Housing, families on the cards for PM's speech

Changes to housing policy may be on the cards tonight when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his National Day Rally, following hints by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan over the last few months.

That may include raising the income ceiling for Housing Board (HDB) flats, a move foreshadowed by Mr Khaw, who observed in June that incomes had gone up since the ceiling was last raised in 2011, and that any change would be announced by September.

The current household income ceiling is $10,000 for Build-to-Order (BTO) flats and $12,000 for executive condominiums, up from $8,000 and $10,000 in 2011.

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, hopes the ceilings can be raised by $2,000 again.

That will be helpful as couples are marrying later and some are ineligible for HDB flats by the time they decide to settle down due to the income ceiling, she said.

Also on Ms Lee's wishlist is more help for married children to live close to their parents.

So far, these measures have been confined to new flats, such as setting aside a share of them. Help to buy resale flats might be next.

In both the Budget debate and a blog post in June, Mr Khaw said he would study how to "further help those who wish to buy a resale flat to live near their parents".

As for low-income families, a current concern is how to help those living in rental flats and who are gainfully employed to buy homes of their own, said Ms Lee.

Housing aside, other aspects of family formation are of concern to PM Lee.

In June, he said more must be done to help Singaporeans have children, citing policy areas such as childcare, healthcare, education and flexi-work arrangements.

One area where there have been calls for change is in parental leave, with some suggesting that fathers be allowed to take up to half of the 16 weeks of maternity leave that mothers enjoy, up from the single week of shared parental leave that is currently available.

There are also hopes that the Baby Bonus scheme will receive another boost.

The last time the scheme was enhanced was in 2013, when cash gifts were increased for a couple's first four children.

In education, PM Lee has hinted at of one of the announcements on the horizon. He told reporters at a recent Hari Raya dinner that the Government is studying how to help madrasahs improve their quality of education for secular subjects. And he might have something to say on the matter by the Rally, he said.

But tonight's Rally is also an SG50 rally and comes ahead of an expected general election, so it will have to go beyond mere policy announcements. It is an occasion for Mr Lee to celebrate Singapore's achievements and galvanise the population for the road ahead.

Chua Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad expects Mr Lee to "rally the people with regards to Singapore's successes and the things we can be proud of" because this SG50 year is "a good time to reflect on what we have achieved together".

Nominated MP Tan Tai Yong expects Mr Lee to highlight how far Singapore has come in 50 years and to "attribute the country's success and transformation to resolute and far-sighted leadership, clean government, strong principles, sound policies and long term planning". "I think the theme of leadership - past, present and future - will feature in this year's Rally and this is going to be especially salient with the GE just around the corner," he said.

Mr Lee did indicate that housing, education and families would feature in his speech when he released a minute-long video on Friday night on his Facebook page.

He ended the clip by hinting there might be some musical entertainment: "I won't be singing this year, but someone else will."

This article was first published on August 23, 2015.
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