“As parents, we are always concerned about the well being of our child,” Member of Parliament (MP) for Punggol East single-member constituency (SMC), Lee Lilian, said on her Facebook page on Sunday.
“Therefore it is certainly a relief to hear Minister Tan [Chuan-Jin] say that the ministry is considering harmonizing the benefits for single parents,” Ms Lee, a Workers’ Party MP, said.
Last week, Mr Tan, who is the minister in charge at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), said that “unwed working mothers may soon get the same benefits as married ones under a review being conducted by MSF.”
One of the differences often highlighted is how unwed mothers get eight weeks of maternity leave paid for by their employers, while married mothers get 16 weeks, and do not benefit from the Handicapped Child Relief, nor the Baby Bonus cash gift.
“My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single unwed mothers; I see it on the ground,” Mr tan told the media. “When I came in, I asked my colleagues to see whether we can review some of these things. Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it?”
The government has long been afraid that any changes in policies may signal a shift in its position that the nucleus family must consist of married parents with children.
Mr Tan, however, feel that perhaps it is time for a review.
“The support provided for single parents, single mothers, unwed mothers really isn’t just about that Baby Bonus – I know there are differences, but actually the help extended needs to be much more extensive.
“It’s about healthcare availability, it’s about education opportunities and the support that comes with it. So, on the one hand, while there are some differences that exist today the help isn’t just in those areas. Actually the more fundamental issue is that broader extent of help.”
Ms Lee, while welcoming the proposed review, nonetheless says it was “ridiculous that we are even discussing this.”
“Married or single, they are parents,” she said.
Ms Lee has been a long-time advocate for single parents to be treated equally as married ones – a position she has held as far back as 2008, when she would blog about the issue.
She had also raised her concerns during her election rally speeches in Punggol East in 2013.
“An unmarried single mom will not qualify for the tax relief for a foreign domestic worker and is entitled to only 2 days of childcare leave per year for a child below the age of 7,” she said in her speech in Parliament in February 2013. “Her child is considered “illegitimate” by the government. Despite this she will still need to pay taxes and her son will still need to do national service.”
She said that “for a country suffering from a fertility crisis, each child should be valued, and not punished simply because he or she is born to unmarried parents.”
“Parents-to-be have many concerns, especially given the high cost of living and increasingly competitive environment we live in,” Ms Lee said. “This includes the loss of income when they have to drop out of work to look after their children, or experiencing a drop in their career prospects, when they have worked so hard from school days to make a successful career. Many parents are concerned about financial insecurity and how to balance having children and their careers, especially so for mothers.”
“I hope that the government will appreciate the needs of the child, as well as the value of the bond between a mother and her child, which is non-measurable in monetary terms. This is not about encouraging more single mothers, but ensuring better and fair support for children who have been born to them.”