Review of benefits for unwed mothers

Govt looking into policies on maternity leave, housing, among others: Tan Chuan-Jin

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Unmarried mothers could soon have the same benefits as married ones. The Government is reviewing discrepancies in benefits, such as how unwed mothers are given eight weeks of paid maternity leave compared to the 16 weeks that married mothers get.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has revealed that he asked colleagues to review the policies when he joined the ministry in April.

He hopes to make an announcement before next year's Budget.

"I've a great deal of sympathy for single unwed mothers," he said. "Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it? That's being reviewed."

Unmarried mothers do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and must wait until they are 35 years old to buy an HDB flat under the singles scheme.

Such differences have been brought up many times in Parliament, and the answer has always been that the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to. In March, previous MSF minister Chan Chun Sing said Singapore needs to find a balance between supporting unwed mothers and the policy to support parenthood within marriages.

Asked if he thought Singapore society is now prepared to change its stance, Mr Tan said: "My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single unwed mothers." He added that there is more support available for them than just maternity leave and baby bonuses. "It's about healthcare availability, it's about education opportunities and the support that comes with it."

He said issues such as housing, education, health and employment are being discussed from a "whole- of-government perspective".

MP for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng, who has been regularly asking for equal benefits for unmarried mothers, hopes the review will lead to them getting 16 weeks of maternity leave.

"Treat them first as mothers," he said. "The fact that they're in those circumstances is something beyond anyone's control. A lot of benefits have now gone to the children, I think anything we can do for mothers themselves is certainly something we should look at."

And women's group the Association of Women for Action and Research has called for the review to give unwed mothers the same access to housing and maternity leave as married mothers as "children should not be penalised for the families they live in".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Review of benefits for unwed mothers'. Subscribe