new budget 2013With the ongoing Budget debates among the ministers ever since February 2013 that aims to push ahead with restructuring the Singapore economy, we have been seeing many reports on the initiatives made to our nation’s households and businesses. In Part I of our article, we discussed what are some of the challenges families with young children face. In Part II of our article, we asked some parents how they feel about the new budget.

Ruth shares that she is always thankful when the government decides to help families financially to manage the rising cost of living. Assistance in the form of higher childcare and infant care subsidies, the extra GST vouchers for lower-income families, rebates on service & conservancy charges, personal income tax rebates lower concessionary foreign domestic worker levy and CPF Medisave top-ups for selected aged groups can really help each family a little more than what they already have. Also, she explained that few governments would go to such great lengths to assist their people.

  • Childcare subsides

Like Ruth, John especially finds that the additional childcare subsidy in the New Budget 2013 will definitely help families with young children such as theirs.

Though I do see the benefits as well, my disappointment is to find that our government would rather encourage young mothers to continue to work after their maternity and to let the Childcare Centres or grandparents raise their children, rather than taking on the sole responsibility of raising their own child by staying home for at least the crucial first few years of their children’s lives. In my honest opinion, given that the first few years of a child’s life is crucial to their growth and stability as a person, I feel that the government should encourage parents to raise our own children, to teach them good and responsible values and to be there for them when they need us rather than encouraging us to entrust them to another caregiver.

  • Maternity packages and baby bonus

With regards to the improvements in the maternity packages and baby bonus for new babies, John feels that while the cash incentives are good, it would not change the parents’ minds to have more children. They will have children with or without the cash incentives.

Sandra, a 29-year-old newlywed shares in agreement with John. “Monetary benefits to having a child given by the government can probably only go so far. I am not enticed by the benefits at all because even if they give us a sum of money for giving birth or give maternity leave, the responsibility and pressure of raising a child for the next 21 years lie solely on the parents. So until my husband and I are ready for that, we won’t have a child just because of the monetary or childcare benefits.”

Surely, such cash incentives and extended paternity leave will not be sufficient to support our families with young children or to encourage them to expand their family nucleus. Parents are concerned about having children in a country with a high cost of living and high educational fees for their children.

  • Developments in the Pre-school sector

Though Ruth is pleased with the plans for developing the pre-school sector in Singapore, she is concerned that the cost of education would increase if they are located closer to parents’ workplaces, especially in the CBD area. “If the pre-school or childcare fees continue to be exorbitant, how would parents afford to have more than two children? Private centres are not subsidized by the government but what if the most feasible childcare for a family is run by a private centre? Work longer hours to earn to pay for the childcare but spend more time away from the family, or spend a long time travelling to settle childcare arrangements and still not have sufficient time with the family?”

With the competitive demands of the childcare centres and long waiting lists to secure a place for their children, parents are pleased to know that more childcare centres will be set up. However, parents are also concerned with guidelines such as the teacher to student ratio, the standard of service and education within the centre. “The teaching assistants and/or helpers are not necessarily certified in all the centres but are being employed to work with and care for our children. These existing issues need to be addressed before the new policies take place in order for a good and strong foundation to be rooted in our pre-school system.”

As I look through the potential centres near my home for my child in the future, the two important criteria I have are the standard of language used to educate and the method of teaching within the centre. I would love to sign my child up in schools that practice the good command of English and Mandarin and supports each child through their mistakes and failures, not one that encourages broken languages and practices strict authoritative discipline.

  • New Car Policy

Also, with the new budget with restrictions on car loans and paying a substantial amount of the purchase price, now only rich people will be able to afford cars in Singapore. They wouldn’t feel any pinch paying 50% of the purchase price upfront as compared to an average income family who is really in need of a vehicle for their family. This has gotten many Singaporeans upset. Ruth was very dismayed with regards to the new policy on cars. She shared that her family had harboured plans to purchase a second-hand car in the future so that she can chauffer her children to and from school, saving a lot more time as a family. “With the new ruling, we may never be able to own a car.”

“Yes, the children can take the school bus in future but that costs quite a sum too, and may not be less expensive than public transport. Precious time is also taken up with their travelling to and from school. Where you are picked up from on the bus’s route could mean a difference of half to one hour’s worth of sleep.” Ruth is of the opinion that young families are truly in need of affordable transport in terms of owning a car. “Have you tried to wrestle a stroller, a baby and a toddler onto a crowded bus or train at peak hour before? Doing that on my own is honestly a mountainous task. This does not include shopping after the trip is made. Taking a taxi is a possibility, but with the peak hour surcharge, the waiting time to hail a cab AND making it home in time for bed, the entire process wears the parents and children out.”

While we may have a long list of hopes and dreams that the government do more to support the different families in Singapore, I believe that we do see how the government is making an effort to make huge scale changes to several components in our budget ahead. There is definitely plenty of room for more improvements and I do hope to see them implemented before my child grows up in time.

Written by Yvonne Chee.

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