Policies marginalise and discriminate
March 19, 1998.
A Singaporean perspective
"Unless the needs of singles are adequately addressed and taken into account when policies are made, we are only paying lip service to family values."
THE percentage of singles in Singapore appears to be growing. In 1995 there were 183,544 singles between the ages of 30 and 49 in Singapore - about 17 percent of the population in that age group. Like their married counterparts, singles contribute to society and family life. However, despite this and their considerable numbers, singles have, to a degree, over the years, been marginalised and discriminated by certain policies, practices and attitudes.
The following are some examples:
SINGLES may want to live on their own for various reasons. Their present living quarters may be too cramped; there may be friction at home among family members; they may want more freedom and independence.
Private housing is beyond the means of the majority of singles. Public housing is more within their reach.
But only singles aged 35 or older are allowed to buy HDB flats. Furthermore, they are not entitled to subsidised housing. They are restricted to buying resale flats which are often more expensive than new subsidised flats.
A single can buy a three-room or smaller resale flat in an area away from the city on his or her own. Two or more singles can jointly buy a resale flat of any size anywhere.
From June 1, 1998, a single buying a resale flat on his or her own will get a $15,000 CFP housing grant while two or more singles who buy a flat jointly will get a maximum grant of $30,000.
The grant does make a resale flat more affordable, but the amount may not match the difference in price between a resale flat and a new subsidised flat.
The grant given to singles is also less than that given to married couples. Married couples who are first-time HDB flat buyers opting for a resale flat instead of a new one get a $40,000 CPF housing grant, more than the $30,000 two singles would jointly get.
Married couples get an even higher grant of $50,000 if their flat is near their parents' homes. The aim of this is to encourage them to live near their parents. In contrast, there is no increase in the grant for a single who lives near his or her parents.
The grant that singles get also has several conditions attached to it.
The singles must not have enjoyed any housing subsidy before. Their combined incomes must not exceed $8000 a month. They must not own private property nor have disposed of one within 30 months before applying for their flat.
The resale flats purchased under this singles' grant scheme are considered direct-purchase flats. This means the owners must live in the flat for at least five years before they can sell it or invest in private residential property. If the single gets married, he or she can apply for a new flat only after 10 years from the time he or she had bought the resale flat.
In another HDB policy, single owners who live in flats due for redevelopment will have new four -room HDB flats allocated to them. But unlike families affected by the redevelopment, singles will not enjoy the 20 percent discount (subject to a cap of $30,000), off the price of these new flats.
The single is thus penalised for his/her status.
[Note: See Straits Times
March 19, 1998.
How the new scheme works]
UNWED mothers are not able to buy HDB flats unless they are above 35 years. While a young unwed mother and her children constitute a family unit it is not the kind that is acceptable to the government and certain sectors of society.
There must be extenuating reasons why an unwed mother chooses not to get married or live with her family. It is already difficult for a mother to bring up her children single-handedly. Such a policy makes it harder for her to shoulder her responsibilities. Women in dire circumstances might be forced to take the seemingly easier way out - abortion.
WORKING women with children are allowed to claim twice the total amount of the monthly levy they pay for a domestic helper for the year to be deducted from their taxes.
For example, the monthly levy that has to be paid to the government for employing a domestic worker is $345. The total levy for the year works out to be $4140. A working woman who has children and employs a domestic helper enjoys an income tax relief of twice the amount, that is, $8280.
The government's stated objective in providing the relief has been primarily to encourage women with higher skills to remain in the workforce and have children.
Singles who employ domestic helpers to look after their aged parents while they go out to work are not entitled to such a tax deduction. Are the elderly less important than young children? Are singles less deserving of such a relief?
SOME companies have medical benefits such as hospitalisation and outpatient treatment which married employees can also claim for their spouse and children. Singles, however, are not allowed to claim these benefits for their family members who may be dependent on them. Why shouldn't singles especially those who stay with their parents be entitled to claim benefits for them? There may be technical difficulties and extra costs incurred in implementing such a scheme, but the benefits arising from it would be certainly be appreciated by singles supporting their dependent parents.
IN the civil service, women are allowed to take no-pay leave to look after their children. Singles, however, are not allowed to take no-pay leave to look after their aged parents.
OFTEN, the mentality of family members is that the responsibility and burden of looking after the aged should fall on the singles by virtue of the fact that they do not have children of their own. They are expected to spend more time, energy and money catering to the needs of the aged. In extreme cases, singles may even resign from their job to look after their parents who are ill and immobile. In such cases the singles' independence would be restricted as they would have to rely on the rest of the family to provide for them monetarily
Singles are willing to look after their aged parents. However, they should not be left to shoulder the responsibility on their own. Married siblings should be aware of the need of their single siblings to have adequate rest from the heavy load of tending to the aged. They should visit their parents more often and give the singles a well-earned break. It would be a great help if they could voluntarily extend a hand to look after their parents.
Suport and Recognition
THE basis and thrust of the some government policies mentioned above is the promotion of marriage and children, the judicious allocation of scarce resources and the curbing of dependence on foreign domestic helpers.
While these policies may be valid and necessary to some extent, they can give rise to or reinforce attitudes and mentalities that run counter to family values like concern, mutual respect, communication and commitment.
Unless the needs of singles are adequately addressed and taken into account when policies are made, we are only paying lip service to family values. How much mutual respect is there in a family if the worth and the needs of singles are considered less important than those of their married siblings?
The understanding of what family means should be deepened. Having a family should not be equated solely with having a spouse and children. A single person has parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives, some of whom might depend on them financially and emotionally because they are not married.
Singles pay their dues in income tax and should enjoy similar tax reliefs available to their married counterparts. They should also be given similar economic and financial support.
Singles should not be penalised for their status even if this occurs inadvertently. Their contribution to family and society should be recognised and the worth of singles to society should not be underestimated.