There have been a lot of speeches given in parliament this last week. Of all the speeches and all the announcements, I think the one given by Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development, gives the most hope. This is the first COS that Minister Tan is speaking as the Minister for Social and Family Development.
For the longest time, the government was reluctant to give unwed mothers the same benefits. One of the reasons given was that doing so may encourage more women to have children outside of marriage. Thankfully, the powers that be realise that this reason is ludicrous.
Minister Tan, in his COS speech, finally announced that unwed mothers will finally get the same 16-week maternity leave that other mothers get. Their children will also get a Child Development Account, which helps pay for childcare and healthcare needs
This has been a long time coming. During last year’s Budget Debate, Lee Li Lian, who was MP for Punggol East then, and Seah Kian Peng argued for such a move. This change in policy represents a long waited monumental shift in philosophy.
Minister Tan also gave details of the KidSTART initiative. It aims to support children from low income families and give them a “good start” in life. The pilot stage of the initiative will start in the second half of 2016. It will start in Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai. MSF expects to reach out to about 1,000 children in the first three years. It’s not clear if the programme will help a total of 1,000 kids over three years (i.e. 333 this year, then 333 next and another 334 the year after), or will reach out to 1,000 kids this year and support them over three years.
This initiative will provide children from low income families with a whole range of support. CNA reports: “Under the programme, the child’s parents will be given support, if possible, even before the mother gives birth. The parents will continue to receive support beyond this stage, with home-visits, parent education and family support programmes, as well as links to support groups and existing community resources, depending on their needs.”
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) also added that “selected pre-schools will also provide additional support and work with parents, to better support the child through his pre-school years and his transition to primary school”.
It’s still not clear exactly what sort of additional support these children and their families will get. Minister Heng, during his Budget Speech, said that this programme will cost more than $20million this year. Assuming the programme is helping 1,000 this year, then it’s about $20,000 worth of support each child for this year. I think that’s fairly generous. That said, I hope that we will scale quickly from the pilot stage and implement the initiative at a national level.
Moving towards a more inclusive society
These two measures that Minister Tan spoke about in his COS speech will help move us toward an inclusive society. I hope that we will continue moving boldly, decisively and swiftly in this direction.
[Featured image: from CNA]