Make Childcare a Public Good: WP

·Elizabeth Soh
File Photo of Children attending preschool/kindergarten
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WP NCMP Yee Jenn Jong suggested in Parliament on Wednesday that childcare should be made a public good with open competition.

As a public good, childcare would become a service provided without profit to all Singaporeans - a system Yee said would result in affordable childcare and enough places for all children.

He had harsh words for the current Anchor Operator Scheme, in which the government gives heavy subsidies and grants only to selected childcare operators.

Calling the AOS a 'flawed system', Yee called for a reform of the childcare industry in Singapore.

"It is flawed because the industry is left to private market mechanisms, made worse by hugely disproportionate government grants for a small number of anchor operators that give them incredible advantage over other players in the industry," said Yee, echoing fellow party member and MP Lee Li Lian's stance on the childcare issue.

The current system, WP claims, has translated into soaring childcare fees as un-subsidised operators struggle with high rents. It also deters many potential operators from even joining the industry, hence a lack of childcare places, felt acutely in younger wards like Punggol East.

Currently, the only two anchor operators under the AOS are government-linked PCF and NTUC's My First Skool childcare arm.

Yee's suggestion came after posing several child-care related questions to Acting MFS Minister Chan Chun Sing, who responded that the government was reviewing the Anchor Operator's Scheme and working hard to keep fees affordable.

“The scheme is currently being reviewed and the Implementation Committee for Enhancing Pre-school Education co-chaired by MOE and MSF will announce more details by the second quarter this year,” said Chan.

Defending the scheme, Chan said in Parliament that the criteria had been set to “ensure that the operators’ programmes are accessible to children of all backgrounds, and that the government’s funding goes towards serving the public good rather than public profit.”

He added that all anchor operators are required to demonstrate financial stability and commitment to meeting quality and affordability target set by the Ministry.

Yee also asked Chan how MFS would ensure that childcare fees were not raised excessively in response to recent enhancements to subsidies.

“We have designed the enhancements to give more assistance to families who require more help. Lower income families will receive more subsidy, as well as larger families with a lower per capita income,” replied Chan.

“As the enhancements are not universal, it is less likely that operators can raise fees across the board.”

He added that MFS would continue to facilitate the development of more centres in areas of demand, while growing the number of quality childcare places through the Anchor Operator Scheme to keep fees in check.

Chan also said that it would be premature to give statistics on the number and distribution of new childcare centres by anchor operators, explaining that new operators have yet to be chosen or made any submissions for new sites.

On Tuesday, Pasir Ris-Punggol MP Teo Ser Luck told reporters that the building of more childcare centres in Punggol East would be ‘difficult to facilitate’ as PAP are no longer the representatives for the area, having lost the seat to WP’s Lee.

Reported with Jeanette Tan at Parliament

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