Friday, June 01, 2018

Improve the birth rate

Q - Kin Lian, I like to hear your suggestions about improving the birth rate in Singapore. The birth rate has been dropping over the past decades. We now have one of the lowest birth rate in the world.

TKL - Yes. This has been a troubling issue for the government and for the future of Singapore.

Q - Why is our birth rate so low?

TKL - the key factors are the high cost of living and the uncertainty of jobs. Many people find it difficult to get married and to start a family. They are not sure that they can afford to raise a child. In fact, they are not sure that they can afford to get married.

Q - But the government has been giving incentives to parents through the various baby packages over the years. Why are these packages not working? I understand that they are quite generous.

TKL - I think the packages are too complicated. Many people don’t know what they can get from the packages, or maybe they know and find that the packages are not attractive enough.

Q - What would you do?

TKL - I would make it simple for the parents. If I were in charge as the government, I would give each mother a monthly allowance of $500 for each child up to the maximum of 3 children, until the child reaches age of 16.

Q - Would this be attractive enough? I know of many working women who will find it not attractive to give up a career for this allowance.

TKL - I agree. I am targeting a different group of mothers - those who have not started work.

In the past, many women do not work. They accepted that their role is to look after the home and raised children. This was the traditional family.

Q - But women want to work now. They like to have career like men. They would not be content with being a homemaker.

TKL - I agree with your observation. Maybe half or two thirds of the women would opt for a career. But some girls might opt to be a homemaker and raise a family, provided that the financial position allows them to do so. If they can get a monthly allowance of $500 for each child, up to a maximum of 3 children, it may attract girls who prefer the traditional role.

Furthermore, this may attract young mothers to get married and start their family early. Women are more productive in their twenties. They can produce babies more easily compared to those in their thirties or forties.

Q - I think that this is a good idea. But will it be too costly?

TKL - I have done the calculation. If we produce 40,000 babies in a year, the cost in the first year will be $240 million. But this will be cumulative, as another 40,000 babies will be born each year. At the end of 16 years, the cost will be $3.8 billion. It will then remain in a steady stage.

Q - Yes. $3.8 billion is a lot of money. But we must offset it with the cost of the baby packages and other money that are being spend on the existing schemes that do not seem to work.

TKL - I agree. I make a guess that after offsetting the cost of the current incentives, the additional cost in 16 years time will be $2 billion a year. But this would be an acceptable sum, considering the future of our country.

Q - Is there a concern that the low income people will be the ones that will benefit from this scheme, and the higher income may not be interested?

TKL - This may be the outcome, but we should welcome it. If we can help the lower income families to get a steady source of income, they can look after their children better and raise them to be more productive citizens. It will be a good way to reduce the inequality in the country.

Q - Should this allowance be given for working mothers as well?

TKL - Yes. We should not try to save money by writing complicated rules. Every citizen mother should be given this allowance. Maybe, the father might want to stay at home to be the home maker.

Q - What should the women do when they children have to to school. Will they be able to get a job in the working world?

TKL - Yes. they will be many jobs available for women with experience in household chores and raising children. They can work in child care centers, in eating outlets and even in senior care facilities.
Some may choose to run an ecommerce business or do home based work. There are many opportunities available for people who want to work from home. They have the choice of woringin during their free hours. There are many flexible jobs that pay well.

They can also continue their education by attending part time course or online courses. The opportunities are plentiful.

Q - Do other countries have a similar scheme?

TKL - Many countries provide family allowance to help the mother to raise their children. Some may be more generous than others. We have a special problem in Singapore. With the lowest birth rate in the world, we need to address our challenges head on.

Q - Some people said that this problem is due to the urban lifestyle. Many cities have low birth rates as well. However, they have a rural population with a higher birth rate to balance out the cities.

TKL - That is right. Singapore does not have a rural population, so we face the challenge of the low birth rate in cities. But the underlying problem is the cost of living and the uncertainty of jobs. If we can address the cost of living by giving an allowance to the mother to raise the children, it might be a great help.

Q - What about other issues such as child care facilities, preschool facilities, and others?

TKL - We have to provide them. But if the mothers have an adequate allowance, they will be able to afford these additional cost better. As the mothers are likely to stay at home, the demand for child care facilities may be lower.

TKL - Let me make a summary of the key aspects of my proposal

a. Provide a monthly allowance of $500 for each child (up to a maximum of 3 children) to the mother, until the child reaches age 16.

b. This will attract some women to opt to be home makers, instead of pursuing a diploma or degree.

c. They will get experience in looking after children and house work; later, they can work in the care or food sectors.

Tan Kin Lian

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