In an opinion piece published by TODAY online last Thursday (22 October), titled “To boost fertility rate, do more to lower costs of raising children”, a member of public, Peter Heng Teck Wee penned his opinions suggesting the Government to implement “a holistic fertility policy” that go beyond existing handouts and subsidies in order to tackle the low fertility rate of the country.
Mr Heng, who has three young children and was a past beneficiary of Baby Bonus scheme, firstly lauded the recently announced Baby Support Grant of S$3,000 as it will provide additional relief to the parents amid this trying times.
Despite saying that the overall financial support given to parents is “substantial” – which range between $21,000 and $35,000 per child, Mr Heng however lamented that the financial support may only be “a drop in the ocean” as compared with the high total cost of raising a child in Singapore.
To prove this, he cited the data from SmartParents which estimated that the cost of raising a child in Singapore was more than S$670,000 before inflation.
“The high total cost of raising children here may explain why, generous handouts notwithstanding, Singapore’s total fertility rate has steadily trended lower, reaching a nadir of 1.14 in the past two years,” Mr Heng noted.
He continued, “To reverse this trend, our fertility policies must go beyond existing handouts and subsidies and address the expense side of the ledger.”
He thus suggested that a number of Certificates of Entitlement (COE) should be “set aside” for the parents with young children and the foreign domestic worker levy should also be waived for such parents.
Besides this, Mr Heng also said that the measures aimed at reducing childhood expenses “need not be at the expense of state coffers”.
“For example, we can tackle the tuition arms race at the primary school level by replacing competitive exams (that is, the Primary School Leaving Examination) with balloting for entry into secondary schools,” he said.
He also proposed to set “minimum nutritional standards” for pre-school meals and school canteens in order to reduce the number of visits to paediatricians.
“A holistic fertility policy which incorporates smart cost-saving measures can be more effective and sustainable than one which relies solely on one-off handouts.
“Raising children is, after all, a lifelong commitment,” he noted.
Earlier on 14 October, the Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah revealed in Parliament that Singapore’s total fertility rate was 1.14 in 2019, which is “below replacement”.
Concerning the low fertility rate, the Government had in place some measures such as providing financial supports to the parents including Baby Support Grant, Baby Bonus Cash Gift, Child Development Account, and MediSave Grant for Newborns.
As for the recently announced Baby Support Grant, it is a one-off grant of S$3,000 for the parents of infants born from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2022.
According to the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Grant is on top of the Baby Bonus Cash Gift worth up to S$10,000 that aims to help couples defray child-raising costs amid these extraordinary times due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Netizens call S’pore as “toxic rat race environment” that discourage S’poreans from giving birth
On the issue of low fertility rate, most of the netizens, however, held different views with the writer. Describing Singapore as “toxic rat race environment”, the netizens said that the mindset of citizens that not willing to compromise their lifestyle, and their commitments in work have discouraged them from giving birth in this competitive country.
A netizen also commented that the Government policy and assistance plays a “decisive factor in giving a conducive environment” for the couples in Singapore to build a new family.
Instead of saying this is the responsibility to the Government, other netizens felt that raising a child should be a “shared responsibility between a couple”. They opined that “monetary incentives is secondary”, compared to the “lifestyle change” and “the parents’ sacrifice” which must be made to raise a child.
Meanwhile a handful of netizens pointed out that “the real killers” are the baby products- and services-related industries as they will seize the chance to increase their products prices when the Government increase grants and handouts to the parents.
Standing on the side of writer, a couple of netizens agreed that “every single little help” from the Government such as increase subsidy for infant care and school fees definitely counts in reducing costs of raising a child and consequently helping to boost the birth rates.
Recounting their experience, another two netizens seemed to have tough times in taking care of their children and working to sustain the livelihood at a time.