SINGAPORE - Recognising the important role families have to play in nation building, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has unveiled initiatives geared towards fostering closer familial ties and raising the nation's birth rates.
"Our families are what make life meaningful for many of us. And children ensure that Singapore will have a future," said PM Lee, who has been a stanch proponent of having more babies ever since he took office in 2004.
To promote closer family ties, the Government will introduce a Proximity Housing Grant, which encourages married couples and their parents to live closer together.
Every Singaporean household will be eligible - regardless of whether they are first-time buyers or not - to receive the grant when they buy a resale flat for that purpose.
PM Lee noted that the Housing Development Board already has various scheme to support this, but it has relooked them and will relaunch them to make them more generous.
More details will be announced by the Ministry of National Development at a later date.
Mr Lee said he was heartened by a recent uptick in birthrate.
A record 129 babies were born on National Day this year, the highest since 2007. The number of babies born last year was also the highest in a decade.
Almost 20,000 SG50 Jubilee Baby gifts - including one for MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling, who gave birth to a boy on Aug 5 - have been given out so far.
Mr Lee voiced his hope that couples will continue to have many children beyond SG50.
Describing having a child as a "major responsibility", he said he is advocating not just practical help, but also steps to alter social attitudes.
Significantly, the Baby Bonus scheme, which helps parents defray child-raising costs, will be enhanced.
The Government will increase the amount of the bonus, he announced without giving a specific figure.
The bonus will also be extended to every child instead of just the four children.
The previous boost in 2013 saw cash gifts for the first and second child raised from $4,000 to $6,000, and from $6,000 to $8,000 for the third and fourth.
The next step is an increase in the amount that the Government puts into a newborn's CPF Medisave account.
Currently, each newborn receives a $3,000 grant deposited in two equal tranches - after the baby's registration of birth, and then in the subsequent year if the child continues to be enrolled in MediShield or a Medisave-approved Integrated Shield Plan.
To give parents "greater peace of mind", Mr Lee said that this grant will be raised so that it is enough to cover the new MediShield Life premiums for the child until he or she is 21 years old. It can also help with other healthcare expenses.
Lastly, paternity leave for fathers will be doubled to two weeks so that dads "can do more". He first introduced the initiative in 2012.
The Government will pay for the extra week of leave, PM Lee added.
It will be implemented initially on a voluntary basis in order to give employers and companies time to adjust.
The enhanced Baby Bonus, Medisave Grant and paternity leave changes apply with effect from Jan 1, 2015.
He said: "It is the Jubilee year, and I think we should give all our Jubilee babies this hongbao.
"We will give details soon," he sadi. "I hope this will help many more couples to experience the joy of parenthood."
This article was first published on August 23, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.