Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why the extra $2000 does not help

Recently, reactions to population white paper has been dominating "headlines" in the cyberspace.

One of the main driver for the basic proposal in the white paper is the low birth rates in Singapore. As such, the government wants to do more to encourage Singaporean couples to make more babies. The Baby Bonus Scheme has been introduced since April 2001 and this year, they introduced more bonuses for those who procreate.

What does the baby bonus include? A cash gift for each child and top ups into a special savings account for each child. Basically, the more children you have, the higher the gift and top ups. The Baby Bonus website details this well, so I won't go into the finer details of the amounts and payment schedules. This year, the government is giving an additional $2,000 for each baby, making the cash gift $6,000-8,000 for each baby.

Now, I don't mind getting money from anyone who wants to give it away.. but I fail to see why ANYONE would think that this additional $2,000 would incentivise anyone to have a baby.

As a new and working mum, I can tell you that what we need are support around other areas.. such as:

1. Time - daily
Time to play and cuddle with baby..

But our congested and inefficient public transportation takes away precious time from our children. For those of us who opt not to use public transport, peak hour traffic is not much better even though we pay all the additional peak hour road tolls.

2. Time - initially
We do have longer maternity leave in Singapore now compared to the past. However, our maternity leave of 4 months means that on average, most mothers end up returning to work when their babies are 4 or 5 months, even before our babies start eating solid food and sleeping through the night. Babies grow very quickly during their first year and I know many mothers would like to spend the first year being at home with their babies, it is not an option for most of us.

My European counterparts at work get longer maternity leave, with unpaid leave options and many typically take a year off to be with their children in their first year of life.

3. Energy
Energy to play with our babies.. and when they get older, time to teach them reading, cycling, swimming...

But many of us face long working hours and know in our heart that it is all too easy for us to be sidelined for imported talent should we get more laid back at work..

4. Childcare and pre-school education
Children obviously need caring for whilst we work.. but there are limited options for accessible and affordable infant care. Good daycare centres have long waiting lists and cost a lot, making it out of reach for many. There are some infant care located within business districts but these are fairly limited.

Pre-schools, which technically fall in the same category as daycare centres but are targeted at toddlers above 2 years, are sadly of low quality in Singapore.

In 2012, the Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Singapore’s preschool education 29 out of 45 countries. In the study, Singapore’s performance for the categories of ‘affordability’ and ‘avaliablity’ ranked a very average 21st and 25th position respectively. In the area of ‘quality’, it ranked a lowly 30th. Low teacher-children ratios, weak link with primary school system and lack of parental involvement are all the reasons given for the low 'quality' ranking.

 I could go on and on.. but I shall leave it at these for now..

What mothers need are not extra money.. I'm sure the money can be helpful to defray the high costs of a baby.. but $6,000 cannot possibly cover the cost of delivering and bringing up a baby..

As a new mother, I would rather the government invests in real measures to help young parents, rather than throw money into our pockets to "encourage" us to have more babies.. I would be skeptical of anyone who tells me that an extra $2,000 would be a factor of consideration when deciding if they should have one more child.


Celine said...

:) I wanted to blog about this for a while now but life went on. I totally agree! Especially point 3 on energy and the fear that I will be replaced by a foreigner who is cheaper

Stephanie said...

I like your suggestion on the first year being at home with the baby :-)

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