45 are not allowed to undergo the treatment.

Those aged between 41 and 45 are also limited to five fresh IVF cycles, while those aged 40 and under can go for up to 10 fresh cycles. One IVF cycle can cost about $10,000 to $14,000 in public hospitals.

Given the advances in medical science, the Health Ministry should remove the age limit for IVF treatment, said Ms Cheng, an MP for Tampines GRC.

She added that all women, regardless of age, should be allowed to undergo the same number of IVF cycles.

Around two-thirds of respondents also believed that all women should be permitted to freeze their eggs, which is currently allowed only on medical grounds.

The group urged the Health Ministry to study the issue more deeply, given the "concerns from both social and moral standpoints".

On flexible work arrangements, Ms Chan said that the Manpower Ministry should work with employers, employees and unions to take a more "industry-based, job-specific approach".

This goes beyond just a government initiative, she said, adding: "This needs to be a culture change within the workplace."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'PAP group calls for more affordable pre-schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe