PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

Though the PM’s National Day Rally speech did not go into specifics over the announced pro-family measures, the PAP Women’s Wing (WW) proposals on improving the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) might give us some clues. Here’s an overview of the WW’s recommendations.

Following the 6+6-month maternity leave proposal mooted by the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) which met with mixed reviews from parents, the PAP Women’s Wing (WW) has published a paper on marriage and parenthood which offers a rather more expansive look at the issues faced by couples and parents when planning to settle down and caring for children.

The paper also proffers 6 recommendations which were mostly taken into consideration at the National Day Rally (NDR 2012) on Sunday. The recommendations span the areas of housing  schemes, the quality and affordability of preschool education, work-life balance measures, medical insurance for newborns, and support for assisted reproduction. However, these recommendations are by no means one-size-fits-all solutions, though every effort is made by the WW to cover broad spectrums.

1. Housing

PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

What was announced at NDR 2012

The MND will work with HDB to give priority to couples with children looking for new homes, though he made no mention of plans to review the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme (MGPS), which subsidises new families who purchase flats close to their parents.

What the WW recommended

Improving on the Married-Child Priority Scheme: For starters, the WW wants to improve the chances of couples who want to live near their parents, by reviewing the existing Married-Child Priority Scheme, and also “for couples with children or expecting a child… (to) be given priority to BTO/balance of sale or repossessed flats at mature estates near their parents.”

  • The good: Possible higher subsidies than currently offered for couples who are trying to secure a flat within a 2km radius from their parents, and shorter waiting times for parents and parents-to-be who are planning on team up with their child’s grandparents for caregiving.
  • The bad: The plan may encourage family bonding between generations, but it will negate a substantial subset of newlyweds, newly minted parents and parents-to-be that actually want to live independently after spending the larger part of their lives with their own parents. There’s also the rather inconvenient choice of whose parents to stay closer to; potential “monster-in-laws” are an issue couples tend to have to grapple with, albeit not a widespread one, depending on which couple you speak to.

Encouraging couples to continue living with their parents: The WW also wants to propose a grant scheme that provides couples who choose to stay with their parents benefits that are comparable to those enjoying the Married-Child Priority scheme.

  • The good: While details of the scheme are yet to be ironed out, grants usually mean money, and couples stand to gain financial benefits without the need to apply for a new flat.
  • The bad: Couples might end up maintaining the status quo. As far as the fertility rate debate goes, this probably isn’t going to help much. Firstly, this proposal means you’re looking at squeezing 2 or more family units into a single flat space, which may end up being quite impractical. Secondly, if you think putting couples in a room next to their parents will encourage them to make babies, you have another thing coming.

Introducing the Married-Couple Temporary Housing (MTH) Scheme: Young couples may have the option to rent a flat while waiting for their more permanent BTO residences to be completed, to ensure “that young married couples have a home as soon as possible.”

  • The good: Couples can set up a temporary love nest while their permanent love nest is being built, bearing in mind it can take 2-3 years for a BTO flat to be completed.
  • The bad: Couples embarking on this proposed scheme may end up paying more for their overall housing needs because they need to dish out 2-3 years’ worth of rental on top of what they have paid for securing their BTO flat. With finances already a strong concern in Singapore’s current climate, the scheme itself might not hold water in the long run. Besides, couples may not consider this stop-gap alternative as a conducive environment to conceive children, knowing they have to deal with moving house again when it’s time to claim your permanent abode.

2. Preschool concerns

PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

What was announced at NDR 2012

A new statutory board will be set up to oversee the preschool sector; however, the PM also specifically stated that the sector will not be nationalised. Also, the government will work to introduce new anchor operators to increase the supply of pre-school centres over more locations.

What the WW recommended
Accessibility of childcare and preschool centres: The WW recommends that the government step in to create “a large tier of… pre-school centres” that are more accessible, affordable and of higher quality and consistency in preparing children “for the broad segment of households” for primary school education.

  • The good: It looks like the voices of concerned parents’ have finally found their audience, because the WW has directly addressed the major areas raised by parents surveyed in the Lien Foundation study. This particular recommendation possibly paves the way for a public preschool system in Singapore’s future.
  • The bad: There is still a mindset issue to be addressed in the form of parental bias towards “brand-name” private preschool operators. The success of public preschools will very much depend on whether the government can attract quality educators and, more importantly, an open-minded syllabus to fully drive the learning potential of our young children.

Affordability of preschool fees: The WW also suggests that the government takes a back-end approach to understand “the real cost of operating and managing childcare centres” to start regulating the fees charged by private preschool operators.

  • The good: Either cheaper preschool fees for parents or an industry-drafted explanation of why they’re so expensive in the first place.
  • The bad: The move may end up raising more barriers of entry for both newly established and reputable private preschool operators, reducing their numbers and ultimately reducing parents’ choices for their child’s preschool environments.

Quality of educators: Recognising that childcare and preschool centres are not equipped to maintain the quality of the educators they employ, the government needs to study, manage and raise the quality, commitment and possibly the profile of early childhood educators.

  • The good: Possible higher qualification requirements for preschool hires, increased intake and syllabus review for tertiary institutions offering early childhood education diplomas and degrees, better welfare benefits for preschool educators (and maybe even teachers further down the education system).
  • The bad: Higher quality educators do necessarily mean higher salaries and as a result, higher preschool fees. We may end up back at square one in terms of affordability, but hey, our kids are going to receive better and more professional care, right?

3. Work-life Balance

PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

What was announced at NDR 2012

The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) will look at ways to promote flexi-work arrangements to employers. Also, the PM stressed that in order for work-life balance to be achieved, mindsets must change on the part of employers, employees and society at large.

What the WW recommended
Promoting flexi-work arrangements: With emphasis on both genders playing equally important family roles, the WW wants companies to pay extra attention to creating flexi-work opportunities for both women and men so working couples can take much-needed time to plan for a family, as well as open up an untapped market of stay-at-home mums who have the skills, qualifications and time to contribute to the workforce.

  • The good: An increase in flexi-work, part-time or work-from home opportunities for both men and women. Also, parents can spend more time taking care of their children and get more used to family life.
  • The bad: Companies run the risk of having their flexi-work arrangements exploited by employees if their work-life balance plans are not executed well. Both parents and their employers must work together to ensure a trustworthy system; otherwise the resultant preventive restrictions that employers have to be put in place might potentially foul up company productivity, individual careers or even the entire initiative.

Relief employees, relief from taxes: Strengthen job-matching services for companies to find relief employees while couples and parents are out focusing on building their families, and offer tax incentives such as double tax deduction for implementing work-life balance strategies.

  • The good: “Reserve player” jobs that can get on the pitch when their colleagues need the extended time to tend to their families, so we’re not just talking about a friendlier job market for family men and women, but potentially improved job opportunities for everyone.
  • The bad: Striking the balance is by no means a zero-sum game, as the WW exemplifies in their paper: “Assuming 10% of the 35,000 new parents each year want the flex option, we need about 7,000 of such ‘relief’ personnel at any one time; although the match may not be 100%, the numbers are not as large in one million workforce as to significantly impact national productivity”. In fact, different industries will grapple with different workforce requirements, so nationwide flexi-work implementation will be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, task.

Improving the Flexi-Works! Fund: The WW is looking to the government to review the effectiveness of the existing Flexi-Works! Fund, which, according to the Ministry of Manpower, “offers a grant of up to $100,000 to support a company’s efforts in implementing flexible work arrangements”. The programme expires on 31 December 2012.

  • The good: Possibly more funding to encourage companies to endorse flexi-work arrangements, improved HR training in work-life balance implementation, subsidies for employing eligible workers on flexi-work and part-time basis, and a possible further extension of the scheme.
  • The bad: Money is far from the only issue for parents; we’re also considering other intangible factors such as the disruption to our workflow and deliverables when we take too much time off work or are trying to work at home with a child screaming in the background. Also, the current climate for flexi-work hires really centres on women much more than it does men, so the initiative is still in danger of skewing the parental gender balance if the benefit isn’t actively taken up by husbands and dads.

Assistance for PMET mothers planning to re-join the workforce: The WW recommends that funding be provided for professional/manager/executive/technician (PMET) mothers to “update and upgrade even as they are out of the workforce” in order to stay relevant in their industry and return to work when they want.

  • The good: Mums may get to attend work development and qualifications courses, workshops and seminars to acquire certifications and stay up to date, and the government will foot their course fees.
  • The bad: Actually, this one really isn’t too bad… for stay-at-home mums. Too bad stay-at-home dads are currently such a rare breed in Singapore.

4. Parental Leave

What was announced at NDR 2012

There will not be an extension to the current 16-week maternity leave arrangement for working mothers, but the government is reviewing its stance on formalising paternity leave for fathers, and will come up with something more concrete by January 2013.

At one point, the PM also pleaded with the fathers Singapore to “use the paternity leave for the purpose it is given”.

What the WW recommended

Shared parental leave: The most interesting of all the recommendations put forth by the WW thus far pitches that half of the current 4-month maternal leave entitlement enjoyed by mothers be divided between both parents. Whilst maintaining the first 2 months for mothers to recover from childbirth, parents should be allowed to decide how to distribute the remaining two months between themselves. The WW also proposes that the government extend childcare leave eligibility from parents with children below seven years to parents with children below twelve years of age.

  • The good: In what must be the most requested labour policy revision amongst parents of both sexes, dads can finally stay home and practice changing diapers for up to 2 months! On a more serious note, working mothers trying to stay in their jobs, as well as female jobseekers planning to have children, will appreciate sharing their 4-month “burden” of parental leave with their spouses.
  • The bad: While shared parental leave will put mothers on a level playing field with fathers in career development and job opportunities, employers may instead prefer to hire single non-parents over married people and parents as a whole, though with the government working to make married people and parents an overwhelming majority, such a concern may eventually cancel itself out – if the proposal works.

5. Insurance for newborns

PAP Women’s Wing’s marriage and parenthood proposal: an overview

What was announced at NDR 2012

Newborns will be provided with CPF Medisave accounts with a small initial top-up by the government.

What the WW recommended

“Baby Shield” insurance scheme: Focusing on potential health threats that might plague babies at birth, the WW proposed a Baby Bonus subsidy add-on in the form of a “BabyShiled” insurance scheme for newborns.

  • The good: Wider coverage on congenital and neonatal conditions not previously covered by medical insurance for infants; such a policy also alleviates concern among parents when handling unforeseen health issues with their baby.
  • The bad: It may further drain parents’ CPF monies or even push up existing top-up requirements. But in the bigger scope of things, parents may not mind.

6. Assisted Reproduction

What was announced at NDR 2012

The rally did not touch on assisted production and IVF procedures. In fact, assisted reproductive methods are a niche amongst couples looking to conceive and usually considered only as a last resort should normal conception methods fail to produce results.

What the WW recommended

Subsidising IVF: Increasing subsidies over more cycles for in-vitro fertilization, and allow eligibility for this subsidy in private practices as well.

  • The good: Lending help to couples opting for IVF does open up the idea of assisted reproduction for couples trying to have children to a certain extent.
  • The bad: The WW also acknowledges that “moral and ethical issues will come to play in deciding on having assisted reproduction”. It’s a particularly iffy subject that requires sensitive handling.

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Written by

Winston Tay

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