All Images by Stephanie Lee unless otherwise stated
If single Singaporeans were fortunate enough to escape the Valentine’s Day blues, listening to the 2023 budget speech certainly changed their fortunes.
It’s funny that Finance Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Lawrence Wong affectionately called his Budget speech a love letter to Singaporeans. Of course, as to which group of Singaporeans his ‘love letter’ intended to sing sweet nothings to was another question altogether.
In the name of love, families and young couples are one of the main groups of Singaporeans that Budget 2023 paid loving attention to. “In this budget, we will step up support for young couples,” DPM Wong remarks. Singles all over this overpriced island shed tears.
His budget aims to help couples “realise their aspirations in a Singapore made for families”. Most of yesterday’s budget proposals revolved around making it easier for young couples to start a family in Singapore.
Expecting mothers can look forward to a higher Baby Bonus cash gift. First-timer families with children and young married couples below forty years old now have an additional ballot for their Built-To-Order (BTO) flat applications—a slight leg-up in the competition that is the BTO balloting process.
Fathers rejoiced as DPM Lawrence Wong announced an increase in paid paternity leave—from two to four weeks. Against a background of the incessant thumping of armrests, DPM Wong declared, “We want paternal involvement to be the norm in our society.” How very progressive! We think.
Left Out Yet Again.
When it was time to shine a spotlight on Singaporean singles, the thumping of armrests fell silent. It never came, except in bits and pieces scattered throughout the Budget 2023 speech. Much like Valentine’s Day, singles were once again left to their own devices. A double whammy, if you ask me (a fellow singleton).
After all, there are now more singles across all age groups in Singapore, at least according to the latest available data from the 2020 census. In a speech intended to address the whole country, a segment of Singaporeans, only growing in numbers, was left out.
Whether intentional or not, the implication was clear—you too can enjoy these benefits only when you settle down. Any allusions to Singaporean singles were made through the lens of economic competition. At least GST and CDC vouchers were generously doled out.
For now, singles will have to wait until next year’s budget to feature prominently in the budget discussion.
But this year though, single Singaporeans have been left out of the national fiscal equation—one can only pray the following issues will be addressed in next year’s budget speech. But maybe even the most hopeless of romantics can’t count on it.
Much Ado About Rental Cooling Measures
It’s no secret that rental prices have only gotten more expensive on our sunny island. Owning a tiny slice of this even tinier pie (albeit temporary) comes with a price.
Heavy is the hand that pays the rent, especially with the way rental prices have moved—rent for both public and private flats increased yet again in the last quarter of last year. Tenants, both foreign and local, are still struggling to keep up with the rising rental prices.
These trends represent yet another obstacle for single Singaporeans who are now more inclined to leave the nest and look for their own space. As it is, the search is already difficult to begin with—the resale market has recently been associated with notoriously high prices.
As it is, flexi two-room BTO flats in non-mature estates—the only options available for singles in the BTO space—are in extremely short supply with wait times of up to four years. Single Singaporeans, the ones who actively want their own space, are now trapped between a rock and a hard place.
Of course, some level of privilege is needed for any Singaporean to leave the nest. It’s just surprising that cooling measures in the rental market were left out of Budget 2023.
No Relief for Unmarried Single Mothers?
Unmarried single mothers were once again left out, further reiterating that Singapore is a nicer country for families. More specifically, a nuclear family—a marriage between a man and a woman, and children if any. Unmarried single mothers don’t quite make the cut here.
The Working Mother Child Relief was changed from a tax relief pegged to a percentage of the mother’s earned income to a fixed amount of tax relief. Working mothers in the lower and middle-income brackets could potentially enjoy greater tax relief because of the change. Up to $12,000, depending on the number of children.
Alas, this tax relief scheme is only applicable to a working mother who is married, divorced, or widowed. In other words, only a woman who has her marriage recognised in Singapore and has maintained a child who is a Singapore citizen as of 31 December 2021 qualifies for this tax relief.
Unmarried single mothers, on the other hand, do not qualify for the scheme at all. A possible solution is the most obvious one—the unmarried single mother can marry the child’s biological father to avail herself of the Working Mother Child Relief. Ah, the wonders of heterosexual marriage in Singapore.
Even if said marriage breaks down and ends in divorce, the same mother is now considered a divorcee. Her tax relief under this scheme is valid.
Singapore’s unmarried single mothers must jump through fiery hoops to qualify for the same benefits as their married counterparts. If that’s not being left out of the equation, I don’t know what is.
Higher Housing Grants
We have to give credit where it’s due—single Singaporeans were not entirely left out. Starting Tuesday after 3:30 PM, first-timer singles will stand to receive larger housing grants.
Eligible singles now stand to receive up to $40,000 for new or resale flat purchases under the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant.
The good news, however, sits in the background of the whole budget proposal—it’s nice that single Singaporeans are getting the help they need in the housing market. But it’s not the main point of course.
As property consultant Ku Swee Yong told CNA, if not accompanied by other moves such as an increase in the housing supply, additional housing grants for Singaporeans could backfire instead. Property prices could increase yet again.
An increase in property prices affects everyone in the same way. However, navigating the housing policies as a Singaporean single can be daunting—especially when those housing policies are family-forward in the first place.
Still, we have yet to see how the increase in housing grants affects Singapore’s property prices. It’s the uncertainty that takes a disproportionate toll on Singaporean singles who are eager to purchase their own home.
It’s this uncertainty that will continue to gnaw at the hearts of single Singaporeans as long as they choose to take on the local housing market. While policies might throw singles a bone, it’s the same policies which create excessive anxiety when singles take to the market.
Single and Singled Out
As a Singaporean single, I truly appreciate the clearest form of help that comes in the form of handouts—GST vouchers, CDC vouchers, and U-save rebates all come to mind. But when it comes to big-ticket items like housing, policy proposals rank you lower in priority.
After all, you are only as deserving of direct intervention as your contributions to the country. And in this case, that contribution comes in the form of starting a family and perhaps, contributing to the birth rate in some small way.
The tiny island nation needs a way to distribute what limited property ownership there is to go around. And the inescapable truth is that it’s the people who contribute the least to direct population growth that will be affected the most. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not.