Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) released a statement in response to the 2017 Budget announced yesterday (20 February) by Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat, stating that the Government missed the opportunity to tackle care economy.
The release said that the Government sought to set out directions for the future economy. However, it could have done substantially more to tackle the significant issue of the care economy in the face of an ageing population.
Jolene Tan, Head of Advocacy & Research at AWARE, said, “Neither the Budget nor the Committee for the Future Economy directly addressed the critical impact of caregiving pressures on the economy, or how to systematically support the people – usually women – who perform it.”
“This pressure will grow as the needs of older people in particular increase significantly in years to come,” she added.
Ms Tan noted that in AWARE’s pre-Budget recommendations, both AWARE and NTUC specifically highlighted female labour force participation as an area requiring greater governmental investment.
“AWARE was disappointed that the Minister did not touch on this expressly, despite acknowledging the need to look at the labour force in a granular way,” said Ms Tan.
AWARE highlighted that when women are pushed out of the labour force by caregiving pressures, this harms their economic well-being, imposes costs on businesses – due to lost talent and turnover – and sets the stage for future financial inadequacy on retirement, with all its attendant social costs.
While the Minister offered increased support for the employment of older workers, AWARE stressed that it also urges a more explicit recognition that longer-term financial and care needs for older people cannot be met by opportunities for paid work alone.
“We hope to see the Government look more into developing long-term care, facilitating caregiving through measures such as eldercare leave, and building on non-contributory schemes such as Silver Support,” it said.
The Minister also announced increased grants for first-timers – particularly married couples – purchasing HDB flats, a policy intended to support families. However, AWARE stated that there was a missed opportunity to consider the housing needs of single parents – whether unmarried, divorced or widowed.
These families, as highlighted in AWARE’s recently released study, face barriers in obtaining stable, secure homes, with serious implications for the welfare and social mobility of their children.
“Resources should not only be invested in housing to encourage people to have more children,” Ms Jolene said.
“It is also important to address the current unmet needs of existing families, and children who are already among us.” she added.
AWARE also highlighted that the announcement of increased infantcare capacity is very welcome, saying that it urges the Government to also do more to improve the affordability of childcare, and in particular to reassess the preconditions of infant care subsidies (as discussed in its Recommendations).
“When work is a precondition for subsidies, this sets up a chicken-and-egg barrier to women’s employment – since childcare is often a precondition for finding and keeping employment,” it said.
It also said that similar issues affect the success of skills upgrading programmes – women with childcare responsibilities cannot benefit from such programmes if they do not have an alternative care in place. This can limit the effectiveness of skills upgrading initiatives.
AWARE stated that it thus welcome the announcement of shorter, more modular skills courses and urge the Government to closely assess the accessibility of such programmes for those with caregiving responsibilities.
AWARE said that it welcomes the announcement that more moves will be made to address barriers faced by persons with disabilities, and those with mental health conditions, in the area of employment.
It also welcomes, as a step in the right direction, the news of more initiatives to support caregivers of persons with disabilities. We hope that the government will closely monitor the impact of the services provided by the Support Centre and expand their availability as needed.