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Higher public policy spending may not lead to more babies: DPM Teo

Higher spending on pro-parenthood policies does not necessarily lead to more births, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Tuesday.

SINGAPORE: Higher spending on pro-parenthood policies does not necessarily lead to more births, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Tuesday.

Mr Teo was responding to questions in Parliament on whether Singapore could learn from the European and Norwegian countries in the way they manage their population.

Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway, have relatively high total fertility rates (TFR) of between 1.88 and 1.98. These countries have a broad array of pro-parenthood measures, such as good child care systems, generous leave provisions and financial support for child raising costs.

Mr Teo, who is also the minister in charge of population policies, said pro-parenthood measures may vary across countries due to differing cultural and socio-economic norms.

For example, the Nordic countries have higher government spending on pro-parenthood measures, but they also have significantly higher tax rates, he said.

The personal income tax rates in the Nordic countries range from 29 per cent to 63 per cent, compared to Singapore's personal income tax rates of between 3.5 per cent and 20 per cent.

Mr Teo added that Germany and Italy spend an estimated 2.8 per cent and 1.4 per cent of their GDP on parenthood support measures, but still have relatively low TFRs of 1.39 and 1.41 respectively.

The US spends less on pro-parenthood policies, at 1.19 per cent of its GDP, but has managed a higher TFR of 1.93.

Singapore's marriage and parenthood budget of S$1.6 billion works out to about 0.5 per cent of 2011's GDP, with a TFR of 1.2 in the same year.

Mr Teo reiterated that in the Nordic countries, a high proportion of births are to women who are not married to the father of the child.

He said Singapore needs to be mindful of the "collateral side effects on our society and have to be careful of what we can achieve".

Based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports, out-of-wedlock births made up about half of all births in Sweden, Denmark and Norway in 2010.

Mr Teo said in contrast, Asian societies, including Singapore, continue to value having children within marriage.

He said creating a supportive environment for Singaporeans to form families and raise children remains a key government priority.

"Relying on government measures alone would not raise Singapore's birth rate, as getting married and having children are personal decisions that reflect broader social values and attitudes," Mr Teo said.

He said there was a need to strengthen Singapore's pro-family environment, where employers, family members and society-at-large all have a part to play.

"If you look at some European countries, their paid paternal leave is more than 40 weeks for both parents, compared to our 16 weeks plus three days," Mr Teo said.

Mr Teo said that the government has been very careful in the area of maternity leave, as making more generous maternity leave provisions could adversely impact the employability of women.

He said that the government was open to ideas, and that he supports having some practical measures that would encourage men to take a greater role in parenthood.

To address that, MP for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng said paternity leave should be legislated as it was something which many young couples wanted to help with the shared responsibility of parenting.

Mr Seah also wanted more subsidies for in-vitro fertilisation to help boost Singapore's total fertility rate.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam also asked if Singapore would consider implementing the "baby drop" system Malaysian has introduced for parents to drop off their unwanted babies born out of wedlock.

Mr Teo said that he would consider all suggestions, but the government has to be careful when implementing such measures to avoid inadvertently encouraging unwanted pregnancies and births which would cause greater problems.

Over the next few months, the government will engage various stakeholders to discuss new ideas as well as enhancements to existing measures aimed at improving the country's birth rate.

Source: CNA/wm


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