SINGAPORE — Young couples today are being “squeezed” financially as they start their own families due to rising costs and uncertainty over income, said Member of Parliament (MP) Ong Teng Koon on Wednesday (Feb 27).
He was among several MPs who raised issues that concern younger Singaporeans on the second day of the Budget debate in Parliament. Others also touched on mental health well-being and Singapore’s commitment to climate change as younger people become more environmentally-conscious.
Focusing on young couples in his speech, Mr Ong, the MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC), noted that they come under “intense financial pressure” as they have to cope with wedding expenses, purchasing their first marital home and starting a family.
[Wedding Expenses? That is entirely voluntary expense. Or rather, how much you want to splurge is entirely within your control. If you are financially squeezed, don't go for a lavish wedding. There is either NO correlation between the cost of a wedding, and the strength of the marriage. There may even be a inverse correlation.]
Pointing out that companies seem to be moving towards contract and freelance work, couples face uncertainty over income, said Mr Ong, who also noted that “retrenchment is also no longer a blue moon event”.
As a result, a “rational response” would be to “delay or avoid” having children as doing so would raise the household costs, he added. This would in turn affect the country’s total fertility rate.
[One possibility is to provide high subsidies for infant and child care, and free or nearly free education up to secondary school, in order to make the cost of having children insignificant. And generous tax relief/incentive/rebate for having children.]
It would be unfair to “dismiss their concerns as purely the result of unrealistic expectations”, said Mr Ong who noted that this was feedback from his residents.
“They lament that ‘we are university graduates but our standard of living doesn’t seem to be better than that of our non-graduate parents who could afford bigger houses and more luxuries when we were growing up’,” added Mr Ong.
To reduce the cost burden, he suggested that the Government provide more subsidies in areas such as childcare and school bus fees.
Pointing out that parents in Norway are entitled to 46 weeks’ full salary during parental leave, or 80 per cent pay for 56 weeks, Mr Ong said the Government could increase the number of maternity leave days here to boost the total fertility rate. Currently, mothers whose children are Singaporean citizens are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
To help younger, low-income Singaporeans start families, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad also proposed that the Government reduce the qualifying age for the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme. Currently, the scheme — which supplements the income and retirement savings of eligible workers through cash payments and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions — is only for those aged 35 and above.
Mr Abbas, who is the founder of inter-religious, non-profit group Roses of Peace, also suggested increasing the cash-to-CPF ratio so that such couples have more cash on hand.
PRIORITISE MENTAL HEALTH WELL-BEING
There is also a worrying trend of an increasing number of people suffering from mental illness, noted NMP and social entrepreneur Anthea Ong.
[Not worrying enough. To bring this problem to the fore, we should have liberal gun rights. After a few mass shootings, we will be ready to deal with mental illness.]
Of greater concern is the fact that more young Singaporeans have also sought help for mental health issues, she added.
Ms Ong pointed to an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) study published last year that showed a 190 per cent increase in the number of individuals aged 16 and 30 seeking help from its Community Health Assessment Team. The number had risen from 550 in 2015 to 1,580 in 2017.
Singapore’s social policies “must place mental health as a priority for the underserved and vulnerable communities alongside basic needs”, noted Ms Ong.
“There is no health without mental health.”
“We must normalise mental health and bring it out to the open. The Government and community have to learn to value mental health as a basic need and to then reduce stigma and improve help-seeking and recovery.”
PROPOSAL FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ACT
Unlike other nations such as the United Kingdom, Singapore does not have a Climate Change Act, said Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak. He proposed that the Government enact such a legislation to “enshrine our commitment” to mitigate effects of climate change.
In other countries, such legislation requires the governments to set out their targets and explain how they will reduce emissions, he noted.
As younger Singaporeans become more environmentally-conscious, he urged the Government to develop “more concrete” environmentally-friendly measures such as providing incentives to private property owners to install solar panels and increasing education outreach efforts.
HELPING YOUNG START-UPS
As baby boomers retire from the workforce over the next two decades, millennials will form a large base of workers here and there is a need to “step up mentorship guidance and cross-industry functional knowledge exchanges”, noted Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan.
“This drain of expertise and knowledge will have its repercussions if there are no early channels for inter-generation or inter-workplace transfer,” she added.
To reduce the learning curve for young start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as they scale up or expand overseas, Ms Chan suggested setting up a working group comprising experienced mentors who can give these firms guidance.