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Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for MSF and MOE at 2021 Budget Debates, 25 February 2021

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Committee of Supply, Women Empowerment, Financial Assistance & Social Support, Children & Families, Disability Services, Protection from Domestic Violence

Budget 2021 Supports Women

A.        Introduction

1          Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to speak on how Budget 2021 supports our Singapore women.

2          The Singapore Government is fully committed to the advancement of all Singapore women.

3          In 1961, the Legislative Assembly of Singapore debated the Women’s Charter and subsequently institutionalised the rights and protection of women and girls via the Women’s Charter. The Women’s Charter celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

4          We have a longstanding commitment to building a society of equal opportunities where all Singaporeans, including women, can achieve their full potential.

5          And statistics reflect our progress. In 2019, the literacy rate for women was 96.1%, and of residents aged 25 years and above and having a university degree, 50.8% are women. As Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam earlier mentioned, in 2020, the employment rate for women was 73.2%.

6          But we can always do more to further support and uplift the women in our midst. COVID-19 has brought challenges to women, from increasing the stress of caregiving for some, to increasing financial instability or risk of violence for others.

7          I will like to touch on how Budget 2021 builds on continuing efforts to support women and their families by (1) supporting women in caregiving, (2) supporting vulnerable women, and (3) supporting women in their career aspirations.

B.      Supporting women as they care for their loved ones

8          Our women often play important roles as caregivers in our families, and we want to support them in caring for their loved ones.

9          The Government is increasing its annual spending on the early childhood sector to over $2 billion per annum, within the next few years. These efforts help women, by giving women real choices, as they give women peace of mind should they decide to go back to work when they have a young child.

10         To ensure accessible, affordable and quality preschools, the Government has expanded preschool capacity, and is on track to reach 200,000 preschool places by 2023.

11         Families are also now paying less for preschools. We have enhanced preschool subsidies from Jan 2020, and appointed more preschools on the Partner Operator scheme with lowered fee caps for all Singaporean children from Jan 2021. Taken together, this means that a Singaporean child will receive about $50,000 in Government funding over five years when the child enrols in a full-day childcare programme with one of the Anchor Operators. Low- and middle-income families can additionally receive up to $28,000 in means-tested childcare subsidies.

12         Budget 2021 builds on these efforts and goes further. We know that caregivers with young children with developmental needs may find it even more challenging to care for their children. We have thus announced that in Budget 2021, we are stepping up efforts to better support young children with developmental needs.

a.         The Government currently provides government-funded early intervention, or EI, services to about 5,600 children below age 7 with developmental needs. Of these, 1,900 children are served in the Development Support Learning Support, or DS-LS, and Development Support Plus, or DS-Plus, programmes delivered in preschools, while 3,700 children are served in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, or EIPIC, delivered in EI centres.

b.         Currently, about 75% of children, aged 3–6 years old, who attend EIPIC provided at EI centres, also attend preschools. These ‘dual schoolers’ shuttle between the preschool and EI centre 2-3 times a week.

c.         I co-chair the Inclusive Preschool Workgroup and the workgroup had engaged about 900 participants, including parents on their views regarding inclusion and support for children with developmental needs.

i.         In an online survey, parents and caregivers, the majority being mothers, rated travelling time between preschools and EI centres as being among their top 3 concerns.

ii.        The caregivers shared with us the strain of having to shuttle their children between the preschool and the EI centre multiple times a week, and their concern being their children’s development when they are in preschool.

d.         We have thus announced in Budget 2021 that we are piloting a new ‘Inclusive Support Programme”, or InSP, where there will be in-school support for children who require up to medium levels of EI support.

i.         This will allow the children to meaningfully participate alongside their typically developing peers and reduce caregiving burden and stress, which arise when shuttling the children between the two centres.

ii.        Typically developing children and their families will also benefit from enhanced teacher training, and development of stronger social skills from a young age.

e.         The InSP pilot will be launched at a few selected preschools. And if successful, we hope to expand the InSP to more preschools, and lighten the load for mothers who care for children with developmental needs.

13         For caregivers of Persons with Disabilities, or PWDs, the Enabling Masterplan 3 had highlighted the need to improve caregivers’ well-being and enhance their caregiving capabilities, including by creating more peer support and informal support networks.

a.         We have thus introduced the SG Together Alliance for Action, or SG Together AfA, on Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities. Through this, NCSS and SG Enable will work with the community to tackle the pressing issue of supporting caregivers of persons with disabilities.

b.         For a start, the SG Together AfA on Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities will focus on self-help and mutual support. SG Enable will identify stakeholders who have common interests in peer mentorship and other informal forms of informal support, and shape and coordinate their efforts.

c.         If successful, a similar approach can be adopted to support other caregivers as well.

C.         Supporting women who may be more vulnerable

14         Next, I would like to touch on supporting women who may be more vulnerable.

15         COVID-19 has brought many challenges to families, with incomes and lifestyles impacted, all of which can lead to conflict within the families and in serious cases, family violence.

16         MSF’s Adult and Child Protective Services saw a 40% increase in the number of average monthly enquiries between January and October 2020, as compared to the same period in 2019. Though not all enquiries are related to family violence, and they include repeat calls by the same individuals, or multiple callers reporting the same incidents, we have to keep a close watch on these trends.

17         The launch of the National Anti-Violence Helpline, or NAVH, a few days ago, is a reflection of government and community partnership in tackling family violence together. The NAVH is the first integrated helpline for the reporting of family violence and other forms of violence, abuse and neglect. The NAVH operates 24/7, all year round to make it easier for victims of violence and abuse, members of the public and professionals to seek help.

18         The Taskforce on Family Violence, that I co-chair with MOS A/P Mohammad Faishal, has also studied the landscape and possible causes of family violence and we will be putting up recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs and Law and the Minister of Social and Family Development.

19         The Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development was launched in Sep 2020 to take a comprehensive look at issues that impact women at home, workplaces, schools and the community. Participants in the Conversations have raised the issue of what the approach to punishment should be for hurt and sexual offences. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law have reviewed the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences, and a Ministerial Statement will be made at a later date.

20         We are cognizant of the fact that regardless the progress SG women have made on many fronts, we must continue to guarantee the physical protection and well-being of our women and girls.

21         COVID-19 has also impacted the incomes of women, and we have introduced various forms of assistance, to help those who need help over this difficult period.

a.         In 2020, we introduced the Temporary Relief Fund and the COVID-19 Support Grant, to tide Singaporeans through the financial impact of COVID-19. Given COVID-19’s protracted economic impact, in January 2021, we launched the COVID-19 Recovery Grant. All in all, about 210,000 of our working women have benefitted from financial support through these schemes. A budget measure may thus not be explicitly targeted at women but it is no less impactful and meaningful for them.

22         And as announced by DPM Heng in the Budget Statement, we will be introducing a Household Support Package, or HSP, in order to provide additional support for families, during this time of economic uncertainty.

a.         Lower- to middle-income families will receive more, and this includes women who lack family support, such as elderly females who live alone.

D.         Supporting women in the workplace and in their career aspirations

23         Even as we support our women for their needs and guarantee their protection and well-being, we also want to support them in achieving their aspirations.

24         Many women and men, as part of the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development have shared feedback on how women can be supported in the workplace and in their career aspirations, such as having more women in corporate leadership positions and putting in place formal and informal mentorship and networking platforms for women leaders to support and learn from each other.

25         The Council for Board Diversity, or CBD, is one such platform, set up by the MSF, to look into having more women on boards. The CBD promotes sustained increases in the number of women on boards of SGX-listed companies, statutory boards and Institutions of a Public Character, or IPCs, by encouraging organisations to be more diverse and proactively identifying and grooming potential board-ready women.

a.         Our women leaders play key roles in our IPCs, as leaders or board members. And our IPCs have stepped up support during the COVID-19 period. The Government is strongly supporting such efforts through various Budget 2021 initiatives such as the extension of tax deductions for donations to IPCs.

E.       Closing

26         Mr Speaker Sir, in Mandarin please.

27         新加坡政府致力于提高所有新加坡女性的地位。

28         1961年,立法议会就《妇女宪章》展开辩论,并通过《妇女宪章》法令,以保护妇女和女童的权利,今年我们庆祝《妇女宪章》立法60周年。

29         但时代的变迁也带来了新的挑战,我们必须继续努力,确保女性的进步。

30         冠病疫情给一些家庭带来很大的压力,在一些极端的情况下,甚至导致对女性的家庭暴力。我与内政部政务部长费绍尔共同主持的防止家庭暴力工作小组,将对 “如何进一步提高人们对家庭暴力和求助渠道的认识”,提出建议并完善程序,以确保受害者获得及时和有效的帮助,并检讨对施暴者采取的干预措施。

31         我们也关注女性受到性骚扰伤害和犯罪问题,内政部和律政部已在检讨判刑框架,并会发表部长声明。

32         我们也关注冠病疫情对女性和她们生计造成的影响。通过短期援助基金,冠病疫情薪金补贴以及刚推出的冠病疫情复苏津贴计划,约21万名在职女性在这段艰难的时期获得了经济援助。

33         正如王瑞杰副总理在财政预算案声明中所宣布的,我们将推出一系列的家庭援助配套,中低收入家庭将获得更多援助。这也将让那些经济能力有限和缺乏家庭支持的独居年长女性受惠。

34         有孩子或有看护责任的女性,也将从包容性辅助计划获得更多支持,这项计划为有中等发展需要的孩子提供托儿中心的支持,减轻她们的看护负担。

35         2021年财政预算案建立在过去支持女性及其家庭的政策基础上,我们希望与各方携手合作,打造一个公平和包容的社会,让女性获得支持,帮助她们发挥最大的潜能。

36         In closing, the 2021 Budget will continue to support our women in the roles they play, and provide support for those who need it.

37         We have dedicated 2021 as the Year of Celebrating SG Women and I hope you will join us in celebrating the different roles our women play, in our families, for our economy, and in our society. Mr Speaker, Sir, I stand in support of the budget. Thank you.