Keep Your Low-income, Working-class Babies to Yourself

September 15, 2008

“The Baby Bonus cash incentives for parents will be extended beyond the fifth child. In his Rally speech, Mr Lee sketched the philosophy behind the changes. He had arrived at his conclusions after numerous discussion with focus groups and dating agencies, he said.”

(The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2008, “More help bringing up baby”, by Li Xueying;


“The Baby Bonus scheme will not be extended to the fifth child and beyond. This was said by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon in response to a question from MP Lee Bee Wah of Ang Mo Kio GRC in Parliament on Monday.”

 (Channel NewsAsia, 15 Sept 2008, “Baby bonus scheme will not be extended to 5th child and beyond”;


It is hard to remember a more blatant U-turn. Under the media attention and fanfare that accompanies the National Day Rally, PM Lee announces with a flourish that the baby bonus will be extended to the 5th child and beyond. A month later, upon the urging of a MP, the MoS for MCYS Yu-Foo nervously clarifies that this is not going to happen. Her exact words were:

For those low-income (families), I do agree that they face a financial difficulty, but it is a policy that we don’t encourage them or incentivise them to have more children, especially because of this big cash bonus. So we hope that they should raise their existing children properly and educate them well and hope that they can get out of poverty.

 What does this U-turn mean? And, more interestingly, why did it happen? First question first. There are several possible answers. 


#1: This is as close as you’ll get to the government admitting that social mobility in Singapore is a thing of a past. After all, what does it matter which background the child is born into if social mobility is high? Unfortunately, studies have shown that children from specific class backgrounds are more likely to remain there. More pertinently, it has been shown that the life-chances of a Singapore child are strongly correlated to the academic qualifications and professional background of his or her father. What this means is that class is reproducing itself in Singapore. Kiss egalitarianism goodbye.


#2: That great leveler – education – is not as effective as previously thought. Conservatives used to believe that access to basic education was all that was needed. It was the silver bullet to economic inequality. This simplistic thinking is losing its allure in Singapore. Well-educated parents have the knowledge and financial means to produce well-educated children (sociologists call this the transfer of cultural capital), while working class parents do not.  


#3: Singapore needs more babies but its not hard to imagine a civil servant think this way: we only want children from middle class, professional backgrounds. We have enough ITE and SHATEC students. After all, we can bring in Bangladeshi workers with electrical engineering degrees for $800 a month so why the need to spend tax payers money on low-value low-skill citizens who will only reproduce low-value low-skilled children? Won’t these citizens be more of a drain on our resources when we can ship in foreign workers for cheaper?


But now for the interesting bit – why did the PM make the announcement only to have the MoS contradict him in Parliament? We now enter the realm of speculation.


#1: The PM did not do his homework. Calculations were not made as to how much extending the baby bonus to the 5th and subsequent child would cost. Perhaps the number of 5th and subsequent children was erroneously thought to be small and the policy wonks decided that the cost would be too high.


#2: There is an ideological schism within the executive. Perhaps other ministers, maybe even MM himself, are against the idea of facilitating the breeding of working class children. This is not hard to imagine given other audacious schemes like the Graduate Mother policy in the 1980s. Could there be a schism between a more liberal, progressive faction and a more conservative one in cabinet? If so, who is on which side?


#3: Most importantly, what does it say about the PM when his announcements are so blatantly reversed? Is the conservative faction in cabinet the more powerful one? Is this a case of flip-flopping? All this is unclear but what is certain is that all that you hear at the National Day Rally does not always come to past.


And do you think our local media will serve its citizens by investigating this U-turn? Is that a pig flying yonder?



One Response to “Keep Your Low-income, Working-class Babies to Yourself”

  1. sushibar Says:


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