SINGAPORE - Families can look forward to more childcare subsidies and a more convenient application process to get aid, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Besides extending the duration that non-working mothers with infants or young children receive subsidies, additional subsidies will be given if their monthly household income is $7,500 and below.
A total of over 5,000 families will benefit from these enhancements, Associate Professor Faishal said in Parliament on Wednesday (March 6), as he responded to questions from several MPs on the topic of childcare support.
Since March 1, unemployed mothers looking for work will receive monthly subsidies – $300 and $600 per child in childcare and infantcare respectively – for six months, up from the current three.
They will also get additional subsidies of between $100 and $540 a month for six months, if their monthly household income is $7,500 and below.
The second category of families who will benefit from the enhanced subsidies are families with at least two children and the mother is not working.
For these mothers caring full-time for their younger child aged two or younger, they will also receive the child or infant subsidy for their older child until their younger child turns two-years-old – up from 18 months old currently.
Depending on their household income, they may also be eligible for extra subsidies of up to $540 a month.
Single parents also qualify for these benefits, which are separate from the basic subsidy of $150 a month that all non-working mothers get, regardless of their family income.
There is no change to the basic subsidies for employed mothers, deemed to be working if they work at least 56 hours a month. They get $300 and $600 per child for childcare and infantcare respectively.
In total, about 100,000 children benefit from basic infant and childcare subsidies, regardless of their mother's employment status.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will also introduce a centre management system (CMS) this year which will streamline subsidy applications and administrative processes like licence applications to give parents and pre-schools greater convenience.
For example, parents will have to fill in just one form - down from three currently - to apply for various subsidies and financial aid schemes. This will benefit about 20,000 families annually and halve the time spent on such applications.
All childcare centres and kindergartens regulated by the ECDA must use the CMS and the ministry will aim to roll it out to all pre-schools later this year, Prof Faishal said in response to a question from Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) about the new IT platform.
Assoc Prof Faishal also pointed out that MSF has increased the number of childcare places from about 90,000 in 2012 to about 170,000 today, with plans to raise it to 200,000 by 2023 so that every child who needs a pre-school place has one.
The monthly median fees for kindergarten is now $171 and $856 for childcare, before subsidies, he added.
For programmes like KidStart - which started in 2016 as an ECDA pilot and was aimed at breaking the poverty cycle by intervening early in the lives of children from low income families - MSF will study the viability of scaling it up, Assoc Prof Faishal said in reply to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).
Regarding updates on the early childhood industry transformation map by Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) and Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Assoc Prof Faishal said the ECDA and the Health Promotion Board will commission a panel of experts to assess the occupational health and safety of pre-school staff later this year. The panel will also recommend ways to improve human resource practices and working conditions for early childhood professionals.
Housewife Lee Siok Hong, 38, is looking forward to the increased subsidies. Her husband is an engineer and earns around $6,000 a month while she looks after her five-month-old daughter Mavis and sends her six-year-old son Oscar to childcare.
Oscar’s pre-school fees cost $743 a month before subsidy and the family gets a $150 monthly subsidy as Madam Lee is not working.
She said: “This is good news as it will ease my husband’s burden. All the expenses add up.”