SINGAPORE: The Singapore government has announced a S$2b package in another attempt to boost the country’s low fertility rate.
To encourage couples to start families earlier, the government is making it easier for couples with young children to get their first homes.
Under the Parenthood Priority Scheme, up to 30 per cent of new public flats in matured and non—matured estates will be set aside for couples with children under the age of 16.
Also new is a Parenthood Provisional Housing scheme for this group of parents, who can rent a flat from the HDB while they wait for their new flats to be ready.
The HDB will launch about 1,150 units of three—, four— and five—room flats by the end of this month which can be rented out at between S$800 and S$1,900.
The latest measures are the third round of enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood package. It will cost the government S$2 billion a year —— higher than the S$1.6 billion in the 2008 package.
It also covers areas such as assisted reproduction, healthcare and paternity leave.
Fathers will finally get paid paternity leave of one week. This is on top of the one—week leave they can co—share with mothers under the working mother’s maternity leave entitlement of four months.
Couples who adopt can look forward to four weeks of paid adoption leave for working mothers.
Employers must make provisions for the various paid leave from 1 May 2013.
For those who have difficulty conceiving, the government will help pay a bigger share of Assisted Reproduction Technology treatments.
It will now cover up to 75 per cent of treatment costs. These will be capped at S$6,300 per cycle for three fresh treatment cycles, and S$1,200 per cycle for three frozen treatment cycles.
The Baby Bonus cash gift will increase by S$2,000 per birth, up to the fourth child.
Every newborn will have a CPF Medisave account with a grant of S$3,000 to support healthcare costs.
The enhanced Baby Bonus and Medisave will apply to all Singapore citizen children born on or after 26 August 2012.
Congenital and neonatal conditions will also be covered under MediShield. The government will extend MediShield to cover such conditions from March 2013.
For existing policyholders, such as insured children, they will automatically receive coverage for any congenital conditions diagnosed on or after 1 March 2013.
Which new measure gets your
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who announced the measures on Monday, said Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) rose slightly in 2012 —— due partly to the "mini Dragon Year impact".
The TFR climbed from 1.2 in 2011 to between 1.28 and 1.3 last year, according to preliminary estimates.
The last time Singapore’s TFR was at the replacement level of 2.1 was way back in 1976.
The country’s leaders now have a target of between 1.4 and 1.5, should the new measures make any form of impact.
"We hope that in the longer term we can get, of course, up to 2.1 but looking at the environment and what other countries and cities are facing, that really is a work in progress that will require a long time but if we can get 1.4, 1.5 in the coming years, I think that will be a good step forward," said Mr Teo.
Mr Teo said the Marriage and Parenthood package is the most fundamental component of Singapore’s population roadmap.
He said the core is still a Singapore population and making sure it is sustainable, as it is the most critical aspect to ensure the country’s long—term future.
"Singaporeans are the core of our society, and the best and most fundamental way to build a stronger Singaporean core is to encourage marriage and parenthood, to encourage Singaporeans to have more children," said Mr Teo.
"So, regardless of whatever else we do to deal with the population challenge, the core and the most fundamental thing that we want to do is to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have more children and this is the starting point of all that we do. So, everything else we do is build around this."
"We hope that it will help the young people to consider getting married earlier and to have children earlier. Our survey shows that 83% of young people do want to get married and have children and that a very high proportion of them also feel that the existing Marriage and Parenthood measures do encourage them and help them to do so, and of course they have feedback specific areas which they feel will be helpful and those are the areas which are attending to in this enhancement to the Marriage and Parenthood package," added Mr Teo.
Mr Teo, who is also the minister in charge of population policies, announced the measures along with ministers in charge of various portfolios.
They include National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.
While practical concerns are addressed, the panel of ministers said just as important are the intangibles that need to evolve in Singapore.
Mr Chan said that "we should also look at it as a comprehensive package addressing not just the tangible and immediate issues that have to do with financials and economics but also the softer aspects". He said that these are equally important, if not, more important.
They include "how we bring up our children, the kind of values that we inculcate in them, how we give a sense of peace of mind to young parents to bring up their own children — the kind of early childhood development opportunities, so that they don’t have to worry that if they do not have the means somehow their children will be left behind even before they start school," said Mr Chan.
"These are all important pieces that we need to put in place in order for us to create that entire environment where Singapore is really known as a pro—family society."
For more information on the Marriage and Parenthood package, you can visit the website: www.heybaby.sg
More measures will be announced over the next few weeks to better support families, for example, in making health care and child care more affordable.
Two other reports are also due — highlighting the government’s strategies in creating better jobs for Singaporeans while maintaining a high quality of life.
All these population policies will then be debated in Parliament.
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