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Why Isn’t the Baby Bonus Working? Singaporeans Share Their Gripes

baby bonus singapore

Joanne Poh

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It’s pretty safe to say the Baby Bonus isn’t working. Singapore’s birth rate continues to be so low you would think babies were going out of style—on the other hand, ragdoll kittens seem to be in right now.

The thing is, most of the young parents and parents-to-be I know actually think the Baby Bonus is generous enough. A first baby nets his Singaporean parents a $6,000 cash gift, while opening a Child Development Account and depositing $6,000 will get you an additional $6,000 from the government. Parents also get to enjoy tax incentives that basically wipe out all income tax for the average Singaporean family. It’s not a fortune, but it’s not bad considering $12,000 is what some people make in a year here.

Yet the Baby Bonus seems to be having little to no effect on the birth rate. I quizzed a people in their 20s and 30s to see what they had to say.

 

Don’t give us more money, lower the cost of living

While many of the people I spoke with didn’t think the Baby Bonus was insubstantial, it seems that couples’ main concern is the fact that the cost of living is just getting out of hand. Young parents don’t expect the Baby Bonus to help to ease the burden much. The situation has become more hopeless than that.

Lynn, a 30-year-old who is pregnant with her first child, says, “I’ve been searching for infant care centres for when I start work after the maternity period is over, and I’ve realised that they’re damn expensive. You have to pay almost $2,000 per month. After giving my parents allowance, paying for infant care and bills for necessities, I’m basically left with nothing even after slaving away full time. If I can’t get a job near home I might also have to buy a car because I can’t spend 3-4 hours everyday on the bus and MRT travelling to the childcare centre and then to work.”

Nurul, 28, and Alvin, 30, have been married for three years but do not plan to have kids.

“I really wanted a child when I was younger, but I think it’s out of reach now,” says Nurul, a teacher. “My husband and I are currently renting a studio and as you know rent in Singapore is really expensive. We can’t afford to move out and rent a bigger place right now, which we would need if we wanted a kid. The problem isn’t that the Baby Bonus is not enough, but that everything is too expensive here,” she says.

 

They would trade money for time

Young mothers who have to go back to work right after maternity leave quickly realise that if money is tight, time is even tighter.

Marisa, a 30-year-old bank executive who is unmarried, does not plan to have kids anytime soon, even though she loves babies and dotes on her siblings’ children. “I usually work until 9pm to 10pm, sometimes later. By the time I take the 1.5 hour bus ride home, it is close to midnight. Even if I wanted to have a kid I wouldn’t be able to,” she says. “I don’t need the money from the Baby Bonus, I get paid enough as it is. What I need is more time to myself.”

32-year-old Jillian is a stay-at-home mother of one. Her husband is a lawyer. “I don’t think I would have had a kid if I didn’t have the resources to stay home with my son,” she says. “For me, the Baby Bonus didn’t really play a part in my decision to have my son. Rather, it was the fact that I knew I could afford to stay home to look after him rather than try to juggle long hours at work with childrearing.”

 

Money can’t buy a less stressful environment for the child to grow up in

Adults here look at kids these days and, instead of feeling nostalgic for the carefree days of childhood, they thank the heavens that they’re old enough to escape the stress of being a Singaporean child in 2015.

Benjamin, a 32-year-old private tutor who is about to tie the knot, plans to have no more than one child. “More kids? You want me to die?” he says. “Having kids is stressful not only for the kids but also for the parents. When I see my tuition students spend the whole day at my house and get so stressed out over their exams I feel like kids in Singapore really suffer.”

“I’ve suggested migrating to Australia where my sister and her husband live. My nephew in Australia seems so carefree compared to kids in Singapore. But I think my fiancee is not keen,” he says.

Marisa laments, “My nephews and nieces have no life! Their schedule is packed from morning to night with tuition, piano and CCAs. I even saw my niece dozing off in front of the piano during her music lesson. Poor thing, she’s only 9.”

Why do you think the Baby Bonus has failed to raise the birth rate? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Wilson Cheng

    1st one Lynn,Nurul n Alvin said cost of living was very high.That means money not enough.Money not enough means the baby bonus not enough,right?If the baby bonus is enough,she could just use it to offset the high cost living.
    2nd one Maria, a bank executive works for long work for high pay salary,claimed no time for the kid.So it’s still money issue.Why she work for long hr?Of cos for the money.If the money for the baby bonus was enough,she could juz resign and have a kid.
    3rd one Julian said she would only allow to have kid if she has resources to stay at home look after her kid.Her husband is a lawyer that’s y she no need to worry at the money(resources).
    So my conclusion is the money for the baby bonus is not enough.

  • Serene Quek

    Money is the cause of everything yes. Most cities are all about money. Poor kids have to grow up in the small city which makes it even more competitive. Honestly why make babies when you don’t have time for them. Why earn money more to give children more enrichment classes. Do our children really grow smarter with stressful education system here?! Big no!!! Will doing many homework makes children smarter or just supressing their freedom of childhood?! My child at K2 has homework to do!! Ridiculous! At the end. Seems like every status of household and every child is measured by money indirectly. Enough said. This is a place just more and more unhappy people growing and so why would we want to make more unhappy human beings. Better not give birth. Because most of us are now not so selfless

  • Orang Besar

    I’m a father of 3 but I’m not here to complain. But after reading this article, I feel somewhat oblige to put some facts into perspective.

    Childcare
    First, I completely agree with the fact that the cost of living is rising and that the first thing new parents face is the cost of owning a baby but here’s the catch, the keyword is “BABY”.

    The first “school” any parents will need to put their babies into is the nursery till K2. But I do NOT agree that it’ll cost 2K every month since there’re many subsidies available for working parents unless of course you wanted to send your kids to an “Atas” school then that’s your expectation killing you. After subsidies, it’ll usually cost ard $200 to $700 depending of individual school and received subsidies. But strangely, once they reach Primary School the cost went down significantly as school fees is probably less than $20/mth if you’re a Singaporean. Here’s the irony, why is the Childcare more expensive than the Pri or Sec school?! It’s the entry level when a baby is born and yet that cost greatly impacted any new parent who could have probably just bought their flat in less than 5 years and have exhausted most of their CPF and cash. Also they allow private operators to run the Childcare business but no one can control them when they decide to raise the fees. All they need to do is to inform the relevant authority (which to me is a joke since they can’t intervene into private biz decision).

    I’ve filed a petition before when my girl was in K1 when the school mentioned that they are raising the fee the following year. But the problem is, they just raise the fee when she was in K1 and the following year she’ll be in K2! The total sum worked out to be more than 20% increase in school fees in 366 days! They refuse to give in which I later refer the petition to several MPs and relevant authority (yes even the minister who’s sitting in that office). Guess what? They say that the operator have their right to implement the raise. WTH!

    The Government increase grant in 2011 for all parents so we need not pay so much upfront cash right? WRONG! The operator comes in with all excuses like cost of upgrading staffs, higher rentals….etc to raise the fees and by then the parents pay the same amount again after about 2 years. So what’s the diff here?

    Hire scholars who don’t use brain is just plain stupidity with a Cert to confirm that.

    Btw, looking at the above 3 examples, they better not give birth cos they’ll be torturing their babies with their high-end lifestyle. I don’t believe in owning a car since you’ll be contributing a lot to the deep pockets of the government. Living in a studio and yet want bigger space for baby? Seriously?

    The mindset of the younger generations is really disturbing nowadays.

    • Aina Hoi

      agree with you orang bear. i have a kid myself. the childcare in singapore range from $250 – $2000? i paid $550/ month for a normal private child care. not the cheapest and not the most expensive. Most importantly, i like the caring teachers. nowadays pple have high expectation and high standard of living. if they cannot lower their standard, then no money lor! i am just an average employee with average income living in a 4 room HDB. Just live within ur means.

  • Peter

    When people choose not to have children and prefer having a dog over a child, then money is not the reason. Also, nobody in Singapore is forced to work 12 – 14 h on regular basis, choose a child care choosing S$ 2000, or lugging the kids from one tutuition to the next one 6 days a week. Peter Kroll, Singapore

  • CLK JEN

    All four comments, totally agree. Money to assist you not to raise you kid with it. Work for long hours, did your employer put that in your appointment letter, if no, you chose to do it. Working long hours means your are not effective! Do not blame the work. You choose how to balance work, life and play. Rent is expensive, apartment studio???? Why apartment studio??? If your finances does not allowed it, stay with your parents and pay them the rent that you pay for the studio apartment, they will be happy to take of of the house and your kids. If your parents are not here with you guys, buy a flat from HDB, they give low housing loan interest, CPF to offset, low payback to own the flat and all the incentives that you need to afford your first house. Baby childcare, I do agree probably lacking and not easy to find, plan, then act also must have contingency plans, and if you have to pay S$ 2000 for baby care, then you stayed at home and take care of baby when both you and hubby are ready. There are ways and means to stay frugal and yet giving the best to your children.
    Do not blame the society and the stressful life you have here, be contented is the way you make out of your life. There is always happiness and yet on the counter balance part, stress and bitterness in it and that is way you will feel happiness when they are the worst is over. Human loves to lament on they are stress and how difficult it is for them to keep things together, they suffer more and happiness is short lived, then why are you still here in Singapore earning a living, go back to the caves, stay in there and have a good life to go back to basics, no internet, no TV, no clubbing and so on….. if you wants all these, please remember you have to work for it then you will get it. It does not call falling on you. The basics of equilibrium to begin with, everything goes up and come down, every dollar you earn will equate to the dollar you spent.
    Some people will disagree and says why the rich do not have to earn they gets richer, please remember every dime they have they supply and this supply goes to us. If they failed or produced surplus, they will go bankrupt and may be poorer than you or me. Do not blamed the rich and look down on the poor, the ultimatum is that we are the cause for the poor and the rich. Imagine you are facing the mirror, you do not see anyone in front of the mirror but yourself.
    Staying or migrating, that would be your physiology believe in oneself, you will enjoy different climate which other than that what else would you get??? Please do your basics arithmetical calculations before you make your decision. You mean other country accept you as their residents and give you a better life there where you do not feel stress??? Probably the MOON and the SUN there might look a little bit different from different altitude and latitude, to me you still have to work adn make your living there and you do not have stress, you mean you work as you like, you work shorter hours as compared to Singapore, you get to chose what type of work here, for god sake, please make sure you do your maths, do you know you cannot eat a bowl of fish ball noodles or fried rice at S$3.50 (including GST). What about a bowl of fish ball noodles in AUS$??? (Including GST). Think hard. REALLY THINK HARD!!!! If you say you wanna go CHINA then i take back my words but that also depends where you stay in CHINA.
    Back to our aim – why Baby Bonus not working, it is just a policy for you to use it to aid you to better manage and not for you to use it against the society or the government policy. Be gracious and accept that Singaporean is blessed as compared to us.

  • Farrah Sabina

    The problems the government should look at are:

    1) Healthcare – Our healthcare is not reasonable especially for the middle class and lower. They should offer free healthcare like in some countries. In Japan & Korea to give birth doesn’t even cost much compared to Singapore and these were the views of my expat students that live here even though the company gives them the money.

    2) Education – Why can some countries offer free education? (I thought that Singapore has the highest paid ministers and one of the most expensive places to live in…doesn’t that show that our country has funds compared to countries that are way bigger than Singapore?) My daughter does not go to an expensive pre-school but still the extra costs….

    3) Time with Family – Our working hours is too long and parents don’t get to spend as much time with their kids, especially for mums. I am a freelancer and own a business so that I can make more time for my kids now and in the future. I don’t own a a maid so I do the cleaning, cooking and home duties (lucky my husband helps out too)
    To go back to the working force is not an option because most companies are not understanding where can switch from full time to part time or flexi hours. So I have to do freelance and a business so my daughter can be with me wherever I go or work. I can’t sacrifice my time wth my daughter and chase a higher salary even though it is stable.

    These are reasons why the baby bonus don’t really matter much as before even giving birth the costs are already high and the procedure itself cost an average $3K-$5K, So what’s $6K baby bonus when healthcare itself cost so much????

  • Ken Tan

    I shared the same sentiment with most of the remarks penned here… The so-called aid : 12K will not last you more than 24 months if things have gone a little out of hand and for the not so well off families… Lowering the Cost of Living , Cost of Childcare, GST to be lowered , Lower Cost of housing could be the ultimate solutions to the root of problem… Not forgetting that most of us received at least 10 years of education or MORE ; we can think and wanted the best for our offspring be it on food, lodging and education, if everything is raising EXCEPT for our pay cheques, do the government think we can sustain? How to have more babies… It’s indeed a tricky ? to tackle… But not forgetting that the aging population is getting growing… I HOPE that the government takes our comments in this blog seriously and study , scrutinised it…

  • Smile it is almost Friday!

    I came here to Singapore because of the low birth rate.

    Furthermore, the “baby bonus” has never worked in any country. The story is always the same… Low income couples take advantage, they spend the money on vanity. Once they money is gone they have another mouth to feed. They are worse off than when they started.