I got you babe, in our marriage & parenthood package

Marriage & Parenthood Package 2013

List of ingredients to produce more babies

The recent flurry of announcements from the government, ranging from property stability policies and new MRT lines to birth rate boosting measures, shows why we care so much about elections, even if it’s in a constituency with only 31,649 voters. When PAP starts dishing out carrots on a national scale, despite insisting that local issues are what concern Punggol East voters, it is every Singaporean who stands to benefit.

On the whole, the freshly announced marriage and parenthood package is a good move on a wide-ranging scale. It won’t do miracles to our abysmal birth rate, but is a step in the right direction and hopefully a prelude to more of such measures to come. For example, employers will now have to adapt to a minimum one-week paternity leave, thus paving the way for a possible further increase in future.

The government also deserves credit for making adoption leave of four weeks mandatory for adoptive mothers of Singaporean infants. This is probably an area under the radar for most. When I first read this, I wondered why is there a benefit that has zero effect on population and birth rate — certainly not in the style of a government known to craft policies more toward targeted socially engineered outcomes than on what is right. But it turns out that I was wrong, because the policy does permit non-Singaporean babies as well. In that sense, the government hasn’t disappointed in my opinion on them.

For housing, if Minister Khaw Boon Wan is right in claiming that the recent increased supply of BTO flats has met most of the demand from first-timers, it is hard to see how tweaking the priority order further for first-timers with children will make much difference. More significant, though, is the introduction of government-supplied rental flats for families waiting for BTO completion. While I hesitate to label these flats as ‘subsidised’, they will help to plug an important hole in the present equation.

Currently, couples in urgent need for a flat would have to decide either to apply for a BTO flat and rent in the open market in the interim (not every couple can or want to live with parents), or cough out a substantial cash outlay in COV for a resale flat that is also more costly. Many turn to the latter option after working the sums on the high rental rates in the current market. This in turn fuels the demand that lead to high COVs.

But it remains to be seen how much demand there will be for these interim flats, or, on the flip side, if the 1000-plus of them will be sufficient. Since a lot of Singaporeans have never lived in rental accommodation, a change in mindset may be necessary. While I find it an appealing option, we should not forget that this is a band-aid remedy to the bigger problem of the sell-first-build-later housing mess that has plagued us for over a decade.

Couples who plan to have kids but who have yet to will be asking why they are being excluded. More glaringly, the rental scheme doesn’t seem to consider couples expecting their first kids. Surely, it makes more sense not having to wait until the baby actually arrives before going to the government to ask for a rental flat? If proven popular, there will be calls to widen the scheme to include other first-timers.

There are still some days to go before polling day, so there could be more announcements to come. Perhaps a tweak to the COE system? The government is well aware that transport is the next big national gripe after housing and new MRT lines won’t fix current woes.

Speaking of transport, DBS Vickers raised some alarm bells a few days ago by saying that plans to double the rail network is a sign of the government planning to increase the population up to seven million. I think its management can expect a call from someone high up for its unfortunate timing in the midst of an election campaign.