“If the issue that we are concerned about is that of an ageing population and shrinking workforce, it may not be cost-effective to try to reverse the declining TFR,” the association says. It points out that the TFR has been below replacement rate since 1975, and that attempts to address it have failed thus far. Besides, it says, studies “Studies indicate that increasing the TFR from 1.2 to 1.85 (a highly ambitious target) will only ameliorate the situation marginally.”
In 2004, AWARE’s position paper, Beyond Babies: National Duty or Personal Choice?, concluded: “The quality of life is the single most important reason why Singaporeans are not having more children.”
To address Singapore’s declining birth rate, Aware says the issue must be approached holistically instead.
To do this, cost-effective measures must be emplaced to tackle other core issues that affect the TFR, including the ageing population and the shrinking workforce.
Gender equality was also raised as the current state policies fail to cover fathers. Hence, Aware proposes that policies need to be induced to mediate gender equality. For instance, it is suggested that fathers receive at least two weeks of paid paternity leave, with the cost shared by the employer and State. The current model “perpetuates a familial form that is premised on the traditional role of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers,” Aware says, “and is neither realistic nor fair, given the aspirations and talents of our well-educated women and men.”
Providing universally accessible childcare support is another thing the Government could do. “To build a truly inclusive society, policies should not differentiate between citizens along socioeconomic or other lines,” Aware says.
A more inclusive approach should consider facilitating flexible working arrangements and support from employers for a healthy work-life balance; the expansion and improvement of childcare facilities; and the introduction of anti-discrimination protection for mothers.
Various efforts should also be made to make sure that there is a fairer distribution of benefits and support. For example, Aware highlights childcare subsidies, and motherhood and housing benefits that are only available to wedded mothers. It also wants the Government to “[review] the current overarching policy that limits the definition of family to married parents.”
“The declining TFR has been attributed to people getting married later,” Aware says. “But even if declining TFR is caused by later marriage, given the high cost of living, the emphasis on education and work, and the national ethos to be self-reliant, it may not be possible or cost-effective to try to reverse this trend.”
Instead, AWARE urges the State to support and promote the use of technologies that enable older women to have babies and for the Government to increase the subsidies for such treatment, which are generally expensive.
To read the full text of Aware’s submission, click here.
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