Budget debate: MPs call for better support for single parents, low-income families

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng proposed the establishment of a pilot programme providing low-cost ad hoc nanny services for single unwed parents. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Discrimination against single unwed parents should be tackled and policies should reflect support for this group, said Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) in Parliament on Wednesday (March 9).

Noting the financial and caregiving challenges these parents face, Mr Ng said: "Being a single parent is twice the work... as single parents have to juggle work while caring for their child. They don't have an additional pair of hands.

"Can the Government provide this additional pair of helping hands so single unwed parents can remain in the workforce, contribute to Singapore and work towards becoming more independent?"

Mr Ng proposed the establishment of a pilot programme providing low-cost ad hoc nanny services for these parents.

On the issue of strengthening families in Singapore, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) noted the need to broadly define what a family unit is, and the need for equal treatment of single parents when compared with other family units.

"What are the current norms on family? We are seeing some demographic trends including increasing singlehood, declining fertility rates and an ageing population.

"All these have put stress on the family institution across different life stages. Covid-19 has made the situation worse," he said.

Mr Ng and Mr Seah were among 17 MPs who spoke during the debate on Wednesday.

The MPs raised concerns on a range of issues, including support for low-income families and informal caregivers.

They also sought updates on the Government's plans to help youth and people with disabilities. Some also proposed new initiatives to help these groups.

Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) shared an anecdote of a couple in her constituency whose income fell soon after the birth of their first child amid the pandemic, leading to a strain in their relationship.

Ms Ng raised the need to increase upstream efforts to help families from at-risk groups such as low-income households or those that have family members with illnesses.

Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) outlined measures to tackle long-term absenteeism in schools and to support students from low-income families.

Citing the positive impact of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, he proposed a conditional cash transfer programme to promote school attendance.

"Some may object that such a policy creates moral hazard and some families may get the children to be absent to get the grant. There are levers to guard against this, like keeping the grant small and directing it only at low-income or multi-problem families," he added.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli and his colleagues are expected to respond to the MPs' suggestions when the debate resumes on Thursday. 

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