Little Help for Singaporean Stay-Home Mothers
I attended a dialogue session last Thursday organised by Reach, the Singapore Government’s feedback arm, on “Creating a Pro-family Environment”. It was basically a bunch of parents talking to members of the government, giving feedback on the pro-family measures introduced over the past few years.
Faith was pregnant with Anne when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced:
- the 5 day workweek, down from the original 5.5
- the extension of maternity leave for working mothers, from 8 weeks to 12 weeks, with the government paying corporations the extra 4 weeks
- a reduction in the levy when hiring a foreign domestic help
- the baby bonus, where the government pays parents a lump sum of $3,000 at the birth of their first child and second child, $6,000 for the birth of their third and fourth
- tax rebates for working mothers, pegged to the number of children they have
- the government’s plan to match parents’ savings for their children’s education up to a certain ceiling, $6,000 for the second child, $12,000 for the third and fourth (none for the first)
This was extremely good news for us back then, and we really felt like the government was doing its part to support couples who were transitioning to become parents.
Most Singaporean families are dual-income, with both parents working, while the children are left under the care of an employed foreign domestic worker, sometimes supervised by the couple’s parents.
With the birth of Caleb, Faith and I are thinking of becoming a single-income family, where Faith either takes long-term no pay leave or quits her job to look after the children. This isn’t the typical Singaporean family arrangement, and I went to the dialogue to have a feel of what other people were doing.
At the dialogue it was clear that we agreed on one thing: Parents are the best caregivers for their children.
But it also became clear that the Singapore government was bent on having us outsource the parenting function.
The above incentives - tax rebates, cash incentives, the reduction in the levy for domestic helpers - only apply if the mother is working (exception of the one time baby bonus). If the mother decides to stay home to look after her children, the family is ineligible for these incentives. These incentives cannot be claimed by the working father.
Troy, a father at the dialogue, summed it up as “stay-home mothers are at best forgotten, or at worst penalised for their choice”.
Dr Amy Khor who was on the panel that night tried to clarify that it wasn’t meant to penalise stay-home mothers, but to incentivise mothers to go back to work. While her statement is logical, it’s potaytoes-potahtoes to the rest of us.
Not only do you suffer the loss of a significant part of your household income, you lose the government’s support. I know that the government wants all the marbles - productivity in the workplace, high GDP, a healthy birthrate - but Singapore needs to make some hard choices here.
Another parent who stood up said that the government’s constantly pushing back the retirement age means that she would be unable to take care of her grandchildren, and her son would considering having less or no children at all.
The conference room overlooked a hundred cranes working on the upcoming casino in Marina Bay, a sore reminder that our government’s choices skewed heavily towards the dollars and cents.