More Baby Bonus & Paternity Leaves: Did Budget 2023 Address Young Parents’ Concerns?
There’s no doubt that Budget 2023 has introduced a plethora of support to help new and aspiring parents.
Among the monetary benefits to help couples cope with the cost of living, including top-ups to Baby Bonus Cash Gift and Child Development Account First-Step Grant and co-matching cap…
There were two changes that stood out – the extension of paid paternity leave from two to four weeks, and the changes made to Working Mother Child Relief.
I’m not saying anyone would rush into making a baby straight after the Budget…
And even though I’m not a parent and am someone who’s on the fence when it comes to having kids, the measures didn’t seem exactly attractive to me (emphasis: me).
Don’t get me wrong.
These measures are not supposed to tank the costs of child-rearing in Singapore, but to alleviate the financial costs amidst heightened inflation.
As pointed out during the Budget, these measures are meant to help parents in the early stage of their children’s development and are positive steps meant to encourage fathers to be more involved in the child-raising process and help lower- to middle-income working mothers.
But, are we missing some stuff here?
Cost of Living Issues Remain
For the uninitiated, Singapore’s resident total fertility rate has been declining for the past few decades and most recently, it was 1.12 in 2021, up from 1.10 in 2020, but still lower than the pre-COVID level of 1.14 in 2019.
So, why aren’t Singaporeans having kids?
There are several known reasons and most of us would’ve had these considerations in mind – a shift in societal attitude to focus on careers and personal goals, and a highly educated workforce that delays the process of starting a family.
And among these related reasons, the cost of living is inescapable.
The announcements will certainly be welcomed by those who are planning for children or expanding their family. However, it’s very unlikely to influence a change of heart for DINKs, or (couples who have) dual income with no kids.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
One person’s loss is another person’s gain.
With the new way of calculating the Working Mother Child Relief from a percentage of an eligible working mother’s annual earned income to a fixed dollar tax relief, this inevitably increases the amount of tax some working mothers will need to pay, particularly those who give birth on or after 1 Jan 2024 and those who are earning a higher income.
Should this have been applied to all working mothers equally instead of just those who give birth from the date stated?
More Paternity Leaves are Welcomed, But Perhaps Can Have Even More
No one expects having children to be effortless, but there are surely ways to improve parents’ experience and make them better advocates of parenthood.
– Charlene Tan, Channel NewsAsia
This statement sums up most parents’ sentiments on parenthood and the help needed.
There have been studies that found that in families where the father had taken more paternity leaves, there were significant positive outcomes (e.g. increased bonds between the father and his child, reduced family conflict, increased marital satisfaction) compared to families where fathers have only taken one week of paternity leave.
According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the take-up rate of Government Paid Paternity Leave in 2019 was 79%, a significant increase from 25% in 2013 when it was first introduced (Data for 2020 and 2021 are not available as parents have up to one year after their Singaporean child’s birth to consume the leave, and employers have three months after that to submit the claims).
It’s really heartening to see modern fathers becoming more involved.
The working fathers that I’ve spoken to, some of whom are new fathers, mentioned that the additional two weeks would give them time to learn how to care for the newborn and how to support their wives’ transition to work.
To them, having a longer paternity leave shows a dad’s commitment to weaving a strong social fabric through difficult times and he’s prioritising his family over his career, giving both parents more assurance that they can count on fathers to handle more demanding caregiving obligations should the need arise.
As I quote from one of them, “parenthood is for both the parents to help when the family has a newborn”.
While some may argue that it’s better late than never, the other question that I have is – would it have been better to make the four weeks of paternity leave a mandatory policy instead of a voluntary one?
After all, Asian countries known for their workaholic cultures such as Korea and Japan have already paved way for new fathers to assume their roles, giving their citizens the option of an 18-month and 12-month paid paternity respectively.
Balancing Workplace Policies With Parenting Duties
When we talk about workplace policies, there’s no one-size-fits-all policy.
In other words, employers are in a very tight corner.
Based on the Tripartite Standards on Flexible Work Arrangements Guidelines by 2024, employers must consider staff requests for flexible work arrangements.
I have been part of teams where all team members were female.
Specifically, in my previous workplace, most teams comprised women, and a large proportion were mothers, with almost every team having a mother whose child is under the age of five.
Because of this composition, it’s common for someone to call in to say they could not come in because their child was sick – I’ve heard countless stories of childcare viral infections.
In response, some employers recognise that supporting their employees benefits everyone and are willing to facilitate paternity leave for male workers, but it can still be challenging to schedule when the entire team is small.
We also can’t dispute that employers are under more pressure to create policies that prioritise parental flexibility since it makes the most sense to do so in order to keep the majority of the workforce.
I have witnessed many mothers feeling excessively guilty when their children do not perform well in major exams and questioning whether they made the wrong decision.
The truth is that they did not make a mistake; it was simply an outcome of their choice.
In response, employers are facing increased pressure to implement systems that prioritise flexibility for parents, as this is the most logical way to retain the majority of the workforce.
As a millennial who’s at a suitable age to start my own family, my main challenge besides finding a partner is actually housing.
Let’s be real. Who wouldn’t want to own a house before having kids?
But that aside, what can we do more?
Share your comments and thoughts with us!
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