Governance of a City-State
[The Angle] Boosting birth rates – how effective will new measures be?

The PM announced last night measures to foster closer family ties and to raise our Total Fertility Rate (TFR). These measures show that the government is earnest in trying to help couples overcome barriers to having children.  But the government does not act alone and it cannot act alone – it has to get employers on-board, get the family and community on-board.  So for paternity leave for example, while the government will pay for the extra week of leave and the public service is taking the lead, it will have to take it slow and see what the response is like in the private sector. In addition to paternity leave, I would have liked to see the PM encouraging flexiwork – that will be useful for married women with children and also for the elderly.

What stood out for me was the commitment to put money into the baby’s account to help meet Medishield Life premiums until the baby is 21.  This is a long commitment.  But while Medishield helps with hospitalisation costs, the incidence of hospitalisation may be low given Singapore’s good health care provisions.  What may also be needed is help with costs to care for special needs children such as children with autism or dyslexia – I hope this will be covered by the enhanced Baby Bonus, which so far, we have little information on.

Another measure is the housing grant to enable families to live close together – either by the children buying a place close to their parents or the other way around.  This will enable mutual care – parents helping the young couple when the babies are little, and the young couple looking after the parents when they are old.

It is difficult to say how effective the measures will be if by effectiveness, one is referring to an increase in the TFR in the next 2 years. As the PM said, having a child is a big commitment and childbearing decisions are complex and affected by a wide range of factors.

Dr Yap Mui Teng is a Principal Research Fellow at IPS. View her profile here.

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