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!