The pandemic may have derailed the plans of hopeful parents, but it’s an opportune time to refocus efforts on building a Singapore that is Made For Families.
Leading the charge to make this happen is Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore and the Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for National Development.
Along with Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, and Education, and other political office holders with marriage and parenthood related portfolios, Ms Indranee spoke to individuals from across the island to better understand their experiences and thoughts on getting married and raising families and how COVID-19 has affected their personal aspirations and priorities.
These discussions–held from April through July, and part of the Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations–were jointly organised by the National Population and Talent Division in the Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth.
The government has consistently offered not just financial support, but also other measures such as in housing, preschool, workplace support and more, to help couples and those with young children in their marriage and parenthood journey in Singapore.
To understand more about these conversations and how these initiatives have been helping Singaporean families, theAsianparent spoke exclusively with Ms Indranee.
Here is an excerpt from our interview.
Raising And Supporting Families Is A National Priority
theAsianparent: For the government, supporting Singaporeans in fulfilling their plans to marry and raise families remains a key national priority. Is there a 5-year plan in place and could you share more about the incentives or programmes for couples to raise healthy families in Singapore?
Ms Indranee: Our surveys show that most Singaporeans want to start and raise families. Hence, supporting them to do so is a key national priority. We provide comprehensive support in areas that matter to couples as they marry and have children.
These include housing, preschool, healthcare for couples and young children, financial support to help with the costs of raising children, and fostering family-friendly workplaces.
We continually review existing support and also try to identify emerging needs and situations. An example of this is the Made For Families series of conversations I had with young couples and families earlier this year to better understand what impact COVID-19 has had on them and how it may have changed their views and attitudes. It’s been helpful and we’re studying the feedback given.
Recent enhancements to support marriage and parenthood:
- Housing. From 2019, couples who are applying for their first HDB flat will receive an Enhanced CPF Housing Grant of up to $80,000.
- Child Development Account (CDA). Parents with a second child from this year will see greater financial support. This year, we increased the maximum Government contribution to the CDA from $6,000 to $9,000.
Baby Support Grant. Couples whose Singaporean child is born from 1 Oct 2020 to 30 Sep 2022 will receive a $3,000 Baby Support Grant.
- Pre-school. Our children can access quality and affordable pre-school facilities. By 2025, four in five preschoolers can have a place in a quality, affordable government-supported preschool. In the medium term, parents of children attending such preschools will pay around the equivalent of primary school fees plus after-school student care fees (before means-tested preschool subsidies).
- Family-friendly workplaces. Employers are encouraged to foster family-friendly workplaces such as staff utilisation of maternity and paternity leave to take time out to care for their little ones.
Couples and families can find out more about the comprehensive marriage and parenthood package in place to help build a Singapore that is Made For Families via this link.
Building Strong Families Is A Whole Of Society Effort
theAsianparent: How do you plan to provide a supportive environment to enable successful marriage and parenthood? Could you please elaborate more on the ‘Made for Families’ concept?
Ms Indranee: The “Building a Singapore that is Made For Families” concept is really to signal that building strong families is a whole of society effort.
To make this a reality we are partnering with different stakeholders from employers, employees, unions, associations, non-profit organisations, and the wider community, to develop family-friendly initiatives and measures that support marriage and parenthood.
Do look out for the Made For Families brandmark across Singapore – on our trains, buses, hawker centres, and other public places – to easily identify where the family-friendly services, spaces, workplaces, and activities are.
Together we can build an environment that is truly Made For Families.
Marriage And Children Still On The Cards For Singaporeans
theAsianparent: The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy has disrupted Singaporeans’ M&P decisions, but it has also changed their mindsets and priorities. So how do you plan to help them see the benefits of M&P?
Ms Indranee: We have found that despite the pandemic, most Singaporeans still want to get married and have children.
Survey results indicated that about nine in 10 married Singaporeans would like to have two or more children, and based on demographic data almost two-thirds of them still do.
Interestingly, during the conversation series, many shared that COVID-19 has led them to reassess their priorities. There was renewed recognition of the value and importance of family in our lives.
Notwithstanding the challenges of working from home, many young parents said it helped them to bond more closely with their children. The restrictions during Circuit Breaker, when family members from different households could not come together, led a lot of people to appreciate and treasure their families more.
At the same time, understandably, some had anxieties about proceeding with marriage and parenthood during a pandemic. To give them greater assurance, last year we announced the $3,000 Baby Support Grant (BSG) for couples whose Singaporean child is born from 1 Oct 2020 to 30 Sep 2022.
This would be over and above the Baby Bonus Cash Grant. More than 25,0001 families have benefited to date. I hope more couples will be encouraged not to delay starting a family or having another child.
Marriage and parenthood remain deeply personal decisions. On our part, we will keep supporting couples to make marriage and parenthood achievable, enjoyable, and fulfilling.
Participants Across Different Stages Share Valuable Insights
theAsianparent: How do you plan to better understand Singaporeans’ experiences and thoughts with regards to getting married and bringing up a family. How these views may have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ms Indranee: Our work never stops, as we always want to know how best to support Singaporeans.
We just concluded the conversations which helped us better understand how marriage and parenthood sentiments have changed over time.
This, along with other feedback and surveys we do, allow us to continually refine our measures to support Singaporeans on issues that matter most to them.
theAsianparent: What else can you tell us about the Conversations series?
Ms Indranee: We embarked on this series, part of the Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations, to better understand individuals’ experiences and thoughts on marriage and parenthood, and how these may have changed due to COVID-19.
Minister of State Sun Xueling and I led these sessions – and we were joined by my other colleagues with portfolios relating to various aspects of marriage and parenthood.
From April to July, we spoke to more than 300 participants across different life stages. This includes those who were dating, engaged, married without children, and parents with children of different ages (from infancy to primary school).
We also had sessions for individuals and experts to share their views on issues related to fertility health, which is becoming more salient because couples are marrying later.
Participants were forthcoming in their views. I am grateful to them for sharing their feedback and personal experiences of marriage and parenthood, as well as their suggestions on how we can improve work-life harmony and workplace culture, our education environment and the holistic development of children, caregiving for young children, and child-raising costs.
These are valuable insights, and we will study all their feedback to help in our review of policies and initiatives supporting marriage and parenthood in Singapore.
Enhanced Schemes To Improve Fertility In Couples
theAsianparent: You also talk about ‘fertility’ as one of the themes of the Conversations. Given that 2020 recorded the lowest fertility rate in Singapore, what are the plans to bring this number up? Any incentives for couples or awareness programmes?
Ms Indranee: Raising awareness and support on fertility is important, and I am glad many are speaking up about it.
We have progressively enhanced our schemes to support married couples who have difficulty conceiving.
In 2020, we introduced the Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) co-funding scheme and enhanced the Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) co-funding scheme to help couples who faced difficulty conceiving.
We also removed the age limit for women to undergo ART treatments, as well as the cap on the number of ART cycles they can go through.
In the recent conversations, many highlighted the need for earlier and clearer fertility health literacy, including at school. Others mentioned the need to strengthen social support for couples undergoing fertility treatments, including destigmatising infertility and more support at the workplace.
We will take their feedback in as we review our overall support for fertility health in Singapore.
Bringing Financial Support To Young Couples
theAsianparent: Cost of pregnancy, hospitals, and education of the child are often concerns of young parents. What’s your advice to couples bogged down by these issues?
Ms Indranee: We understand the concerns of having children and raising a family. That is why we have a range of support measures from our Marriage and Parenthood package to help parents with some of these costs e.g. the Baby Bonus Cash Gift, Government contributions to the Child Development Account, and MediSave Grant for Newborns.
These provide parents with up to $18,000 in financial support for their firstborn and up to $32,000 for the fifth and subsequent children. There are also subsidies for infant care and childcare, free nationally recommended vaccinations and developmental screenings at all CHAS GPs and Polyclinics.
Substantial education subsidies are also available for Singaporean children during the formal school years, from primary school up to university. There are also financial assistance schemes to provide additional support to those in financial need.
At the end of the day, the decision to have children goes beyond dollars and cents. Those who already have children will tell you that the intangible joy and fulfilment that comes with having children makes it all worthwhile.
Comprehensive Measures To Support Marriage And Parenthood
theAsianparent: How is Singapore different from other first world nations when it comes to parenting and education? What makes the little red dot and its policies special?
Ms Indranee: Singapore is often regarded as a good place to raise children. We are the best country in the world for children to grow up in, according to the End of Childhood Index 20202, followed by Slovenia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
We have high quality education and medical care and services that are accessible to all. And have put in significant investments to equip our children with the competencies to learn, grow, and thrive.
While we have seen positive student outcomes, we will continue to improve our policies to support our students in achieving their diverse aspirations and providing multiple pathways for them to do so.
Because we are a dense urban environment, there’s also a multitude of family-friendly exhibitions, playgrounds, and activities for our young ones to keep them engaged and stimulated.
To improve our marriage and parenthood policies, we studied the experiences of different countries, including the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, and South Korea.
From their experiences, we know that several key elements need to be in place to make a difference in raising birth rates: societal norms that embrace children and families, and encourage shared parental responsibility; parental leave for both parents and childcare support; a family-friendly workplace culture; and state support to defray financial costs.
Our policies aim to reinforce these elements in our society. Which is why we have a comprehensive suite of measures to support marriage and parenthood in Singapore.
Singapore has performed consistently well in international comparisons and benchmarks in childhood outcomes, healthcare, education, and human capital.
To strengthen parenting practices, The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has also been working with community partners, such as the Families for Life Council and social service agencies, to offer evidence-based parenting programmes such as the Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P), and referrals to services.
MSF also recently launched the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships. This will actively bring stakeholders, community partners and Singaporeans together to co-create solutions and implement them to strengthen marriages and families.
We have put in place a wide range of measures. But we will continue to strengthen our support for those who wish to marry and raise a family.
At the same time, I urge all of us – employers, co-workers, community organisations, businesses – to play an active role in fostering positive mindsets towards marriage and parenthood and shaping social and workplace norms that are supportive of it.