Budget season is upon us again, with the 2014 edition to be delivered on 21 February 2014. While the2013 Budget missed the mark by my reckoning, it is my wish again that the focus on increasing productivity would shift from the work space to the family space.
My Budget wishlist for 2014 can be summarised as the three Es – Enable, Encourage and Enhance.
Enable family life by fulfilling the urgent housing needs of first timers with children
The Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) unveiled in 2013 was supposed to provide priority allocation to first-timer married couples with a citizen child below the age of 16 (including those expecting a child) for Build-To-Order (BTO) and Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) flats to better meet their housing needs. Under the PPS, 30% of the BTO flat supply and 50% of the SBF flats will be set aside.
While the percentages look generous, the fact is that many of those with a real urgent need for an immediate house would still be subjected to a ballot. With each failed ballot, the next SBF exercise is another six months away, by which more people would be joining the ballot under the PPS.
I think the government needs to realise that the needs of first timer families with children are very different than those of first timer couples and second timers. Luck should be taken out of the equation for first timer families with children by changing the allocation system for SBF to a phased approach, similar to the Primary One registration system. This means that, unless the number of applicants under the PPS exceeds that of the number of flats available, ALL first timer families with children will get to select a ready flat. This approach will better match the urgency of the applicants to the time it takes to move into a flat.
Encourage parenthood by providing support for assisted conception
Currently, couples seeking Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) treatments in public hospitals can receive co-funding for the cost of their ART treatment cycle, for a maximum of 3 fresh and 3 frozen ART cycles, and up to a maximum of 75% or $6,300/$1,200.
I think the government can do more in this area. It is hard on couples that face difficulties in natural conception, be it due to genetics, age or health. It would really encourage them to try harder for a baby if they do not have to worry about or be discouraged by the hefty medical bills that come with assisted conception. Limiting co-funding to treatments in public hospital also puts unnecessary strain on public healthcare, and discourages couples that prefer the private route.
My wish is for the percentage for funding to be increased to a maximum of 100%. At the same time, funding should apply to treatments in private hospitals as well. With the monetary caps still in place, the government do not spend more on each couple, regardless of which hospital the couple chooses. The government will only spend more on this enhanced funding if more couples seek ART treatments, and that would be a good outcome, surely?
Enhance family bonds by providing more childcare leave
An employee is entitled to six days of childcare leave per year, regardless of the number of qualifying children he/she has. If you have two children, that's three days per child. If you have three, that's two days per child. No matter how I look at it, it still looks like a substantial reduction in time that you can spend with your precious ones.
Instead of just recognising the challenges of parenthood (by giving a fixed amount of childcare leave regardless of the number of kids), I think that the government should recognise the challenges of having each additional child by giving additional childcare leave. It could be for example, six days of childcare leave for the first child, and then three additional days for each additional child.
Of course, that doesn't mean that we can only spend quality time with our children while on childcare leave. But if there is any organisation or body out there that should send signals on what type of parenthood is desirable for the nation, it has to be the government, right?
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