Singapore couples offered bigger perks for more babies

August 21st, 2008 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Singapore, Aug 21 (DPA) In a desperate attempt to convince couples to have more babies, Singapore’s government is offering a bonanza of tax benefits, leaves and other perks starting January.The 1.6-billion-Singapore-dollar ($1.1 billion) package outlined in the media Thursday will benefit all parents.

Encouraging more births has been a national priority since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong focussed on the escalating problem of low birth rates in 2004. The current fertility rate of 1.29 is far from the replacement level of 2.1.

The dwindling birthrate and rise in childless couples in Southeast Asia’s wealthiest nation has been an ongoing cause for alarm. Leaders have pointed out the insufficient number of live births also threatens future economic, labour and defence requirements.

An initial set of incentives introduced four years ago failed to make a significant difference.

The idea is to create a “family-friendly” Singapore, The Straits Times quoted Deputy Prime Minister Wan Kan Seng as saying.

Wong, the minister in charge of population issues, acknowledged that “getting married and having children is a very personal matter…What the government can do is to create a more family-friendly environment.”

The population of 4.6 million is composed of 25 percent who are foreigners, and the government is encouraging more to come and make the city-state their home.

Under the incentives in the latest package, parents can claim 4,000 Singapore dollars ($2,857) in child tax relief, instead of the current 2,000 Singapore dollars.

Working mothers can claim more: 15 percent for the first child instead of five percent.

In total, the amount parents can claim for a child each year has doubled to 50,000 Singapore dollars ($35,714).

A bigger cash “Baby Bonus” will be given for the first and second child; 4,000 Singapore dollars ($2,857 US dollars) instead of 3,000 Singapore dollars.

Paid maternity leave will increase from 12 to 16 weeks for mothers.

The government will also pay part of the cost for fertility treatments for women under 40.

Population planners have pointed out that no country has been able to lift its fertility rate to the replacement level after it plunged to 1.29.

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