Singapore boosts 'baby bonus' scheme

Singapore on Monday announced increased cash bonuses for parents of newborn babies and introduced paternity leave as part of a package of measures to boost population and reduce dependence on foreigners.

Parents of Singaporean babies born since August 26 last year will receive a cash gift of Sg$6,000 ($4,900) -- a rise of 50 percent, which applies to each of a couple's first two children.

The financial incentive will rise to Sg$8,000 for a couple's third and fourth babies, as the government attempts to offset the high cost of raising a family -- one of the gripes often aired by young couples in the city-state.

At least one parent must be a Singapore citizen to be eligible for the handout.

The government will subsidise one week of paternity leave for fathers of babies born from May 1 this year, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) agency also announced in a press release.

In addition, new fathers will be eligible to stay off work for a second week by taking a chunk of the standard 16-month maternity leave granted to their wives, it added.

Housing issues were also addressed in the Sg$2 billion ($1.63 billion) Marriage and Parenthood Package.

Couples with at least one child below 16 will be given priority to buy government-built apartments, where most Singaporeans live. Many couples keep their families small until they get their own flats.

"We hope that the enhanced marriage and parenthood measures will help create a more conducive environment for Singaporeans to set up families," Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in the press release.

Singapore's birth rate of 1.20 children per woman, according to 2011 figures, is well below the 2.1 figure needed to sustain the native population.

The low rate has forced the city-state to bring in more immigrants in recent years. But the numbers were reduced following a social backlash, with foreigners blamed for problems including overcrowding, straining public services and driving up housing costs.

Singapore, which relies on foreign labour to power its economic growth, now has a population of 5.3 million, of whom only 3.3 million are citizens.

By 2030, 20 percent of Singaporeans are forecast to be 65 years or older, according to official statistics.

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