More perks to tackle baby shortage

SINGAPORE - There is a spike in the birth rate every 12 years, but the overall trend is a downward one.

Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong in his National Day Rally speech, when presenting the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Singapore over the past few decades, said that this is a worrisome problem. Last year, TFR hit a low of 1.2, far below the replacement rate of 2.1.

PM Lee said that a visiting Asian politician once offered a 'solution' for this problem: "Why don't you have more blackouts?" The audience at the University Cultural Centre, where the Rally is held, burst into laughter.

The Prime Minister noted that the solution to the shortage of babies is not as simple as that. More Singaporeans are getting married at a later age, and more married Singaporeans are choosing not to have babies.

The Government will continue to look into ways in which to encourage married couples to have children. For example, housing priorities will be given to couples with children. The Government will also create a Medisave account for each newborn and place a small sum of money in the account.

While the Prime Minister is open to allowing for paid paternity leave, he ruled out extending maternity leave from the current four months to six months.

He jokingly said: "Please use paternity leave for the purpose it is given", drawing more laughs from the audience.

PM Lee also sought the views of others: What would make them want to have more children?

The answer: Work-life balance.

PM Lee acknowledged that work-life balance wasn't something within his power to give. It stems from the mentality of employers, employees, and society at large.

Technology, too, plays a part. Being connected 24/7 is a "marvellous" thing, he said, but he warned that it could also be detrimental to one's wellbeing.

ayxhy@sph.com.sg

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