In an interview yesterday with Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan Jin, the minister revealed that the government is reviewing its policies towards unwed mothers and may extend benefits given to married mothers to this marginalized group.
Tan said he had asked to review the policies when he joined the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in April, and that he hopes to make announcements on it before the Budget next year.
“I’ve a great deal of sympathy for single unwed mothers,” he said. “Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it? So that’s being reviewed.”
As of now, unwed mothers get only 8 weeks of paid maternity leave, as compared to the 16 weeks given to married mothers. Unwed mothers also do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and have to wait till they are 35 years old to buy a HDB flat under the singles scheme.
While these differences have been raised many times, including in Parliament, the answer has always been that the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to.
Just in March, then Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said that Singapore needs to find a balance between supporting unwed mothers as well as the policy to support parenthood within marriages.
When asked if he thought Singapore society is now prepared to change its stance, Mr Tan said: “My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single unwed mothers.”
He added that there is more support available for unwed mothers than maternity leave and baby bonuses. “It’s about healthcare availability, it’s about education opportunities and the support that comes with it.”
When probed about how extensive the review will be, he said the issues – such as housing, education, health, employment – are being discussed from a “whole-of-government perspective”.