INCOME TAX RELIEF FOR FOREIGN MAID LEVY TO SINGLE FEMALES SUPPORTING AGED PARENTS
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: Why is income tax relief for foreign maid levy not extended to single females who are supporting their aged parents?
Ministry of Finance (MOF): This relief is to encourage married women to stay in the workforce.
Singles can apply for the foreign domestic worker concessionary levy if they have young children, or are living with family members who are aged or have disabilities. We have also reduced the levy over the years, most recently in Budget 2015, where the concessionary levy rate was halved from $120 to $60 a month.
FREE CHILDCARE FOR SINGAPOREAN CHILDREN
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: Has the Ministry considered giving free childcare for Singaporean pre-school children? How much will this cost the Government if it is implemented?
Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF):
Provision of free childcare may limit the range of childcare programmes available to parents, and result in a higher burden to taxpayers. It may also have the unintended consequence of driving over-consumption and hence raising demand, so parents truly in need of childcare might find it difficult to secure a place. We will continue to monitor and review our measures to ensure quality childcare remains accessible and affordable.
Initiatives to help parents manage the costs of childcare include:
1. CDA First Step, which provides the first $3,000 of Government contributions, without parents having to save first. CDA funds can be used for childcare.
2. Centres under the Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes are subject to fee caps. Today, over 40% of Singaporean children enrolled in childcare are in these centres, which is a significant increase from about 20% in 2012.
3. Basic and means-tested childcare subsidies which were enhanced in 2013. This allows lower-income families to pay as little as $3 per month.
4. Government spent about $600 million on pre-school related efforts last year, which is more than one and a half times of what we spent in 2012.
SUBSIDIES FOR PRESCHOOLS TO SUPPORT CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang: In light of the higher number of children below the age of seven years with speech delay, autism and at risk of moderate to severe disabilities and the longer waiting time for early intervention services at VWOs, whether the Ministry will consider
(i) funding or increasing subsidies to the preschools to train and employ additional manpower similar to the role of a shadow teacher or allied educator in schools and
(ii) making recommendations to increase the ratio of teachers to students in preschools who accept these children in the interim.
Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF):
Programmes for children with special needs:
1. Development Support Programme (DSP) at more than 300 pre-schools.
Under DSP, therapists and specially trained Learning Support Educators (LSEds) provide targeted learning and development for the children, and also work with the main teacher during classes to integrate the child in a group setting. We will expand the DSP to 30 more centres this year.
2. Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has been collaborating with training institutes to provide subsidised modular Continuing Professional Development courses to equip pre-school teachers with the skillsets to support pre-school children with developmental needs. Pre-schools are also encouraged to work with the child’s parents and developmental specialists for the child’s development.
3. For children with more severe needs, there are currently 17 Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centres supporting some 2,600 children in their developmental needs. The EIPIC centres also support the integration of children into mainstream pre-schools. MSF will increase the capacity to 3,200 places by 2018.
4. MSF will work with our partners to develop a continuum of services for children with different needs and to train a multi-disciplinary team of pre-school teachers, LSEds, therapists and psychologists to support more children with special needs in the learning environment that is most appropriate for their development.
DATA ON UNSOLD FOOD DISCARDED BY SUPERMARKETS
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang: Does the Ministry collect data on the amount of unsold food discarded by supermarkets every year?
Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR):
No, but we track the total amount of food waste disposed of and recycled. Over the past 10 years, the amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by almost 50% and is expected to rise further with population growth and greater affluence.
Efforts to reduce food waste
1. Programme last November to encourage everyone to reduce food wastage, working with various food retail businesses, including supermarkets.
2. Good practice guides for food manufacturers, retail establishments and supermarkets to minimise waste across the food supply chain. These include guidelines for the proper handling and re-distribution of unsold and excess food to food distribution organisations such as Food Bank Singapore and Food from the Heart.
3. Evaluating cost-effective methods for collecting and recycling food waste. On-site food waste recycling machines have been installed at two hawker centres. Food waste will be also collected from multiple premises in Clementi.
4. Considering enhancing the mandatory waste reporting requirements and extending waste reporting to other premises that generate large amounts of waste including food waste.
(Questions and answers edited for brevity)