Singapore's government unveiled on Monday a raft of incentives for citizens to get married and have babies.
The enhanced marriage and parenthood package announced by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean raises the money couples receive for having children and introduces paternity leave.
A bigger baby bonus cash gift of $6,000 will be given for the first two births and $8,000 for the next two births from $4,000 and $6,000, respectively.
A CPF Medisave account of $3,000 will also be created for each Singaporean baby "to further support parents in planning for their children's healthcare need" and to encourage MediShield enrolment, the government said in a press release.
MediShield will be extended to cover congenital and neonatal conditions effective from the start of March this year.
To help couples balance work and family commitments, government will pay for one week of paternity leave for fathers of Singaporeans born from May this year. The dads will also be able to share one week of their wife's maternity leave entitlement.
Parents with children aged 7-12 will get two days of government-paid child care leave annually.
Also, to help couples start families earlier, the government announced measures for them to get housing faster.
First-timer married couples will get priority allocation of new HDB flats and such couples with children will be allowed to rent a flat from HDB at affordable rental rates while waiting for their flats to be completed.
Working mothers would also get assistance. Four weeks government-paid adoption leave would be granted to working mothers in the adopted child's first year.
Government would also pay in the form of cash benefit the maternity leave of working women who do not currently qualify for any maternity leave, such as those under short-term contracts.
The maternity protection period will also be extended to cover the full term of pregnancy for employees who have been retrenched or dismissed without sufficient cause.
“Addressing our falling birth rate requires a concerted effort beyond government initiatives. We will continue to work with the community to strengthen positive attitudes towards family life. We hope that the enhanced Marriage & Parenthood measures will help create a more conducive environment for Singaporeans to set up families,” said Teo.
The budget for the enhanced package will be raised to $2 billion a year from the $1.6 billion budget for the 2008 package.
The slew of new measures comes as Singapore grapples with an ageing population, one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world at 1.2 in 2011 and a reliance on a large pool of foreign workers that has resulted in much grumbling from its home-grown citizen population.
The announcement was also made less than a week before the country's largest single-member constituency, Punggol East, goes to the polls in a closely-watched by-election that is said to be a test for the ruling People's Action Party.
The announced measures are seen as a comprehensive move to respond to the concerns of young working people in Singapore.
Selina Lim, associate director at SIM University's Teaching and Learning Centre, said it was heartening that the measures address even the concerns of a relatively smaller but growing group of adoptive working mothers.
A researcher of politics, media and society, Lim also noted that the inclusion of paternity leave and various measures to defray medical costs will make a difference to the targeted sectors of society, although the housing-related measures may not be too effective.
"Where housing issues are concerned, however, it would seem that even though first-timer married couples are assured of priority allocation of new HDB flats, it may be difficult to ascertain its likely impact on marriage and parenthood, especially if having children is not topmost on the couple's list of priorities, and if housing prices continue to climb," she said.
Meanwhile, working fathers Yahoo! Singapore spoke to welcomed the new measures though some downplayed their potential impact.
"I think it is a good step for paternity leave to be raised but I also feel more should be done. As a father-to-be, I want to play an important role in helping my wife raise my child," said Ivan Wong, 33, a communications specialist.
He said perhaps the government could consider two to three weeks of paid paternity leave for the next enhancement.
"I also hope employers will be more understanding and flexible for their staff who have kids to work from home," he said.
Another working father also did not believe the new incentives would push many Singaporeans to have more kids.
“Plainly based on the new benefits, I still don’t think there’s a huge enhancement,” said a 31-year-old manager who wanted to be known as Mr Foo. Noting that many of the incentives are “one-off”, Foo, a father of two, said his decision to have a third child would lie beyond any baby packages the government has to offer.
“It’s a lifelong commitment,” he told Yahoo! Singapore. “I think if they really, really are serious about increasing birth rates, the fixes may need to focus more on the structural part of things — like childcare, schools, and alternative ways to look at excellence,” he added.
The government has said it is studying other measures, including ways to provide incentives for employers to offer flexible work arrangements for their employees and those related to the pre-school sector.
Measures to address infant and child care fee affordability will be announced on Wednesday, it said.
For specific details of the enhanced marriage and parenthood package, read here.