Speech by Minister Josephine Teo on Population at Committee of Supply 2019
Theme: Building a Sustainable Population, Together
Mr Chairman, I thank the members who have spoken. Their views and suggestions are well appreciated.
In my response, I will provide an update of our population strategies and measures to support Marriage and Parenthood.
Our Population Strategies
Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked how we will build a sustainable and vibrant Singapore for all ages in light of our demographic challenges. We are doing so through three broad strategies.
Making Singapore a Great Place for Families
Our first and foremost strategy in managing the population is to ensure that there’s always a new generation of Singaporeans to carry our legacy forward. We want Singapore to be a Great Place for Families, where young couples sense the strong support for marriage and parenthood from society and the state.
How are we doing on this front? In addressing this question, it is useful to take a step back. When we consider developments over longer time periods, there are some reasons to be optimistic:
- The average number of citizen births in the last five years is higher than the previous five-year periods. From 2014 to 2018, the average was 33,000 citizen births annually. From 2009 to 2013, the average was lower at 31,400 citizen births annually. If we go back an even earlier period between 2004 and 2008, the annual average was 32,000 births. So the most recent five-year period, we’re talking about 33,000 citizen births on average annually. The five years before that, 31,400, and the five years before that, 32,000. So it is clearly higher.
- On top of this, many more Singaporeans are living overseas. So we welcomed about 1,500 citizen babies born overseas annually, over the past five years. This average is also higher than that of the previous five-year periods. From 2009 to 2013, there was an average of about 1,400 overseas citizen births annually. And between 2004 and 2008, this average was 1,000 overseas citizen births.
- Recent marriage numbers have also remained high. In fact, the average number of marriages in the past five years was significantly higher than the past decade.
Juxtaposed against these developments is another set of forces at play.
- Most young Singaporeans still want to marry and have children, which Mr Vikram Nair would be glad to know. From our 2016 Marriage and Parenthood Survey, more than 8 in 10 single millennials indicated they intended to marry, and more than 9 in 10 married couples said they wanted 2 or more children.
- However, they are also taking longer to find the right partner and starting families later. The surge in the number of young Singaporeans entering the prime child-bearing age may be followed by a surge in births, but at a later stage.
- We believe this explains recent drops in Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR), to 1.16 in 2017 and 1.14 last year . But, given the positive marriage trends, I remain hopeful that there could be an uptick in TFR when the children of the baby boomers start having babies themselves.
For family to remain the bedrock of society, which Mr Alex Yam spoke passionately about, we must actively lean against the wind to make marriage and parenthood achievable, enjoyable and celebrated.
Singapore has strong fundamentals for marriage and parenthood
There are still many things in Singapore that are favourable to child-raising.
- Last year, Singapore was ranked first in the World Bank’s inaugural Human Capital Index. What that means is that as far as the World Bank is concerned, for a child born in any of the 157 countries that they surveyed, Singapore would be where their human capital potential is most likely to be optimised.
- The same year, an international non-governmental organisation “Save The Children” also ranked Singapore as the best country for children to grow up in. The Government has also progressively enhanced our Marriage and Parenthood Package. Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Desmond Choo asked about the progress and adequacy of our current measures.
Mr Chairman Sir, may I have your permission to distribute a table showing the key marriage and parenthood benefits that a young couple can receive today, compared to five years ago.
Mr Chairman, firstly, a couple can now own their first home sooner.
- Flats with shorter waiting times – about 2-3 years, compared to 3-4 years for typical BTO flats – are now available to them. The first batch was launched in November 2018.
- Those who may have urgent housing needs or location preferences, can choose to buy a resale flat and receive up to $120,000 in housing grants, which is $40,000 more than what a couple would have received in 2014.
- First-timers buying a new flat in non-mature estates can service their housing loans using less than a quarter of their combined monthly incomes, often with little or no cash because they draw on their CPF savings instead.
Second, parents now benefit from greater support for childraising costs.
- When their first child is born, they receive up to $18,000 through the MediSave Grant for Newborns, Baby Bonus Cash Gift, and the Child Development Account (CDA). This is $3,000 more than the maximum a couple would get in 2014.
*They will also receive a CDA First Step of $3,000 deposited by the Government, without having to save into the CDA first, which helps to lighten their load at the start of their parenthood journey.
Third, in their child’s preschool years, the couple would find it easier to enrol their child in an affordable and good quality preschool.
- ECDA has increased the number of full-day preschool places nationwide by over 50% since 2014. There are 170,000 full-day preschool places today. By 2023, this will increase to about 200,000, and two-thirds of preschoolers will be enrolled in Government-supported preschools.
Fourth, throughout their parenthood journey and as their family commitments increase, the couple now has stronger support to manage their work and family responsibilities today.
- They enjoy enhanced parental leave provisions, which enable fathers to play a more active role. With up to eight weeks of leave, a father now has access to double the amount of leave in his child’s first year, compared to just five years ago.  The take-up of Paternity Leave has been encouraging, increasing from 37% in 2014 to 53% for recent cohorts.
- We have also increased paid childcare leave over the years. Today, each parent with children below age seven has six days of childcare leave per year, and two days of childcare leave per year while their children are still in primary school.
- Mr Louis Ng gave suggestions on further increasing leave for parents to care for their children, while Mr Desmond Choo suggested legislating flexible work arrangements. We will keep reviewing the scope to expand leave provisions. But, as Mr Douglas Foo reminded us, we should be careful about mandating businesses to do more, as it would impact business viability and put jobs at risk. Given the recent enhancements, I hope members will agree to give companies some time to adjust before further moves.
- In the meantime, promotional efforts should continue. That is why we introduced a Tripartite Standard last year to encourage employers to provide unpaid leave when their employees have unexpected care needs, including multiple or preterm births, or family members or children who are hospitalised. I must thank Mr Ng for giving us the idea. About 450 employers with over 224,000 staff combined, have adopted this Standard. This includes the public service, with over 70 agencies. We will continue to encourage adoption of the Standard.
- I should also add that parents would be more likely to benefit from flexible work arrangements today.
- We introduced the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements in October 2017, and also launched the enhanced Work-Life Grant last July, to better support the adoption of flexible work arrangements. The grant has received more than 340 applications in just 5 months.
- More workplaces are now supportive of FWAs. Around 53% of employers now offer at least one formal flexible work arrangement. This could be flexi-time, flexi-place, flexi-load. And this is up from 47% in 2014. This is, in fact, a significant turning point I have been waiting for. The tide is shifting and I’m hopeful flexible work arrangements will become much more commonplace henceforth.
Further strengthening support for M&P
Nevertheless, I am aware that young Singaporeans still have concerns, which Mr Desmond Choo also raised.
Parents have raised concerns about financial costs, such as preschool fees. ECDA is reviewing the preschool subsidy framework, to make quality preschool more affordable for parents. The Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF) will provide an update on this during its Committee of Supply debate.
Parents may also feel the need to keep up with other parents’ intensive efforts in education, for example.
- MOE too is concerned. To help our students discover more joy and develop stronger intrinsic motivation to learn, MOE is reducing the frequency and stakes of school-based assessments. Students’ class and level positions will not be reflected in report books to minimise unhealthy comparisons among students based on their academic performance.
- MSF has also started the Baby Bonus Parenting Resources Portal, to boost confidence in parenting through sharing of tips by experts on raising happy and healthy children.
Next, as Ms Rahayu Mahzam pointed out, the workplace environment is critical. Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling will share more at MOM’s Committee of Supply debate.
But overall, I am encouraged that more companies are taking progressive steps to support their employees’ caregiving needs. One such example is M.Tech, an SME which specialises in cyber security and network performance solutions.
- I visited M.Tech this week.As many of their employees are young parents who may also be caring for elders in the family, M.Tech decided to offer flexible work arrangements to staff who need them.
- This was made possible by IT tools which enable staff to work remotely and still be effective.I met Petrine, a product manager who was able to telecommute when her children were down with chickenpox, and when her mother was hospitalised.
- M. Tech was initially concerned about the investment needed to enable mobile working but later found that the benefits were well worth it. For example, it is better able to attract and retain employees who are productive and committed to their work, such as Petrine who has been with M.Tech for 11 years.
Beyond workplace flexibility, there are deeper issues of workplace culture.
- Some Singaporeans indeed work very long hours, leaving little time for dating or family life. Having fewer hours to rest and recharge not only affects employees’ health and wellbeing, but also the time that they have with their loved ones.
- As the nature of work evolves, there is value for organisations to adopt new ways of working, that achieve good business outcomes while giving staff enough down time to recharge.
*M. Tech employees for example, may get off work early, whether to attend courses or to pick up their children from child care. But they would reconnect later in the evening to complete time-sensitive tasks, such as confirming sales orders taken in other time zones. And they do not mind doing it at all, because it does not take very long.
- And so we hope many more employers will make the effort to promote more sustainable work practices. For the sake of their employees, and for their own business viability in the longer run.
Finally, with the trend of later marriages and births, the Government will be reviewing our assistance for couples who face difficulties conceiving, and who wish to undergo assisted reproduction technology treatments.
Government will continue to work with whole-of-society to support M&P
Members including Mr Ong Teng Koon, Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Vikram Nair have given suggestions on further measures to strengthen support for marriage and parenthood.
I agree we can do more. However, porting over practices in other countries wholesale may not yield the desired results. South Korea, for example, poured much resources to emulate the Nordic countries. But its TFR has not improved and fell to 0.98 last year. For Korea, this is the lowest they have on record.
Our efforts over the last 5 years are significant, even if they may take more time to bear fruit. We also need deeper changes of mindsets to reduce stresses in parenting.
Ultimately, marriage and parenthood are personal decisions, shaped by the values that each person holds dear. But they are also influenced in no small part by social norms, our families, employers and the wider society. There are strong cultural and societal factors at play. Like Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Alex Yam have pointed out, no single stakeholder can fully address these on its own.
In this regard, I am encouraged to see how various community stakeholders have stepped up.
- The Families for Life Council, for example, offers a suite of education programmes at workplaces and community touch points. It also organises events to encourage Singaporeans to make family life a priority.
- In Boon Lay constituency, a Parents’ Support Group was formed after a group of young parents met at the People’s Association’s Embracing PArenthood community celebrations. The group meets quarterly to share tips about child development, infant nutrition, and other parenting pointers. Such efforts, big or small, go a long way in making parenthood enjoyable and celebrated. We welcome more of them.
In the coming months, NPTD will embark on a consultation process to listen to the needs and concerns of Singaporeans around forming families, and how Government and the community can better support their aspirations. I also appreciate the MPs’ suggestions, and there are many good examples. Mr Saktiandi Supaat suggested Back-up Care. So I would like to invite all stakeholders to join us in co-creating and shaping policies. We will give more details about this consultation process soon.
Maintaining a careful balance in our immigrant flows
Mr Chairman, I have taken some time to reaffirm our commitment to supporting marriage and parenthood. Our second strategy in managing the population is to maintain a careful balance in immigrant flows.
At its heart, the aim of our immigration policy is to sustain a stable citizen population that keeps our economy vibrant and our society cohesive.
Similar to the past few years, we granted around 22,600 Singapore Citizenships in 2018, of which 1,600 were to children born overseas to Singaporean parents. With 32,700 Permanent Residencies granted last year, the PR population remains stable at around 520,000.
As Dr Lim Wee Kiak and Mr Gan Thiam Poh mentioned, it is important that citizens share a strong sense of identity and belonging to Singapore. We also agree with Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef that it matters how we select new citizens.
To this end, we conduct regular reviews of our immigration framework. We remain highly selective in granting permanent residencies and citizenships.
In all cases, we consider applicants’ age, family profile, economic contributions, as well as their ability to integrate, among other factors. We look for markers of rootedness and identification with Singapore’s way of life, values and norms.
Family ties and length of stay provide a strong indication of this. As a result,
- 1 in 4 adults granted citizenship in recent years have family ties with Singaporeans;
- 3 in 5 have lived in Singapore for at least 10 years; and
- Majority of our new citizens each year are in their younger and prime working ages.
We will continue to maintain a careful balance in managing immigration.
Enabling all Singaporeans to age with grace and purpose
Mr Chairman, our third and equally important strategy in building a sustainable population is to enable Singaporeans to age with grace and purpose.
The United Nations has described population ageing as one of the defining features of our time.
In Asia, Japan was the first country to age rapidly. Singapore, together with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, is not far behind. Today, our life expectancy is the 3rdhighest in the world.Fortunately, more of these years are enjoyed in good health than before.
Far from being resigned to this development, our approach is to help Singaporeans enjoy productive longevity, in many varied ways. It starts with being able to stay active, having opportunity to work if seniors wish to, and strengthening support for retirement adequacy.
Since the 1980s, we have been putting in place measures to prepare for an ageing society. The Central Provident Fund (CPF) has been enhanced over the years. Besides home ownership, it now helps Singaporeans save for healthcare needs and receive payouts for life in their retirement.
Beyond CPF Life, the government also introduced the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), Silver Support, MediShield Life and now, Careshield Life, to help families take better care of their seniors. For older Singaporeans who may have less in Medisave, we have provided the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages with a focus on keeping quality healthcare affordable to seniors. This is in addition to regular top-ups to boost retirement savings.
As the recent Parliamentary motion on Ageing with Purpose affirmed, we should continue to improve our policies to support the changing profile of seniors. For example, more seniors wish to work longer.
Our employment rate of those aged 55-64 is already among the highest in the world, and still going up. In my capacity as Manpower Minister, I set up a Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers. Later in the debate, I will provide an update on the Workgroup’s deliberations that will address Mr Gan Thiam Poh’s concerns about supporting senior employment.
Within our communities, we are also updating the way we care for seniors, for example through innovative, award-winning solutions like Kampung Admiralty. My colleagues at the Ministry of Health will share more during their Committee of Supply debate.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to conclude in Mandarin.
Conclusion (in Mandarin)
- 2014至2018年，每年平均有3万3千的公民宝宝诞生。这比过去五年的平均数来得高。2009年 至2013年，我国每一年的平均公民新生儿总数是3万1千4百个，而2004到2008年之间则是3万2千个
- 结婚总数也有上升的趋势。 为了鼓励国人早日成家、开枝散叶，政府也在近几年显著地强化了一系列的亲家庭措施，比如在住房，育儿费用，托儿服务，以及职场上等方面给予年轻夫妇更多的 支援。相较于五年前，现在的年轻夫妇能得到更多的支援。
Thank you Mr Chairman.
 The 2018 resident TFR is preliminary.
 The eight weeks comprises of two weeks of paid paternity leave, four weeks of paid shared parental leave, one week of paid child care leave, and one week of unpaid infant care leave.
 Formal FWAs refer to part-time work, flexi-time/ staggered hours, formal tele-working, homeworking, job sharing and compressed work week.
 In 2018, we granted 22,550 Singapore Citizenships, of which 1,576 were to children born overseas to Singaporean parents, and 32,710 Permanent Residencies. As of June 2018, the PR population was 522,300.
 UN World Population Ageing Report, 2015
 In 2017, Singapore’s life expectancy was the 3rd highest in the world. Source: World Health Organisation (WHO).
 Singapore’s life expectancy (LE) at birth was 83.1 years in 2017, compared to 78.0 years in 2000. Similarly, health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE), which adjusts for the number of years lived in good health, has increased steadily, from 69.9 years in 2000 to 74.2 years in 2017. Source: Singapore Department of Statistics (LE) and Global Burden of Disease study (HALE).
 The employment rate of those aged 55-64 increased from 57% in 2008 to 67% in 2018. Source: Ministry of Manpower (MOM).