(Delivered in Parliament on 7 March 2018)
Eldercare Leave – Chen Show Mao
On the subject of eldercare leave for employees caring for their parents, the Minister announced last month that the Ministry is prepared to study the idea in consultation with the tripartite partners, though we should also give businesses some time to adjust and adapt to recent enhancements in family leave. As the Ministry looks into the matter of eldercare leave for caregivers who are also employed in full-time or part-time jobs, I’d like to urge that it also consider ways of providing assistance to those caregivers who are not.
In many ways, informal (or unpaid) caregivers enable other Singaporeans to carry out the economic activities that are counted in our GDP, while their own caregiving is not. As of now, the burden of informal caregiving falls disproportionately on women. Our dependence on this group of Singaporeans is real, substantial and very often unacknowledged. Eldercare leave could well help relieve some of the pressure on informal caregivers who also work at other jobs. But almost half of our informal caregivers to seniors do not work at other jobs, often because of the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that they have taken on, to their financial detriment and reduced retirement adequacy.
Would the government consider measures such as CPF top-ups for full-time informal caregivers in low-income households, to reduce the pressure of being under-employed and under-prepared for retirement as a result of taking on the responsibilities of caring for their loved seniors?
Childcare Facilities in New Estates – Png Eng Huat
Sir, like many residents, I welcome new estates for its inclusiveness in providing much needed facilities like senior activity centres and child care centres at the void deck. Residents at the two new estates in Hougang spoke of the convenience of having such facilities within a stone’s throw from where they live. Some young parents told me part of the reasons they bought a flat in these estates was predicated on the availability of child care facility in the neighbourhood.
However, the number of places available at these child care centres are limited, due in part to the high demand, and also to the size of the centre. Thus, some residents were disappointed to find out that despite having a child care centre next door, enrolment is not a given. Some residents shared that they even attempted to apply for a place for their children before these centres were completed or way before the centres opened their doors for registration, but were always met with a waiting list.
In March 2015, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) was reported to have said that the agency does monitor local demand and work closely with the HDB on the issue of child care places. It said, and I quote, “In new estates with more young families, childcare centres are pre-built into new Build-To-Order developments to cater to demand ahead of time”.
Thus, I would like to find out from the ministry whether such demands are adequately met in the new estates? Furthermore, in the planning for such highly sought after facilities, could the ministry ensure that residents living nearest to these child care centres get some priority for admission? This arrangement should be applied to anchor operators especially since they are given subsidies and grant to operate child care centres for the sole purpose of serving the new estates and the surrounding community.
Guarding against rising childcare and Infant Care Fees – Pritam Singh
Chairman, parents who send their children to anchor operator My First Skool were hit by the news of another school fee hike this year of between $6 and $33 for childcare and $5 and $20 for infant care. The hikes this year come hot on the heels of similar hikes by My First Skool in 2013, 2015 and 2016, which cumulatively mean that it now costs $100 a month or more and more than $1200 a year to enroll a child into Mr First Skool. Chairman, these hikes hit the middle-income the hardest. They may also be a disincentive to some couples who many want to have more children. Even though the absolute increase is below the fee cap established by the Ministry, four fee hikes since 2013 appear to suggest that the fee cap can operate as a shield to raise prices particularly when parents do not have a clear idea for the reasons behind the price hikes.
In 2015, I asked the Ministry if it would provide a breakdown of the cost components to justify fee-hikes by childcare operators. This was rejected. Ironically, NTUC which owns My First Skool recently called for higher childcare subsidies to help middle income parents.
Can the Ministry share details on the cost pressures impacting anchor-operators in the child and infant care space, and how does the Ministry check on the basis and justification for fee-hikes, particularly from anchor operators who would benefit the most from economies of scale?
Youths in the Criminal Justice System – Sylvia Lim
Singapore has acceded to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which defines children as persons below the age of 18. Being a signatory, Singapore is obliged to take all measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the Convention.
Our Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) currently only protects youths up to the age of 16 years. This means that youths between 16 and 18 years old do not enjoy the Act’s protections, such as not having their particulars published in the media and having more rehabilitative sentencing options.
In February 2017, an inter-agency committee chaired by the Attorney-General’s Chambers submitted a number of recommendations to the government, including the recommendation to raise the CYPA cut off age from 16 to 18. One year on, has the government come to any conclusions on doing so, and when will this be effected? If not, what are some issues the government is grappling with?
Office of the Public Guardian – Sylvia Lim
According to Section 31 of the Mental Capacity Act, the Public Guardian has a total of eleven functions that are geared towards enabling and protecting persons who lack mental capacity. These functions include setting up and maintain a register of Lasting Powers of Attorney (“LPA”), setting up and maintaining a register of court orders that appoint deputies, receiving reports from donees and deputies, and investigating any alleged violation of any provision in the Mental Capacity Act, including complaints about the way in which donees and deputies are exercising their powers.
Given the many onerous functions of the Public Guardian, I would like to find out how many staff work in the OPG and whether there is enough manpower to handle the work. To illustrate, the OPG has in recent months written to applicants to register LPAs that it would take longer than the preferred 15 to 20 working days to review their applications. I know of one case where an LPA was sent to the OPG in November for registration, but three months on, the donor has yet to receive the registered LPA. Such delays might also have serious consequences, if the donor’s mental state is fast deteriorating and he becomes mentally incapable while his LPA application is pending registration by the OPG*.
I am concerned that if the function of registration is already backlogged, how does the OPG carry out the other more difficult functions, such as investigating alleged violations of the Act?
I also note from the OPG’s website that there is a list of Revoked LPAs that is updated periodically. As at 28 February 2018, the number of Revoked LPAs was recorded as 1,841. Does the Ministry know what the common reasons were for the donors to revoke their LPAs? Do these reasons indicate that there is some lack of understanding of how the LPA works?
* MSF has clarified that the validity of LPA would not be affected by any delay in registration.