Sunday, 20 January 2013

More than S$2.3b disbursed under Baby Bonus scheme since 2001

By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 19 Jan 2013

Since the government launched the Baby Bonus scheme in 2001, it has disbursed more than S$2.3 billion in benefits. This includes a cash gift and the Child Development Account -- a scheme where the government matches savings for children, dollar-for-dollar.

The Chinese consider the year of the Dragon, an auspicious year to have children. Noticeably, there were more births in Singapore between January and November 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. 38,914 babies were born in the first 11 months of 2012, and it looks like the numbers will exceed the preceding year.

Still, Singapore's total fertility rate (TFR) remains at a low 1.2, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Various measures have been introduced in an attempt to raise the TFR -- like cash gifts under the Baby Bonus scheme, which have been given to over 310,000 children since it was introduced in 2001.

More than 240,000 children have also opened the Child Development Account -- a savings account for children up to 12 years of age, which enjoys dollar-for-dollar matching from the government. The money can be used to pay for childcare centre fees, early intervention programmes or medical-related expenses, among other things.

The government is expected to announce enhancements to the Baby Bonus under its marriage and parenthood package.

However, family experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with said money is not everything.

Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist with the National University of Singapore, said: "From the population demographic statistics, we can see where the adjustments have come -- delayed marriage, smaller family sizes.

"Moving forward, the question is then are we happy with this -- to allow individuals to continue to make adjustments to the constraints in our living environment? Can the nation sustain with these kind of population trajectories or is it time for us then to re-look the environmental constraints? To see if we can adjust those so that individuals don't have to tilt their balance too much."

Environmental constraints include long working hours, a competitive education system, the availability of accessible childcare and Singaporeans' expectations in general.

The government is already addressing some of these issues -- for example, putting less stress on the education system. There are also plans to make it easier for young families to set up their first home.

James Chan, a father of one, said: "I believe because of lifestyle, because of the rising cost -- cost is rising in Singapore, so everybody thinks it's not easy to set up a family. Time, childcare centres not being easily available at certain places.

Iqbal Zainal, a 25-year-old operations executive, said: "For us, we are in the mid-20s, we still want to do what we want after education, like travel and stuff. Even if couples get married, they want to stay together and travel and do what they want to do together without a child. Just make having kids cool or something. For now, having it in the early 20s is not cool."

It is the mindset change that experts said is hard to overcome.

Professor Gavin Jones, director at the JY Pillay Comparative Asia Research Centre, said: "This is a country that succeeded by its own hard work -- no natural resources, it has developed its own human resources. We've got to be able to compete in the world and all these feeds in towards the attitude to education of children, the children has to succeed.

"Maybe the whole mystique has to be slightly changed, to give a little bit less precedence to economic growth. There are trade-offs and slower economic growth is dangerous for a country like Singapore in some ways, but rapid economic growth is going to lead to significant population decline and that is also not something that's desirable."

The government has set a target of raising the total fertility rate from 1.2 to 1.4 or 1.5 -- a target which experts said is quite possible with the right mix of policies. But that is still way below the replacement rate of 2.1. Given that reality, experts said the only way to make up for the shortfall is through immigration.

More than S$8.3b disbursed in tax rebates to encourage procreation
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Jan 2013

The government last year gave out more than S$8.3 billion in tax rebates and reliefs aimed at encouraging procreation in the Year of Assessment 2012.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore also told Channel NewsAsia that more than 850,000 working mums and dads enjoyed such tax breaks in 2012.

Thirty-six-year-old assistant marketing manager Lum Sook Fong collected nearly S$27,000 in child tax reliefs last year.

Together with other rebates, the working mother of two ended up not paying any taxes to the government at all.

Madam Lum said: "I know there should be some kind of relief but exactly what amount, I didn't know until I get the statement, so I was kind of surprised because the amount is quite substantial."

Currently, there are three kinds of rebate and reliefs aimed at supporting working mums with children.

They are: Parenthood Tax Rebate of up to S$20,000 per child; the Qualifying/Handicapped Child Reliefs; and the Working Mother Child Relief.

Both the Parenthood Tax Rebate and the Qualifying/Handicapped Child Relief can be claimed by both mums and dads.

Sums worked out by tax consultant Ernst & Young show that working mums earning about S$94,500 to S$351,000 a year don't have to pay any taxes after taking into account the Parenthood Tax Rebate, the Working Mother Child Relief, and other tax breaks like the Foreign Maid Levy Relief. 

This applies to a Singaporean tax payer aged 55 and below, married, with three children.

There are various monetary incentives to support families, including cash gifts like the Baby Bonus.

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke to say while such incentives can ease the financial burden of bringing up baby, money isn't everything.

It may encourage those who already have children to have more but it may not change the minds of couples who don't want any children in the first place.

Joni Ong, president of advocacy group I Love Children said: "I agree that money is useful but money isn't everything. I believe if you love children and you want to have children to complete your family, no matter how much money is there or not there, you will proceed to have the babies anyway."

Experts said what is needed is a supportive environment at home and at work, among other things.

"For my case, I would think it would be useful as well if the Baby Bonus is higher because what we have, could only tied us for the first few years. After that, I have to start paying cash for their childcare," said Madam Lum.

She added: "Another part is also the family support like maybe having grandparents to be there to take care of the kids. As a working mum, I would say that the environment is very important and also the work-life balance that we have."


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