AWARE’s response to the 2011 Budget
AWARE welcomes commitment to building inclusive society
Media Release: SINGAPORE BUDGET 2011
18 February 2011 – AWARE welcomes the strong focus in the 2011 Budget on strengthening our society. We are heartened by the Minister’s assurance that steps will be taken to ensure an inclusive society.
We trust that this inclusiveness will extend to marginalised groups such as unwed mothers, many of whom are caught in the poverty trap and struggle to earn a living while also taking care of their child or children. As the Finance Minister said, Singapore needs to be a society where everyone can contribute to and share in the country’s progress “regardless of where they start from”. Unwed mother’s children should not have to suffer because of the way they began life.
Families with children
We are glad to see the greater support for early childhood education and caregiving services, and particularly the attention given to the needs of the low income groups. This will go some ways toward addressing income inequalities. If the provision of pre-school education and childcare is left entirely to the private sector, we run the risk of widening the inequalities between Singaporeans.
The measures announced are targeted at individual families. AWARE hopes to see more broad-based development of better quality services as well as more comprehensive support so that:
- parents will feel more assured that their children will be well taken care of while they work
- the care of children will be more continuous, that is, there are no gaps from the time they are infants and when they go to primary school. This will allow women to stay in the workforce.
Specifically, we would like to see broad-based development of childcare services in these areas:
- Professional staffs who are adequately rewarded for doing care work. This work is vitally needed and is currently undervalued.
- Enhancement of support for infant care, which is currently expensive and inadequate.
- More after-school care programmes for children.
AWARE would also like to see 2 weeks of mandatory paternity leave, and the conversion of the last 4 weeks of maternity leave into parental leave so that both men and women will have better support to achieve work-life balance.
Aware applauds the Finance Minister for the proposals put forth to build up our long-term care sector and to make the retirement years of our seniors more comfortable.
The top-up to the ElderCare Fund, and the matching government grants for donations to the long-term care sector, will go a long way in helping our VWO sector. Attracting and training good talent in the NGO sector is always a challenge and we agree with the Minister that these efforts will help ease some of the resource pain of the voluntary organizations and the caregivers.
Aware is also very heartened to see the financial support for low income elderly people to improve their mobility and obtain devices such as wheelchairs.
Caregivers of the elderly and disabled are a very important part of an inclusive society. The families of elders and the disabled require some special attention and relief.
Aware would like to see more effective steps to lighten the load on caregivers. Specifically:
- increased subsidies for women and men who care for dependent relatives (pegged to the median income)
- conversion of the 6 days paid childcare leave into dependent’s leave
- the expansion or creation of new schemes, with appropriate subsidies, to meet the transportion needs of those for whom public transport is not a viable alternative.
The younger disabled members of our society also require special consideration. We hope that the day care, developmental and mobility needs of this audience will be addressed by the government. An inclusive society will seek to empower the disabled so that they can become contributing members of the community and live with dignity.
As Singapore’s population matures, Aware calls for a multi-agency taskforce to study Singapore’s caregiving needs and to formulate programs and policies that will better meet these needs.
Helping the needy
We are glad to learn that the Public Assistance scheme will be revised and rates raised. We hope the revision will include a new flexibility in assessing who qualifies for Public Assistance as there are people who own a flat but are cash-strapped and unable to earn a living.
We also hope that financial assistance will be extended to foreign wives (of Singaporean men) who are in distress, and especially if they have children.
Women and employment
AWARE notes the emphasis on increasing productivity by way of business restructuring, increased use of technology and upgrading workers’ skills and capabilities. This means that people who stay out of the workforce will fall behind even faster than before and will find it hard to catch up.
We ask that the needs of women be taken into account in the implementation of this strategy. For example, mothers with young children should be given sufficient support to ensure that they are able to stay in the workforce and can participate in the various skills upgrading programmes.
We did not see any mention of increased infant care or after-school or before-school care facilities, the promotion of flexible work arrangements or provision of mandatory paternity leave to ensure that the working environment is conducive to allowing mothers to continue work. We hope that these provisions have been made and will be elaborated upon during the Committee of Supply debate.