Parliament: MP submits petition for inclusive housing for single parents

Presented by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng on behalf of seven single parents, the petition calls for amendments to the Housing and Development Act to rule out discrimination based on marital status.
Presented by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng on behalf of seven single parents, the petition calls for amendments to the Housing and Development Act to rule out discrimination based on marital status. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A petition asking for more inclusive housing policies for unmarried and divorced parents was submitted to Parliament on Monday (Sept 11).

Presented by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng on behalf of seven single parents, the petition calls for amendments to the Housing and Development Act to rule out discrimination based on marital status.

Mr Ng said: "The petitioners allege that the current provisions on public housing are not inclusive. Firstly, unmarried parents and their children are not recognised by HDB as a family nucleus. Secondly, long debarment periods prevent divorced parents from accessing purchase and rental flats."

The petition he presented comes at a time when divorce rates are climbing - there were 7,614 divorces and annulments last year, up by 1.2 per cent from 2015.

In 2015, 863 babies were born to unwed mothers here, down from the 1,099 born in 2010.

Mr Ng cited a study by women's rights group Aware, which found that 95 per cent of single mothers who sought public housing faced difficulties.

That report, released on February, found that out of the 55 women - majority of whom are divorced with six as unwed mothers - 21 said they could not access public housing despite help from a Member of Parliament. In one case, an MP wrote 25 letters to HDB on behalf of a single mother.

In his speech, Mr Ng pointed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Singapore is a party to.

"Singapore has obligations under this international Convention to ensure the rights of the child without discrimination on basis of their parents' marital status, and to take appropriate measures to ensure every child's right to an adequate standard of living, in particular with regards to housing," he said.

At present, a single parent's only housing option is to buy a flat under the Singles Scheme after turning 35. For divorced parents, those who have owned an HDB flat cannot rent from the HDB for 30 months after their flat is sold. Divorcees also face a three-year debarment, during which only one party can own a subsidised flat.

Mr Ng, who is a father of three girls, said: "I cannot imagine going through my parenthood journey alone and I can appreciate how difficult it must be for single parents. I sincerely hope we hear from the petitioners and respond positively to their call for equal support for single parents."

The petition was referred to the Public Petitions Committee.

In response, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said they look forward to hearing from the Public Petitions Committee.

The ministries explained that they look at cases individually as "every case is unique".

"For families facing difficulties, HDB and social service agencies will also assist them in various ways, including providing counselling, financial assistance, employment support, and advice on their housing options," said the joint statement.

Singapore, they said, "remains committed to making Singapore a great place for children and families to thrive and grow in".