Opening Remarks by Minister Indranee Rajah at Supermom Bump to Bliss Pregnancy Seminar
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for that warm welcome and I just want to thank the organisers of Supermom for inviting me to join you at this year’s Supermom pregnancy seminar, titled “Bump to Bliss”.
Parenthood is a rewarding journey, it is filled with many precious moments. But we do appreciate that it can be daunting, especially for new parents, who are navigating pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood for the first time. When I asked some of you outside why did you sign up for the seminar, a common answer was to learn more, to find out more and connect with others. So you will be happy to know that Supermom has carefully curated this seminar for new parents, and invited speakers to share important insights on pregnancy and parenting.
Our surveys show that the majority of young Singaporeans aspire towards marriage and parenthood. But despite this, Singapore’s fertility rate has been persistently declining, reaching a historic low of 1.04 last year. So you are the ones bucking the trend. Thank you very much for that and please keep up the good work, more babies along the way would be great! But what we see is that there is a gap between aspirations and reality. And we ask ourselves, why is this so?
The first thing to note is that declining fertility rates, alongside delayed marriages and parenthood, are actually global trends and not specific to Singapore. However, it remains concerning and we need to understand the intricacies of these trends in the Singapore context. We therefore held a series of conversations with Singaporean singles, couples and parents to better understand the reasons behind their marriage and parenthood choices.
Supporting Aspirations, Strengthening Assurance
The reasons are varied and include the following:
• Singaporeans prioritised other life goals like attaining financial security or building a successful career, ahead of getting married and having children;
• Some preferred to wait until they had a place of their own before starting a family. And of course, Covid did not help because Covid delayed our building schedule. But HDB has caught up with 70% of its building construction schedule and they are all gun blazing for the next 30%. So we are back on stream for the public housing schedule;
• Some were concerned about the costs of raising children that is quite a common feedback that we see; and
• Others were concerned about the ability to balance work and family commitments.
So we hear these feedback and we are determined to address them as part of our refreshed social compact. We refer to Forward SG as our refreshed social compact. So what does that actually mean? Well, everyone understand ‘contract’. Contract is legal obligation between parties agreeing and you are bound by a legal document. But a social compact is a little bit different, you can’t enforce it. It is kind of like a promise that we make to each other as a society. We are basically saying, these are the things we want to achieve together. So in the Forward SG Report which was launched last week, we set out how we intend to further strengthen assurance for families through every stage of life, and create a more conducive environment for families to thrive.
To address cost of living concerns, we have a range of subsidies and measures in the areas of healthcare, preschool and education.
For example, all Singapore Citizen newborns receive a $4,000 MediSave grant that parents can use to pay for their healthcare expenses like MediShield Life premiums and childhood vaccinations.
They can also receive nationally-recommended childhood vaccinations and developmental screenings free of charge at polyclinics and General Practitioner clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS).
For preschool, the Government provides various subsidies, and keeps Government-supported preschools affordable and we do that through fee caps, which were further lowered in January this year. This means that a median-income working family with a child enrolled at an Anchor Operator preschool would spend only around 3% of their income on childcare today.
Over and above these, parents will get support in defraying child-raising costs in the early years, such as through the Baby Bonus Scheme, which comprises the Baby Bonus Cash Gift, or BBCG, and the Child Development Account, or CDA. Earlier this year at Budget, we increased the BBCG and made adjustments such that now parents can receive regular payouts, once every six months until the child turns six-and-a-half years, in other words just before primary school. This will allow parents to receive sustained support till their child enters primary school.
We also enhanced the CDA First Step Grant, that is the lump sum payment that Government makes to you. We raised the CDA Government co-matching caps for the first and second child so the co-matching caps is when you put in money in the CDA account, the Government will match dollar to dollar to help increase the support for your child. Taken together with the MediSave Grant for Newborns, parents can receive up to $24,000 for their first child, and up to $37,000 for subsequent children.
Regular top-ups are also made to every child’s CDA, Edusave, and Post-Secondary Education Account. We will continue to review the financial support schemes to ensure that they remain relevant for Singaporeans.
Support in Managing Work-Family Demands
Next, many parents cite managing work and family commitments as one of the key considerations when deciding to have children. They would like to be more involved in caring for their children, while still being able to fulfill their responsibilities at work.
From next year, we will be extending Government-paid paternity leave by an additional two weeks on a voluntary basis, and doubling unpaid infant care leave to 12 days per parent per year in the child’s first two years. And we hope that these enhancements, will better support all of you to take time off work to bond with and care for your newborns.
I would also like to take this chance to encourage fathers and fathers-to-be to play a bigger role in child-raising, especially in the early years. In fact, I am very heartened that there are so many dads-to-be here accompanying the supermoms. So please give yourselves a big hand. I think it is really good to see that more and more dads getting actively involved in parenting these days. And what research has shown is that children whose fathers are more involved have better developmental outcomes.
Greater paternal involvement fosters tighter familial bonds, and is positively associated with happier families overall. So our research further showed that fathers found paternity leave useful to support their wives after birth and to settle into the role of fatherhood. So I really do hope that fathers will make full use of your parental leave and for the employers and co-workers, please support the fathers taking leave to care for their children and wives. I spent a little bit of time on this point because it may not be sufficiently appreciated, that is a fundamental shift that we are making. It is a societal shift.
In a traditional Asian society, the role of child raising, looking after newborns is typically considered a mother’s responsibility. What is very heartening is that many guys have been stepping up to this already. But I am not sure if society has caught up to that. So the dads want to do it, the employers are puzzled why they are doing it. And society as a whole, has not quite come to the conclusion that this should be the norm. So we are at this sort of transitional stage in our society. We should make that shift, where having dads involved in helping a newborn child and being part of child raising. It becomes a norm so no one should even bat an eyelid if you want to do it. And I really do want to encourage the dads here to be part of that journey. Sign up for Dads for Life, which is a movement run by the Centre for Fathering. They have great programmes helping you to bond with your child so please make the most of it.
As mentioned in the Forward SG report released last week, we aim to make the additional two weeks of paid paternity leave mandatory as soon as possible. Right now, it is still voluntary, it is going to kick in on a voluntary basis from 1 January next year but we are looking to see how we can make that mandatory and we are considering how paid parental leave can be further increased.
We will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to study the feasibility of such moves, because we also need to bear in mind between the need to strike a balance in supporting parents’ needs and managing the impact on businesses. Businesses too are concerned, because they are worried of how they will manage. We want to find the right balance to support you and to make sure your employers can meet their goals as well.
In addition, we will be enhancing caregiving options to support parents beyond leave provisions. This includes ramping up places for centre-based infant care, especially in areas of higher demand, and working with service providers to introduce affordable and safe childminding services as an additional option for families.
Apart from centred-based infant care, another key effort we have been pushing is to foster family-friendly workplaces and encourage the provision and utilisation of Flexible Work Arrangements, or FWAs. FWAs is not quite well understood yet, because most people think of it as working from home, but it’s actually more than that. It can be flexi-place, flexi-load, flexi-time. There are different types of flexible work arrangements and how you use them really depends on the sector and type of work that you are doing and also how good the HR of the company is.
FWAs are a more sustainable form of workplace support that allows employees to adjust their schedules more flexibly so that they can better attend to their caregiving or other personal needs, while at the same time, managing work obligations. The Government will be introducing a set of Tripartite Guidelines on FWA Requests in 2024, which will set the norms and expectations on how employees should request for FWAs and use them responsibly, as well as how employers should consider such requests fairly. Through this, we hope to encourage better communication between employers and employees to find mutually agreeable FWAs. I strongly encourage all employees, especially working parents like many of you here, to start the conversation early with your employers on your desired work-family arrangement.
The Government is also supporting employers in building stronger human resource capabilities to implement FWAs well because it is one thing to say have flexible work arrangements but designing it well is a different thing. And so, it includes redesigning job roles and processes to better suit FWAs, and training employers and line managers to manage a flexible workforce more effectively.
Finally, before I close, let me touch on housing support. For those of you who are still seeking to secure a home of your own, we have introduced a new First-Timer (Parents & Married Couples) priority category to help families and young couples secure their first BTO flat more easily. Eligible married couples and families with a child aged 18 years and below, including expecting parents, will have more ballot chances than others and enjoy greater priority when applying for a 4-room or smaller BTO flat in non-mature estates.
On top of that, we will be doubling the supply of flats for rent under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme, from about 2,000 units now to about 4,000 units by 2025, for families who require interim housing options whilst waiting for their new flats to be completed. It is our hope that, with these moves, you will feel supported in having a safe and stable environment to build your families.
A Collective Effort To Build A Singapore Made For Families
So, we have put in place and enhanced various measures to help address concerns that couples may have, especially when thinking about taking the next step into parenthood.
But at the same time, building a Singapore Made For Families goes beyond the Government. We need everyone to play a part, to foster a culture that values and puts families first.
a. One, we need employers to make dedicated efforts to foster a family-friendly workplace culture by facilitating openness and trust, and implementing practices that support the needs of their employees whilst fulfilling business objectives. So if you are an employer, please do bear that in mind.
b. Next, we need individuals to be more empathetic and supportive towards their friends, neighbours and co-workers with caregiving responsibilities.
c. And three, we call on more community partners to strengthen and support families through various programmes and initiatives. We are grateful for groups like Supermom, who have been one of our Made For Families partners since 2021. Supermom has been organising regular informational events for parents-to-be, and reaching out to parents-to-be through social media and messaging applications.
Building a Singapore Made for Families is an ongoing journey that requires time and effort from the whole of society. I am hopeful that all of us, meaning the Government, corporates, individuals and the wider community, will press on with our efforts to do what is needed for Singapore to become the best place for Singaporeans to start and raise families. I hope that you, as new parents, will feel supported not just by the Government but by everyone around you, as you embark on your parenthood journey.In closing, let me thank Supermom for inviting me to be a part of this important occasion. To expecting “supermoms” here, I wish you a safe and healthy delivery. And to the dads, please remember every “supermom” needs a “superdad” to support and journey along with them. I wish you a fruitful seminar ahead and have a good weekend. Thank you.