During the Committee of Supply of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in the Budget 2023 on 6 March, Minister Masagos Zulkifli responded to a question filed by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC, of whether the Ministry will consider studying the estimated costs of providing the cash component of the Baby Bonus to single unwed parents.
Regarding government benefits for single unwed parents, Mr Masagos acknowledged that they do not qualify for certain benefits, such as the baby bonus cash, gift parenthood, tax rebates, and working mothers’ child relief.
However, he emphasized that the government does offer other forms of support, such as subsidies for education, healthcare, childcare, and infant care, as well as the Foreign domestic worker levy concession and the child development account for housing, which are available based on individual circumstances.
As Mr Masagos stated, “It is not an issue of costs, let alone whether we will study, but that each of these policies reflect prevailing societal norms and values that of parenthood within marriage.”
He added that policies cannot be reduced, reused, and recycled, but must be implemented for public accountability for the purpose it was used. If single parents need support, they can approach the Social Service Office.
In response, Mr Ng, who has been asking parliamentary questions about single parents over the past years, cited data that the median salary for single parents under 35 is around $700, making the baby bonus cash a lifeline for these parents.
He urged the government to provide this cash component and remove the stigma and discrimination associated with not providing tax rebates and tax relief.
Mr Ng stated, “I hope we can provide this cash component because it really is a lifeline for these parents, for the working mothers, child relief, and the payroll tax rebate. I hope MSF can look at this not from a fiscal cost standpoint, but really one of stigma and discrimination.”
He added, “I think Minister Indranee MOS Sun Xue Ling and myself saw firsthand how single parents were in tears when they spoke about this stigma and discrimination. I think this policy of not providing them this tax rebate and tax relief really reinforces the stigma and discrimination. So I hope again, we will look this not from a fiscal standpoint, but of how this giving them this relief and tax rebate can really help to remove that discrimination.”
In response, Mr Masagos emphasized, “Our policies must reflect the social norms and values, not parenthood within marriage. And if that shifts in future, certainly we will move with it.”
Mr Masagos also expressed concern that offering support for single unwed parents could be seen as an incentive. He emphasized that policies must reflect societal norms and values, not just meet the needs of single parents.
In response, Mr cited the example of Japan, where improving policies for single parents did not result in a spike in the number of single unwed parents. Ng also argued that people do not have children just because of incentives.
In response to Ng’s comments, Mr Masagos reiterated that policies must reflect societal norms and values, not just the needs of single unwed parents. He also expressed concern that providing too much support could incentivize single parenthood.
Mr Masagos stated, “There is always this worry that that could happen. But more importantly, our policies must reflect the social norms and values, not parenthood within marriage.” However, he also acknowledged that if societal norms shift in the future, policies may also change.
MP for Marine Parade GRC, Mr Seah Kian Peng asked in 2021 the Minister for Social and Family Development for the past five years, what has been the annual number of single unwed mothers.
The Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Ms Sun Xueling, who was answering for the Minister for Social and Family Development, stated, “In the last five years, the annual number of single unwed citizen mothers, estimated by the annual number of out of wedlock births, has averaged around 830 per year.”
In response to supplementary questions from Mr Seah, Ms Sun stated that the average number of single unwed mothers per year has been less than a thousand per year since 2013. She provided specific numbers for the last five years, which show a trend of fluctuating numbers.
In 2016, there were 843 single unwed mothers, 805 in 2017, 891 in 2018, 783 in 2019, and 859 in 2020. While the average number of single unwed mothers per year between 2006 and 2012 was above a thousand, the numbers have been decreasing in recent years.
As for the income, Mr Masagos revealed in 2022 that the average monthly income for citizen mothers with non-marital births has increased over the years, but for those below 35 years old, it remains lower. The median for those below 35 years old rose from $600 in 2017 to $700 in 2020. Mr Louis Ng also noted that policies can change, citing the recent changes to the Working Mothers’ Child Relief as an example.