MPs raise concerns over changes to law on childcare benefits and Baby Bonus scheme

The proposed changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act aim to help encourage more Singaporeans to have more children.
The proposed changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act aim to help encourage more Singaporeans to have more children.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Extending benefits to a wider group of parents is a step in the right direction, but could the Baby Bonus cash portion be given to single unwed parents as well, asked Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC).

He was among 10 MPs who aired their concerns and offered suggestions during a debate over a raft of proposed amendments to the law involving childcare subsidies, including the Baby Bonus scheme.

The proposed changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act aim to encourage more Singaporeans to have more children, among other things.

On Monday (Aug 2) in Parliament, Mr Ng said many single unwed parents are from low-income households, with a median monthly salary of $600, and they need the money more than married parents in dual-income homes.

Others, including Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC), Ms Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), also asked for more help for single unwed parents.

Mr Ng also asked for paternity leave quotas to be increased in phases, with the aim of eventually having an equal amount of maternity and paternity leave.

In response, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the Government recognises that many are single unwed parents by circumstance, and not by choice.

But she added that substantial support has been given to single unwed parents over the years, including benefits and subsidies that are given to all Singaporean children, regardless of their parents' marital status.

Ms Sun said certain benefits are targeted at encouraging parenthood within marriage, including the Baby Bonus cash gift, parenthood-related tax benefits, and earlier access to public housing.

She added: "We acknowledge members' concerns about single unwed parents and hope to assure them that together with other agencies, we regularly review how we can better support them even as we make available to them the government benefits that support the caregiving, growth and development of children."

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked for more data to be released on the various schemes.

Ms Sun replied that her ministry does not require information for claims beyond what is necessary to determine eligibility, to avoid burdening employers and working parents. "We must balance the need for policy review with making our claim and application processes citizen-centric and efficient," she said.

Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) from the Workers' Party spoke about how his younger brother was stillborn, and the psychological trauma that both his parents later went through for years to come.

He called for more to be done to support parents of stillborn children, including extending a longer maternity leave period to mothers and for compassionate leave to be given to fathers.

Meanwhile, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked for subsidies for parents of stillborn children to undergo counselling services.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also called for additional leave to be given to parents who have twins, triplets or more babies at once, as these parents may have more caregiving responsibilities.

In response, Ms Sun said implementing more leave or other benefits comes with costs, and a practical approach must be taken so parents' employability is not affected.

She said: "Employers face manpower and operational demands, which must be calibrated alongside the need to support working parents.

"Any increase in leave provisions will therefore have to be considered carefully, especially in periods of business uncertainty."