Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend and support the changes to the Child Development Co-savings Act. I am especially glad for the enhancements to the Government Paid Paternity Leave Benefits, as well as the government reimbursements to companies which opt to give additional leave to parents beyond the statutory requirements. It certainly helps in the efforts to encourage workplace cultures to be more family friendly.
I have a clarification to ask, and some suggestions to make. First, can there be more transparency and clearer instructions on how Self-Employed Person’s claims for Government Paid Maternity Leave and Paternity benefits will be assessed? I have had residents who write in to ask how and what proof they need to submit to show they have taken leave when they are their own bosses. This applies to freelancers and sole proprietors which include tuition teachers, coaches, designers, arts and sports instructors, beauticians, home caterers, consultants, marketers and many others. Even including the delivery riders like what my honorable colleague, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, mentioned earlier. They are unsure and confused about what extent of documentation they need to submit, whether their claims will be approved. It would be helpful to have more clarity and certainty, as the success of the paid leave reimbursements impact on the financials at a time when money could be very tight due to increased expenses brought on by a newborn child.
Second, amendments must be made for low-income families who currently benefit very little from the dollar-for-dollar matched savings benefit. I echo my colleague, Mr Gan Thiam Poh’s call for it. Whilst I welcome and support the recent revisions to increase the cap amount for the 2nd child from $3000 to $6000, low-income families may be left with a further gap to catch up on, compared to other families in terms of child financing. Low-income Singaporeans are not able to save much, given their jobs and salaries pay only enough to make ends meet, if at all. Based on the latest Household Expenditure Survey on average, the bottom 20 per cent of households are now spending S$2,570 a month while having a monthly income of S$2,235, which includes already the regular government transfers such as Workfare. This means that this 20th percentile of families have a shortfall of on average S$335 on average each month, leaving them no ability to save.
I suggest to have a differentiated, and higher savings match ratio for households that are within the bottom 20th percentile of income in Singapore, to help make the savings match scheme more equitable. This will be a positive step to help bridge the inequality gap, by providing better for children from low income households. A financial literacy program tailored to this community can also be coupled with this benefit to help equip low income families with the planning skills to attain and maximise savings.
Third, we should equalise the government’s treatment of children born out of wedlock and within marriages. I am disappointed that the latest amendments continue to disadvantage children borne to unwed parents. Which is unfortunate and unfair for the child. I echo and support my honorable colleague, Mr Louis Ng’s call for making the unwed parents eligible for the baby bonus cash gift. Although I understand the government’s position that it does not want to signal or encourage the birth of children out of wedlock, it needs to recognize that such circumstances can be borne out of misfortune, and not always wilful promiscuity.
I have a resident who was unable to marry her fiancé after getting pregnant because he died from a traffic accident before their wedding. To this day, she still feels penalized from being excluded from the various support schemes including housing support due to circumstances beyond her control. Many unwed mothers may also choose not to be trapped by marriage to irresponsible men. The fact that these men are irresponsible is often a discovery after the deed. Marriage is not always the most ideal option if the father proves to be an untenable lifelong partner.
No matter what one’s view or value is on wedlock, I believe we can all agree that the child of unwed parents should not be made to suffer the consequences of the parents’ choices or mistakes.
If the government’s intention is to discourage extra-marital affairs, I would urge the government to look into better enforcement of child support payments, one possibility could be using DNA test to identify and hold accountable biological parents. Accountability to a child whom one sires should be regardless of marital status. This will help unwed mothers caring for a child to access child support payments from their co-parents if necessary.
In the rare case where the one caring for the child is the biological father, the accountability should be equally applied to any mother who had chosen to bail.
Every child born is precious, especially in Singapore. I hope the CDCA can go beyond being a support program to encourage and support parenthood, to also become an instrument to equalise the circumstances and wellbeing of every Singaporean child.
In summary, I would like to make 3 asks – 1) more administrative clarity for self-employed parents to access paternity and maternity benefits, 2) differentiated and higher ratio child development savings match for low income families and 3) equalised cash support in Baby Bonus, possibly renamed Baby Support, to children of unwed parents,
Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the Bill.
Watch the speech here.