SINGAPORE - In Singapore’s unending quest to raise its dismal birth rate, MPs said on Thursday that there are still caregiving gaps to be bridged, including on childcare leave, infant care facilities and flexible work arrangements.
On the other end of the age spectrum, there were proposals to help seniors age in place and to expand care options within their community.
While MPs like Mr Ang Wei Neng (West Coast GRC) cheered the Budget 2023 announcement of government-paid paternity leave being doubled to four weeks, he also asked the Government to consider increasing childcare leave.
Currently, an employee has two days of extended childcare leave per year if his youngest child is in primary school, regardless of the number of children.
The result is some parents ask schools to keep their children at the sick bay till they are done with work, he said.
Mr Ang proposed that the leave be changed to two days per primary school-age child, up to a cap of four days a year, while Nominated MP Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab asked if childcare leave can be extended to children in secondary school.
Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) said there need to be sufficient infant care and childcare facilities in new estates.
She noted that in a Build-To-Order (BTO) estate in her ward, some couples live there only on weekends and stay with their parents during the work week due to insufficient infant and childcare spaces when they moved in.
“For new BTO estates, the tender for childcare and other amenities go out only after residents start moving in, resulting in a demand-and-supply problem,” said Ms Cheng.
Workers’ Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) and Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah both spoke on the need to extend parenthood benefits to single unwed mothers, such as the baby bonus cash payouts.
Missing, too, was support for the unmarried or childless, who are also Singaporeans and part of families, said Ms He. She noted that the number of single Singaporeans has increased across all age groups, according to the 2020 Census.
Dr Shahira said she recognised the Government’s pro-family policies, but added that raising a child alone is even harder when policies become inadvertent structural roadblocks that result in unequal access.
Measures that penalise single mothers also penalise their children, affecting how they live and grow and their possibility of social mobility, she added.
She called for employers and employees to foster a strong pro-family work culture, where flexible work arrangements are the norm and colleagues willingly step in to help.
“Let’s not wait for incentives and legislation from the Government. We can all do our part,” she said.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua also called on Singaporeans themselves to make changes to improve their family life in areas that “legislation and policy can do so little to fix”.
These include re-examining how they define success for their children and helping them deal with growing up in a digital world with its many perils such as online predators and cyber bullying.
On caring for seniors, Mr Henry Kwek (Kebun Baru) asked the Government to increase the number of active ageing centres and provide more options for overnight respite and palliative care for senior citizens.
He also urged more adoption of technology, such as using golf carts or autonomous vehicles to help seniors with last-mile connection to MRT stations and healthcare facilities; teleconsultations for suitable seniors; or artificial intelligence-powered services to help them coordinate appointments.
Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) called for a consolidation of senior-related services to help seniors better understand and access them.
“The many disparate initiatives cause confusion, and seniors do find it difficult to navigate through all the help that’s available to them,” he said.