Madam Chair, let me first thank all members of the House who have spoken passionately about the family as an institution and as the bedrock of our society.
We are in good shape today. Over 90% of people surveyed said that family is the most important aspect of their lives. Having said that, I don’t think we should take this for granted. The stresses from rapid and volatile economic cycles and the challenges from alternative value systems, will continue to challenge the family as an institution in our society.
Let me share the 3 areas of focus for MSF this year, in terms of strengthening the family. The first is encouraging and promoting family formation and child development. I will spend some time explaining the child care industry to the members of the House. The second is how we promote a pro-family mindset and strengthen family education for all life stages. And finally, the third is how we support vulnerable families.
Family Formation and Child Development
Marriage and Parenthood
Let me begin with the first thrust, on supporting family formation. To help Singaporeans meet their family aspirations, the Government announced new and enhanced Marriage & Parenthood measures last month. For example, the Ministry of National Development (MND), has announced various measures to help family formation and we welcome that. MSF will continue to work with other agencies to deliver other measures including the Enhanced Baby Bonus, and legislate the new schemes like paternity and shared parental leave, which will come into effect from the first of May this year.
Having spoken to many couples intending to get married and have children, we know that financial consideration is one of their top concerns. But beyond financial considerations, I think what is uppermost in their minds when they decide to have a child, are also two other very important considerations.
One is healthcare for their child. All of us who are parents know that so long as we are blessed with a healthy child, we cannot ask for much more. This is where the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) initiative to cover neo-natal conditions will come in helpful.
The second thing that is very crucial to many of our young parents is the quality of care and education. Many have said that they do not want to bring a child into this world if they are not confident of bringing up the child well. And we can understand that. This is why MSF and MOE are committed to build an accessible, affordable and quality childhood development sector, to holistically develop our children’s potential, not just preparing them for primary school, not just preparing them to pass and excel in academic subjects, but to equip them with the socio-emotional skills, the motor skills, and most importantly, to ignite in them the passion to learn, and the spirit of enquiry. This is what we hope to do.
Yesterday, Minister Heng Swee Keat has shared some of these initiatives and today, I will share more about the child care sector.
Madam Chair, if I may have your permission to flash out Chart One. Today, for children five to six years old, almost 100% of them attend kindergarten. This was 95% four years ago. The last 4 to 5% which we have managed to achieve in the last four years was not easy. It took tremendous efforts on the part of the educators, grassroots volunteers and leaders to seek out the last few percentage of children who did not attend kindergarten. Many of them did not previously attend kindergarten because they thought they could not afford it. They were afraid. But for many Members in this House who have walked the ground, you will know that today, no one will be deprived of a kindergarten education because they cannot afford it. They can always join one of the anchor operators, like PAP Community Foundation or NTUC. One of the conditions, of being the anchor operator is to make sure that they cater to and take in the children who are unable to pay for the kindergarten services. So I would like to thank all the volunteers, including the grassroots volunteers, grassroots leaders, who have walked the ground and visited their blocks to make sure that no child is left without kindergarten education. This is an ongoing effort. The fact that we are almost 100% today does not mean that we will be in this happy situation tomorrow. I must say that today, one of the roles of the anchor operator is to make sure they take in people from all walks of life, including those who are unable to pay for it.
What about children from five to six years old using child care services? Four years ago, the percentage of five to six years old who used child care services was 19%. Four years later today, it stands at 34%, which has almost doubled. For children who are 18 months to 4 years old, the figure was 23% four years ago from 2004 to 2008. Today, it stands at 36%. Both of these figures show a tremendous and significant increase in the demand for child care services.
The question is, why is this demand growing so fast and so quickly. I believe there are four main drivers.
First, as of today, many families are dual income families. Many of our females desire to go back into the labour force and pursue their career. Our female labour force participation rate for females aged 25 to 54 has increased from 65% in 2001 to 76% today. We have one of the highest female labour force participation rate in the world. This is good news. Our females are highly educated, have the capabilities and want to continue to pursue their careers. And that is why we must give options to our young parents, male or female, this option to place their children in good, affordable quality and accessible child care. I am not saying that everybody should put their children in child care. But for those who desire, we will try to make sure that they will have a place.
Second, our social norms have changed. Grandparents are less available to help us take care of our children now. Many of them either live further away from their children or they have their own life pursuits. Child care services have also become much more accessible because of the quality of both the teachers and the centres. Many parents have provided feedback to us that they are now much more willing to consider child care as an option.
Third, Government has also made access to child care more affordable. At this point, I would like to clarify that all parents, regardless of working status are supported through basic subsidies. They are also supported by other forms of assistance such as the Baby Bonus and Child Development Account matched savings scheme which are used to defray child care expenses. Working parents receive additional support as they need to send their children to full-day child care programmes, which are generally more expensive. As part of our recent subsidy enhancements, larger families can also qualify based on the per capita income. The application process has also been simplified. Now, people do not have to go to the Community Development Councils or CDCs to apply for child care financial assistance. You only need to go to the child care centre to fill up the form.
If I may just reply to Mr Gerald Giam, we agree with Mr Giam that student care is a continuation of child care. Yesterday, Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that we will step up the provision of student care in the schools. We also agree that student care services should also be provided in the community. There are advantages to having student care in the school. The children do not need to travel long distances to the student care centres in the community.. There are also other advantages. And I would also just like to add that 400 student care centres are already administering the student care subsidy so we will continue to expand this.
Now, let me go on to the fourth factor as to why the child care demand has increased so substantially. Someone asked me: why do you build more child care centres when our Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is decreasing. This is a chicken and egg problem. Singaporeans may not have children because they feel that there is no adequate child care provision. This way, we get ourselves into a vicious cycle - not enough child care options and therefore no children. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would rather err on the side of caution, where I provide more choices for young parents who consider child care as a viable option.
This is why we will continue to build child care centres to meet the demand of our new generation of young parents. And we agree that this generation’s demand is different from the last generation. For the last generation, most of us grew up in our own homes. Today, many of us are dual income families and that’s why we need more child care facilities.
We are taking action to meet this demand and to even plan ahead to meet future demand. Which is why, we have embarked on the new Child Care Masterplan to build on the success of the previous 2008 Child Care Masterplan.
From 2005 to 2008, there was a 10% increase in the total child care capacity. From 2009 to 2012, our child care capacity increased by 45%, almost double. In the original Masterplan in 2008, we planned to build 200 centres in five years. In the end, we built 265 centres in about four plus years.
Having said that, the demand for child care is still strong. The enrolment rate of our centres is about 80%. Once the child care centres fill up to beyond 80%, it is an indication of a potential demand for new child care centres in the locality. We will usually not fill all centres up to 100% as we should retain some spare capacity for contingencies and for shifts in demand. We also need to cater for contingencies whereby one or two child care centres may be shut down temporarily because of an outbreak of disease and so forth.
There are also local hotspots, especially in the new towns where there are many more new and younger couples. The demand for child care services is very strong. Some of the existing centres have enrolment over 85%. For example, Punggol currently has 22 centres. We will be building 15 more in the next two years. In Woodlands, there are currently 49 centres. We will be building 10 more in the next two years. And in the coming year, my officers will be going constituency by constituency, division by division, to meet up with the local grassroots leaders to identify the sites and to get support from them to build more centres.
If we look at the experiences of other countries, it is quite telling. The demand for child care follows an ‘S’ curve. When incomes and education levels are relatively low, the demand for child care is not very high. It comes to a point when the growing middle class, growing number of women returning to the workforce and growing quality of child care services, where we will see a sharp demand. We are at this stage. The demand will eventually taper off as the number of women going back to the workforce stabilises.
So in the next five-year Masterplan, from 2013 to 2017, we will aim to change child care provision from the current one in three children for every cohort, to one in two, and provide full day child care places for these children aged 18 months to 6 years old. This will require us to build 20,000 more places to meet this target.
There are two main challenges to meet this demand -- sites and teachers. These are challenges that many Members of this House have identified.
Let me talk about sites. If I may show a second slide, Madam Chair. We have plans to work with the Ministry of National Development (MND) to in-build the child care centres into new BTO flats, new car parks, and so forth. Pre-building in new BTOs is a longer term plan.
The short term plan is to not only look for void decks to convert into child care centres, but also explore all sorts of innovative ideas including the conversion of disused facilities. On the screen you can see the conversion of one former swimming complex in Bukit Merah, which is now Eager Beaver School House. Another one is at the former Serangoon bus interchange, and you can see the artist’s impression of the new child care centre that will be ready soon. We have also converted a bank to a child care centre in Taman Jurong. So if Members have other innovative ideas on where you would like to build your child care centres, let us know and we will work on it. I have heard other innovative ideas from Ms Penny Low to build centres in parks, green spaces or temporary structures. We welcome all suggestions, as long as this is acceptable to the community and to the parents who entrust their children in our care. We will also co-locate with other facilities, for example car parks in Sengkang and Tanjong Pagar, and a hawker centre in Woodlands. If you have ideas, we welcome them and will work with you to make it happen.
We will increase the number of child care centres at workplaces. We will further encourage owners of private premises to make full use of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Community and Sports Facilities Scheme to provide extra gross floor area for developers so that they can partner the operators to provide more child care options for our young families. Parents usually look for child care centres in three places. One, near our own homes. Two, near our workplaces. Three, near our parents’ places. Today, out of the 1,000 child care centres, about a quarter of them are located at workplaces. We can go further. It will be wonderful to provide parents with peace of mind and they can visit their kids even during lunch time.
We will continue to ensure good quality manpower, the other challenge. I agree with Mr Ang Hin Kee. When we talk to the child care teachers, many of them do not start off by talking about pay. They are in the profession because of their passion, because they like kids and because they have a way to bring up the kids. This is highly commendable. But on the other hand, they do not wish to be seen as super nannies. They are professionals in their own right. They want to improve the image of early childhood professionals.
I think all of us as parents can do more to help. When we send our children to the child care centre, we could at least acknowledge the child care teachers and show them our appreciation. Please do not deposit the child at the child care centre and give the teacher a list of instructions, such as please make sure my child doesn’t fall down or have mosquito bites. And when we collect our children at the end of the day, again we should thank the child care teachers instead of checking whether they have mosquito bites or whether the child has fallen down. The child care teachers have told me that they can take a bit less pay, but should be given a bit more respect. And I think we can all do more to acknowledge and affirm the good work done by our child care teachers.
It is not an easy job, as all of us with children would know, especially those who have had to take care of our child at home for 24 hours. To take care of many other people’s children for at least 8 to 10 hours a day is not an easy job. So, let’s do our part to acknowledge the child care teachers who work very hard to take care of our children.
We will continue to work with the Workforce Development Agency and training agencies to expand our manpower pipelines. And we agree that we need to raise the professional image of the sector.
This is where, the structure of the sector is very important. When we have a very fragmented market like today with more than 400 operators running 1,000 child care centres, it is very difficult for individual child care centres and operators to provide a proper route of advancement and development opportunities for the child care teachers. If you run one centre, you cannot afford one or two teachers to take time off to attend training or upgrading courses. These are challenges that we have to overcome.
We also welcome suggestions from operators to maximise manpower resources in innovative ways while maintaining quality. We are talking to some of them and would like to share the best practices with the rest of the sector. I agree with Mr Ang Hin Kee that teacher qualities go beyond academic qualifications. Some may not have the necessary academic qualifications but they have a certain way with children and are able to bring them up with the correct values and the correct attitude to learning. This is what we want and we will be prepared to work with the operators to consider these deserving cases.
Now the question is, what is the correct way to structure the child care industry? Over these last two weeks, inside and outside the House, we have heard many differing views. Some call for nationalisation, others call for privatisation. Minister Heng spoke about some of the challenges of nationalisation yesterday. If we do nationalise, the question that we have to ask ourselves is whether we are able to provide the diversity required for the industry. We know that children learn very differently.
A one-size-fits-all learning method will probably not work. We want diversity and we want to give choices to our parents. We also respect the dedicated educators who set up existing kindergartens and child care centres with very innovative teaching methods. We should keep them in our system and if possible help them grow. On the other hand, some have called for privatisation with many small players in the sector, and to give equal subsidy to all operators.
We are cautious because the experience of other countries has shown that this may not work out very well. In this unregulated market, what is likely to happen, is that the top for-profit segment of the market will grow very quickly. And the middle segment for the mass market will grow the slowest. If we continue this trajectory, we will not be able to provide affordable options for the mass market. So we welcome ideas, like Mr Yee Jenn Jong’s suggestion, and we will consider them. We will announce more of these details when we are ready to call for proposals for new Anchor Operators.
The child care sector is also quite different from some other markets. Information is critical. The question is how to assess the quality of a child care service. There are no exams, and we are not suggesting having exams. But how do we assess which child care operator provides better service? The unfortunate experience in some other countries is that, when people are short of tangible evidences, they look to price as a proxy. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. High end operators attract people who can pay for the services and they produce quite good services whereas those for the mass market languish.
The other question is, beyond looking at it from the child’s perspective, how do we provide training and career development opportunities for the many teachers in this industry? This, I think, is critical. When we are too small, each by ourselves, we can’t do that. When we are too big, we also have other challenges.
MSF’s main concern is how to provide affordable and quality child care options to the mass market, to the people in the middle and lower income groups. This is not an ideological debate; there is nothing philosophical about this. We want practical solutions.
Let me share on the envisaged structure. There will be a role for various private sector operators and they can contribute to the sector. They will try different approaches to early childhood development. They will meet different needs and different aspirations of parents. Some parents will choose this option and we will support private operators in improving their services. We want to uplift the whole sector including private centres.
On the other hand, we will ensure mass market options are of good quality and affordable for the low and middle income families. If I may have your permission, Madam Chair, to show another chart. This is our situation four years ago, prior to the start of our Masterplan, and four years since the Masterplan. From 2005 to 2008, there were only seven new not-for-profit centres to cater to the mass market. There were 52 new for-profit commercial centres. My first conclusion is that the private sector is doing very well on its own. We then implemented the Masterplan to give a big push to the not for profit operators and the entire sector. In the last four years, we have 135 new not-for-profit centres catering to the mass market. In comparison, there were 132 new for-profit commercial centres. Despite the fact that the government is helping the not-for-profit operators to expand for the mass market, we can see how fast the commercial operators are growing.
Our fear and our concern is whether we will have sufficient mass market options for our middle and low income group. That is our challenge. I am quite sure the number of operators will grow. My concern is how the sector will grow. Will we end up like some countries, where there are many commercial operators providing high-end child care options but are unable to provide the mass market options?
In the UK, some studies have shown that the out-of-pocket expenditure for child care services can take up to 30% to 40% of their household income. I do not think we want that. Today, in Singapore, for each child, the out-of-pocket expense is comfortably within the single digit range. We benchmark our subsidies to ensure affordable options for the mass market so that the lower and middle income families have access to child care services.
Now let me talk about the Anchor Operator Scheme. The Anchor Operator Scheme has helped us expand the options for the middle income group. We have grown to about 130 centres and their fees are below the industry median. This is one of the criteria for the Anchor Operator scheme. So instead of chasing prices upwards, they anchor the market. 57% of the SPARK Ceritified Centres are Anchor Operators. This is a low number, and I think we can do better.
The anchor operators’ large network and better economies of scale help them to improve their operational and human resource capabilities. We want to support more anchor operators to come in, to provide quality, affordable, accessible child care services. In particular, to the middle income and the lower income groups. The niche service providers are able to meet the demand of the higher income group.
We want to have an industry wide support to ensure quality across the board. And that is where we have to focus on teaching and learning resources. If I may at this point deviate a little to clarify on what Ms Denise Phua and Mr Png Eng Huat mentioned about subsidies. Today we have full day child care subsidies, open to all, including single mums. For mothers who are not working, we have – on appeal – approved more than 400 cases, for exactly the same reasons that you have mentioned. So, if you know of anybody who may need such services, do let us know.
Let me talk about the Early Childhood Development Agency, or ECDA, and the road ahead. ECDA will commence its operations from 1 April this year. They will do three things. First, ECDA will do master planning for the entire sector, town by town, division by division, constituency by constituency , to work with the local leaders to identify possible sites. In fact, we have already identified about 80% of the sites. But there is still another 20% to go. And we want to work with the local community leaders to make this happen. Second, ECDA will focus on capability building on curriculum development and manpower development. In terms of curriculum development, together with the effort from MOE, we want to disseminate best practices, whether it is from the AOP or non-AOP, to the entire sector and level up the whole sector. And this is the way we want to push up the quality for the entire child care industry. In terms of manpower development, we will continue to source for alternative sources of manpower. These include people who might not be in the sector now, or people who might be tempted to come back on a part-time basis to help out in the sector. And there’s tremendous potential for us to do this.
We do this to make sure that we provide greater ease of operation for the operators, and that we provide peace of mind to the parents. Not just in terms of quality, but in the continuity of services, from child care to kindergarten and in time to come, to afterschool care, and beyond. We want parents to have the peace of mind so that when they have a child, they need not worry about the quality or cost of education.
Finally, children is at the centre of everything we do. We want quality programmes. We want diversity in the child care options for our children because we recognise not all children learn by the same way.
Let me take 30 seconds to tell you the story of why we called this agency the Early Childhood Development Agency. We chose this name after a long deliberation. Early Childhood Development not only encompasses Primary 1 and academic subjects. We want to remind everyone that we are developing the child, giving him or her the foundation for his or her life. And that requires much more skill sets. It requires holistic development beyond academic subjects. And we are very concerned that this is perceived as merely pre-school development. If that was the case, then we would have failed in our mission. This is something that we have to join hands and work together. It is a mindset that we all must embrace as we go forward and develop our children.
To round up the child care portion, our mantra is still the three words – affordability, accessibility and quality. That has not changed. And we will support the operators in the sector to see how we can uplift their quality. We will support all parents to ensure we have provided affordable options to them, and to provide them with peace of mind. Then they do not need to arrange for their child to attend the next ‘higher-priced’ programme, which in turn becomes an improper proxy to the quality of the programme. And most importantly, we want to make sure that as the sector develops, we continue to have affordable options for the lower and middle income groups.
Now let me move on to the second thrust of MSF’s work this year, to strengthen family, which is encouraging a pro-family mindset.
We agree with Mr Seah Kian Peng that family promotion and education goes beyond financial and material support. MSF takes a long term approach to this and we want to focus on building the foundation and the values. It will not yield results in the short term. But it is important for us in the long term. We believe that with this foundation, we will have better chances to build stronger families in the future.
In the past, we have always sought to equip ourselves with family life skills and to lead fulfilling family lives. 10 years ago, our outreach in terms of family education was 200,000 participants. Last year, we reached 1 million participants in our outreach. But we are not happy, nor are we satisfied. We know the changing socio-economic circumstances, and upcoming stressors and strains to the families. We intend to make a big push to spend $40 million dollars in the next 3 years to outreach to more than 2 million participants in terms of family life education.
We will be launching the Family Matters! Initiative. If I may call out the diagram, Madam Chair. We want to take a lifecycle approach – from the time when children are young, how we inculcate in our children and our youths the values of family life and the importance of families, to the time they go on to work, and to the time that they become a married couple.
Having gotten married is not the end of the journey and the end of the education journey. In fact at every stage of our lives, there are different stresses and strains. We need to support our married couples, our first time parents and parents with young children.
Over and above taking care of parents with teenage children, we also have to take care of those with elderly parents. Many of them need to be supported because even if they do not have children, they have elderly parents. This is the entire life cycle approach, where every life stage matters in the family education and formation. So we will synergise the family education efforts more holistically.
Family Matters! Initiative
We will introduce four initiatives. FamilyMatters@School, where we have programmes for students and parents. For example, at Princess Elizabeth Primary School, they regularly organise programmes to help children and parents bond. Through the whole process, they will understand and appreciate the value of family life and set the children on a foundation to love and appreciate the family in time to come.
In response to Mr Seah Kian Peng, about 800 schools and preschools offer programmes today. But I think we can do more and we will. At higher levels, like, Junior Colleges and Polytechnics, students do benefit from modules on relational and life skills. We will continue to push to reach out to more people. FamilyMatters@Work encourage companies to offer family education and bonding programmes. This complements the Ministry of Manpower’s work-life measures. For example, today, many companies organise programmes for singles. Many companies also organise programmes for married couples.
I always thought that once in a while, we should organise programmes that cater to the two groups, so that the singles do not feel that they are singled out and they can appreciate the joys, trials and tribulations of married life from the stories of those who have walked the journey before them. Hopefully, those who have walked the journey before them will inspire them to take that leap of faith because as all of us who have walked the journey before, married life is a leap of faith. You will never know the destination, but we can all enjoy the journey together.
Today, we have about 1,500 companies under our Family Life Ambassador Scheme. We will revamp the scheme to encourage more companies to come on board to join us. Likewise, we will leverage on the resources and the networks in the community - the People’s Association, the NGOs, the Public Agencies, the Community Clubs and the Libraries to promote Family Matters at the community so that we achieve a better work-life balance, better personal mastery and be more confident in how we build our families.
And finally, Family Matters@Businesses. We want to encourage more pro-family infrastructures, products and services. For example, today, when we go around, many places have pro-family infrastructure. Having extra car park spaces for families who have strollers and prams make a tremendous difference.
I just visited the Gardens by the Bay and could not find a car park. Finally, I drove by this blue box that said you are entitled to park here if you have strollers. I had two, so I “qualified”. That made my day.
We will build a strong pool of family life educators and invest in their professional development. This is an acquired skill. It is not easy and we will do more. This is part of the $40 million programme in the next 3 years for us to make a big push on family education.
Supporting Vulnerable Families
Let me come to the last part where I will talk about providing more support for vulnerable families.
We understand that many of these families need additional support, especially single mothers. But single mothers are not a uniform group. There are unwed single mothers, divorced single mothers, and widowed single mothers. I appreciate the appeals by Mr Seah Kian Peng, Mr Janil Puthucheary, Ms Janice Koh, Ms Mary Liew, Ms Lee Li Lian, on behalf of single parents. MND recently announced measures to support divorced and widowed single parents.
To better support their care giving responsibilities, the Government will extend infant care and child care leave provisions to unwed single parents. This means that, like other parents, single unwed parents will receive the same child care leave support – 6 days of child care leave a year for children below 7 years of age, and 2 days for those with children aged between 7 and 12. Single unwed parents will also enjoy 6 days of unpaid infant care leave if they have a child age below 2. This will come into effect on first May this year. We will continue to strive to provide better support for our families under duress.
Ms Intan Azura Binte Mokhtar, Mr Chris De Souza and Ms Foo Mee Har talked about adoption. Yes, we will like to encourage more adoptions where we can. But this is a serious undertaking concerning a child’s life and a child’s development. It is also a serious undertaking regarding family relationships. On average, we take about five months now to process an adoption case. We will see how we can simplify and strengthen the process, without compromising on the quality of assessment and care for the child. Adoptions in other countries, can take about 2 years And we will continue to strengthen our processes and learn from other countries’ best practices.
Ms Foo Mee Har and Mr Chris De Souza also talked about abortion. Every year we have about 12,000 abortions. Slightly more than half of them are by Singaporean women. Out of this, half, this means a quarter of the entire number, are Singaporean women who are married. 12,000 is the whole number, half are Singaporean women, and half of the half, are Singaporean women who are married.
Today, we have measures in place. We counsel them on the risks and implications of an abortion. And, there must be written consent from these women, which can only be given after a cooling-off period. Social service agencies provide counselling and support for these women, including guiding them on other options such as adoption.
Having said this, I must say that abortion is a very difficult and tricky topic. Social service agencies that have provided abortion counselling tell us that adoption is one of the hardest option to raise with these women. It is very difficult for the women to consider going through the pregnancy only to give the child away at birth. It is not easy.
We will work with social agencies to provide more information and support to these women so that they can make more informed choices. However, the decision to carry a baby to term, or to abort, is ultimately a deeply personal one, influenced by many important and unique factors to the individual, which we must respect. Discouraging abortion and encouraging adoption should not be seen as the solution to our TFR challenge.
Rather, we should enhance support provided for such vulnerable women and families, to help them make informed decisions. For every successful case, we rejoice. But we must also appreciate that this is something deeply personal and there are many considerations that we must respect.
Mr Ang Hin Kee talked about foreign spouses and the challenges that transnational couples face. We acknowledge these. It is not easy. Each year, 40% of our Singaporeans who marry someone who is not Singaporean. In 2011, MSF piloted marriage preparation programmes for transnational couples. It did not work and was not popular. The transnational couples provided feedback that they did not want to be singled out. So we incorporated suitable topics into mainstream marriage and preparation programmes so that we can provides some support for these couples. MSF also provides some support for couples who attend such programmes, including transnational couples.
We hope that members in this house will continue to help us to reach out to such couples, as many of them face very difficult challenges settling into a new and foreign land, and starting a family. So, there is much that we need to do to support these transnational couples.
To conclude, I think at a personal level, having a family goes beyond financial calculations. It always bothers me when someone takes out a financial sheet to calculate the pluses and minuses of having a family. I think that starts us off on the wrong track.
The tangible calculations cannot measure the intangibles of family life. Our families are our source of support purpose and anchor for our lives.
Married life is a leap of faith, a determination and a compact to walk life’s journey together. It does not come without challenges. The destination may be unknown, but for those of us who have walked it, I think the journey is definitely worthwhile.
Finally, I thank all members of the House who have spoken during the various cuts.
Actually, I never understood why it was called cuts. I was told it was called cuts because In normal parliamentary proceedings, people usually try to cut your budget.
Today, we are in a comfortable position on 2 counts, at least for MSF.
Today, nobody in this House has stood up and said that they want to cut our social budget. All of us want to do more. But we must also bear in mind that this may not be in this happy situation forever. As economic growth slows, the competition for scarce resources will intensify, I hope to have your support to continue this journey together. I hope that, year after year, we can come back here and have adds and not cuts. But we must be realistic.
Second, we are in a comfortable position because many of you, have stepped forward and joined the circle of support for all our weak, our vulnerable, our needy. This is not easy. We want to sustain this. We don’t want to end up in a situation where everybody is only looking after themselves. We don’t want to end up with an “I, me, myself” mentality, not having to care for my fellow man, my fellow neighbour, my fellow person in the community.
So today, I think we are in good shape. But let us not take this for granted. I look forward to walking this journey with all members of the House.
Thank you very much.