Expecting parents appeal for faster baby benefits

Other News Materials 22 August 2008 05:21 (UTC +04:00)

Appeals from parents-to-be have prompted the Singapore government to bring forward the starting date for an onslaught of new perks aimed at convincing couples to have more babies, authorities said Friday. ( dpa )

Instead of January 1, 2008, the benefits have been backdated to Sunday, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a bonanza of tax benefits, leaves, a bigger "baby bonus" and other goodies to encourage more births.

The speedy adjustment is in response to appeals by expectant mothers and fathers whose babies are due before January 1.

The expectant parents "requested that the government make special provisions for them so that they can also benefit from the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package," The Straits Times quoted Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng as saying.

The government also moved up its co-funding of fertility treatments.

Employers have been urged to allow staff to claim extra maternity, infant-care and childcare leave.

The 1.6-billion-Singapore-dollar (1.1-billion-US-dollar) package was announced by Lee at a National Day Rally.

Encouraging more births has been elevated to a national political priority since Lee focused on the problem of low and declining birth rates in 2004. Singapore's current fertility rate of 1.29 children per woman is far below the replacement level of 2.1 children.

Last year, 37,000 babies were born in the city-state, far short of the more than 50,000 needed.

The birth plunge combined with a rise in childless couples and a rapidly ageing population in South-East Asia's wealthiest nation has been a cause for alarm. Leaders have pointed out that the insufficient number of live births also threatens future economic, labour and defence requirements.

An initial set of incentives introduced four years ago failed to make a significant difference.

Singapore's population of 4.6 million is composed of 25 per cent who are foreigners, and the government is encouraging others to come and make the city-state their home.

Under the incentives in the latest package, enhanced tax rates can be claimed for income earned this year. The rebate for working parents is 5,000 Singapore dollars (3,571 US dollars) for the first child, 10,000 Singapore dollars for the second and 20,000 Singapore dollars for subsequent children.

Paid maternity leave will increase from 12 to 16 weeks for mothers.