The Singapore government prides itself on getting things done. It’s transformed the economy over a matter of decades, blah blah. But the one big, glaring failure has been the inability of desperate measures like the Baby Bonus to raise the birth rate.
So, here are four suggestions that might encourage couples to create more mini versions of themselves.
Lights off at work
The biggest reason many couple don’t have kids or stop at one isn’t that they don’t have enough money, it’s that they don’t have enough time.
And no wonder, as Singaporeans work some of the longest hours in the world. It’s gotten to the point where random foreigners stop making fun of me for being from a country that bans chewing gum—now they make jibes about how we’re always working.
The government could incentivise businesses to pick one or two days a month when employees knock off on time. The entire office shuts down at 6pm and everyone is encouraged to leave.
Of course, being Singapore, not everybody will go. But if the boss himself scoots off at that time, it’s likely 90% of the people will immediately pack up and leave 5 seconds after he walks off since there’s nobody left to show face to.
Many babies are conceived on vacations because that’s the only time couples have a spare minute, and are relaxed enough to not worry about work.
The government could encourage couples to go on vacations by offering credits à la SkillsFuture that they can use to go on quick getaways in the region so long as they can prove they’re going as a couple.
A weekend at a resort in Batam or Phuket doesn’t have to cost much, but will hopefully give couples the time they need to enjoy some time by themselves, especially for those who live with parents.
The push to turn Singapore into a car-lite city is commendable, but the truth is, at this point in time we’re just not ready for it. The public transport network still has issues with first- and last-mile connectivity, which can lengthen the journey considerably for those who need to make cumbersome journeys to and from the MRT station. For couples with young children, this lack of convenience is a big issue.
Imagine trying to take a bus and MRT ride armed with a toddler in one hand and a pram in another. Or spending hours on public transport each day because you need to commute to childcare, work, childcare and then home every day.
Making it easier for couples to own cars might actually encourage them to have more kids because of how coveted cars are in Singapore. Some might say it’s unethical to push people to have kids in order to get a car, but it’s no different from pushing people to get married in order to buy a home.
Encourage on-site childcare facilities
Infantcare and childcare are a big issue for working parents. First, there’s the cost. Despite the fact that the government offers childcare subsidies based on income, childcare centres have been accused of profiteering by raising the prices to match these subsidies.
In addition, one of the biggest hassles about childcare is the fact that the parent needs to rush to drop the kid off in the morning, and then rush back after work to collect him or her. This is a lot harder than it sounds when you don’t have a car, especially for those parents who fail to get a place at a childcare centre near their homes.
Childcare centres have been popping up at workplaces, including in office buildings, to cater to working parents. The government set up the Enhanced Workplace Child Care Centre Scheme to encourage businesses to set up childcare facilities on their premises, but more can be done to encourage the setting up of such centres, whether as an extension of company facilities or by external vendors.
If more parents could see their kids during lunchtime and pick them up after work without having to make an extra trip, more would be convinced that they’d be be able to enjoy the joys of parenting the government has tried so hard to promote.
What else can be done to raise the birth rate? Share your suggestions in the comments!