Housing policy must reflect commitment to equality
By Sumedha Jalote, Communications Executive, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)
Recently, a letter sent by the Housing Development Board (HDB) to a single mother appealing to buy a flat has struck a chord with many on social media, having been shared by over 1,600 people.
In a terse two paragraphs, the HDB letter rejected the application, stating, “An unmarried parent is treated no different from a single person. Hence, you and your daughter do not constitute an eligible family nucleus to apply for a flat from the HDB.”
The mother who received this letter and many who have seen this letter are justifiably angry. This discriminatory policy denies citizens – both unmarried parents and their children – access to public housing, which is a basic human right. It also sits uneasily with Singapore’s international obligations to protect children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
The UNCRC is a comprehensive charter on the rights of children, setting minimum standards that governments should meet. Singapore acceded to the UNCRC in 1995.
Under the UNCRC, the state must “recognise the right of every child to a standard of living adequate” for the child’s development (Article 27). The UNCRC states that the state must take “appropriate measures to assist parents” in implementing this right.
Instead of assisting parents, the policies of the HDB make it much harder for them to provide for their children. The alternatives HDB suggested – renting a room or staying with friends – are often ultimately more costly, even though the need for affordable housing may be more urgent with only one parental income rather than two. The social pressures and uncertainty of home-sharing may also create a less favourable family environment for some children.
The UNCRC also requires the state to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination” based on the status, activities or beliefs of the child’s parents (Article 2).
By denying public housing to unmarried parents, HDB not only fails to protect children from discrimination, but itself actively discriminates against them, based on their parents’ circumstances or choices.
The recent furore over the National Library Board shows that many Singaporeans care immensely about creating a society that includes and supports diverse families. Moreover, the government is equally accountable to everyone regardless of their family structure. Policies must stop punishing children for the circumstances or choices of their parents. We recommend that public housing be made equally available to all citizens at the age of 21, regardless of their marital status.
An edited version of this letter was published in TODAY on 1 August 2014.