To help break low-income mothers out of poverty, gender equality group AWARE recommends that low-income households should have access to free good quality formal childcare; the State should put in place a robust employment protection for casual workers and enforceable prohibitions against workplace discrimination; and it should enhance its ComCare and Workfare Income Supplement Scheme to make low-wage work pay more.
Findings from AWARE’s latest report, “Why are you not working?”: Low-income mothers explain challenges with work and care, found that low-income mothers bear the brunt of financial instability, as they shoulder most of their family’s caregiving needs and face penalties when they try to access, engage, and stay in paid work. The report examines the structural barriers that 47 low-income mothers faced when trying to access formal childcare and stable work.
Respondents cited in the report were beneficiaries of Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), a non-profit organisation that provides employment bridging support to low-income women looking for work.
Said Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE, “There is growing attention paid to how inequality affects families in Singapore. When we talk about inequality, we need to especially look at how mothers, as caregivers, are impacted.”
“Our findings show how mothers from low-income households are constrained by inadequate formal childcare, and prevailing working conditions that do not offer decent jobs. This has wide-reaching consequences on their lives and the next generation’s financial security.”
The report found that many mothers dealt with long waiting lists and no vacancies at subsidised childcare centres in their areas.
"Finding childcare for my youngest child was difficult, and took some time. I had no choice but to leave her at home to go to work. The childcare centres around my area did not have vacancies, or I had to wait a long time," said Rosilah, a respondent of the study.
Some respondents reported abuse and low quality of care, but felt they did not have the right to lodge complaints or choose their centre because they were subsidised.
To address this, one of AWARE’s recommendations is that families who are able to show a household income of $2500 or less will automatically qualify for free formal childcare, instead of going through the current administratively onerous case-by-case system.
Said Ms. Lim, “Making childcare free for families struggling financially is only a small part of the equation. We also need to do more to make work genuinely decent."
Many respondents work as casual workers and are not protected by employment legislation because of its limited scope or incorrect classification of their contract. Some employers also deny employees CPF and leave benefits or unlawfully sack them. For example, Rosilah experienced pregnancy discrimination by a former employer, who dismissed her when she was in her third trimester because the employer did not want to be liable for her getting hurt at work while pregnant.
Said Julie (not her real name), a respondent of the study, “People don’t understand how important [flexibility] is for us [as mothers]. When your kids are sick, your kids are sick. You just want to drop everything and just run to them. To have supportive employers is amazing.”
Said Ms. Lim, “To systematically enable low income mothers - with limited care support - to have options for work, we can't just depend on the kindness of employers. We need to broaden and strengthen our worker protection regime by implementing anti-discrimination legislation, extending appropriate benefits and rights to casual workers, and stricter enforcement of all
worker protection obligations.”
Finally, the report argues the need to make work pay better. Many of the respondents' families, even with two persons working, did not earn enough from work to meet the ComCare threshold for public assistance.
AWARE recommends the introduction of systematic (not discretionary) financial incentives for work in the form of enhanced Comcare and Workfare Income Supplement schemes and a new Self Employed Persons app to support lower income employed and self-employed persons to transition into regular work.
Said Ms. Lim, "Lower income women are more likely to work if they see that work offers families a fighting chance to break the cycle of poverty that their families are trapped in.”
In summary, AWARE’s recommendations include:
- Provide free childcare for families with monthly household income <$2,500
- Protect employees against discrimination in hiring and retention
- Develop a new employment framework on the rights and benefits of casual workers
- Enhance ComCare after employment
- Enhance Workfare Income Supplement, especially for casual workers
AWARE will be hosting a panel discussion, “Poverty Has A Woman’s Face” on Saturday (11 August), to launch the report. The panelists are Dr. Teo You Yenn , author of bestselling book, This is what inequality looks like; Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE; Carrie Tan , Executive Director of Daughters Of Tomorrow, and Siti Aishah , a respondent of AWARE’s research and a mother of three working as an assistant admin officer.
The session will be hosted by Shailey Hingorani , Head of Advocacy and Research at AWARE and moderated by Dr Ng Kok Hoe , Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
AWARE is Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group, which believes in the rights of women and men to make informed and responsible choices about their lives and to have equal opportunities in education, marriage and employment, and in the right of women to control their own bodies, particularly with regard to sexual and reproductive rights.