Singapore to pay would-be parents for babies as virus drags on

The govt’s baby bonus provides eligible parents up to RM30,420 in benefits

SINGAPORE • Singapore is set to provide a one-off payment to support parents looking to have a baby in an effort to ease people’s financial burden amid job layoffs and wage cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have received feedback that Covid-19 has caused some aspiring parents to postpone their parenthood plans,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday. “To help with expenses during this period, we will introduce a one-off additional support for newborns.”

Heng didn’t immediately give any further details about the measure or how it might be implemented. He said details will be announced at a later date.

Any additional support will come on top of the government’s baby bonus, which is meant to encourage Singaporeans to have more children and provides eligible parents up to S$10,000 (RM30,420) in benefits. The island nation is facing its worst-ever economic crisis because of the pandemic, and job and wage cuts could further hurt its fertility rate, already one of the lowest in the world.

Singapore’s fertility rate touched an eight-year low in 2018, government data show, and the rate of 1.14 (or 1.14 births per woman) remained unchanged last year.

Neighbouring Philippines has the opposite problem. There, unintended pregnancies are forecast to spike by almost half to 2.6 million if Covid-induced movement restrictions remain until year-end, the United Nations Population Fund said last month.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s budget will likely be challenging for a number of years as officials look to balance fiscal sustainability with generous aid amid a long recovery and signalled that higher taxes may be on the line.

Operating revenues this financial year will probably be 16% lower than the government estimated in February, Heng said in the same address to Parliament yesterday. That’ll mean less money coming in, even as the government pledged to spend to help households and businesses during what’s set to be the worst recession since independence.

“We expect our revenue position to be weak for a number of years as the effects of Covid-19 on the global economy linger and our economy slows,” said Heng, who is also the finance minister. “We will have to find ways to fund these sustainably — higher taxes, and more effective spending.”

Singapore has pledged about S$100 billion in stimulus measures to fight the effects of the pandemic, separated in five announcements through mid-August that included wage subsidies, digital transformation initiatives, reskilling operations and cash grants.

The government is projecting a budget deficit of S$74.2 billion for this fiscal year after earning presidential approval to draw some S$52 billion from past reserves to fund the virus aid. Heng said yesterday that the total draw on past reserves remains within that amount. The government now estimates operating revenue will be S$63.7 billion; S$12.3 billion lower than projected in February, according to Ministry of Finance data. — Bloomberg