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End ‘discrimination’ against single unwed parents; help those under 35 to get housing: MP Louis Ng

SINGAPORE — The Government should allow single unwed parents under the age of 35 to buy a two-room flexi flat from the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

Member of Parliament Louis Ng said that despite the Government’s efforts to be more inclusive, it has not completely resolved the housing needs of single unwed parents, especially those under the age of 35.

Member of Parliament Louis Ng said that despite the Government’s efforts to be more inclusive, it has not completely resolved the housing needs of single unwed parents, especially those under the age of 35.

SINGAPORE — The Government should allow single unwed parents under the age of 35 to buy a two-room flexi flat from the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

It should also create and publish a set of eligibility criteria in which a specific group of single parents under 35 can apply for a rental flat without needing a case-by-case review or appeal.

Member of Parliament Louis Ng made these suggestions on Monday (Sept 2) in an adjournment motion in Parliament, as he called for an end to the “discrimination” against single unwed parents.

He said that despite the Government’s efforts to be more inclusive, it has not completely resolved the housing needs of single unwed parents, especially those under the age of 35.

In response, Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development, acknowledged that in the past, the Government “was fairly strict in limiting public housing access to married couples”.

“However, over time, this position has evolved. For single unwed parents, we hope to facilitate their efforts to build a stable environment for their child,” she said.

In his motion titled “Providing Housing for Single Unwed Parents and their Children”, Mr Ng — an MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — noted that over the past two decades, the Government has put out measures to improve the lives of single parents.

These include giving unwed mothers the full 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave, with their children qualifying for a Child Development Account. And since 2013, those 35 years old or above who meet the criteria can qualify for public housing under the Singles Scheme.

Mr Ng had previously submitted a petition for a more inclusive provision of housing for single parents, which was turned down. On Monday, he called on the Government to review its housing policies affecting single unwed parents, which he said do not prevent children from being born out of wedlock.

“In the heat of the moment, just before they have sex, nobody would stop and think, ‘Wait if we do this and get pregnant and don’t get married, we won’t be able to get a HDB flat. Let’s not have sex’,” he said.

“All of us sitting here know that this will not happen. We have a policy that will not work.”

PROPOSED CHANGES TO HOUSING RULES

Based on the income of those aged under 35, Mr Ng said that they cannot afford alternative housing options.

Government statistics in 2017 showed that single unwed parents aged 35 have a median salary of S$3,100, while those aged 36 and above have a median salary of S$3,500.

On the other hand, single unwed parents under 35 have a median salary of only S$600. And this has hardly changed over the years. Their income was S$500 in 2013, S$600 in 2014, S$700 in 2015 and S$600 in 2016.

Mr Ng said that he has had residents appealing to him for help. One case involved a single unwed mother with a five-year-old child who was told by HDB that she did not qualify for a rental flat because they “do not form a family nucleus”.

Both the woman’s parents have died and she was staying with her daughter in the living room of her sister’s flat. The woman does not have a full-time job and earns only about S$300 a month as she had to look after her daughter.

Questioning why such cases are assessed on a case-by-case basis when they are “straightforward”, Mr Ng said that “what we are doing is adding stress for people who already feel they are at the end of the road”.

One proposal that he raised: Have a scheme allowing single unwed parents under 35 to buy a two-room flexi flat from HDB. It could be similar to the Joint Singles Scheme, where there is a set of criteria that one has to fulfil to apply for a flat.

He also suggested having a published set of eligibility criteria for a specific group of single unwed parents under 35. This will not require a case-by-case review or appeal.

Mr Ng said: “For other cases, we can still rely on a case-by-case review. But let’s start by providing a sure ‘Yes’ to those who we know definitely need our help.”

HDB TO CONDUCT A REVIEW

Ms Sun said in her response that HDB will conduct a “comprehensive review” to improve its communications to better support single unwed parents applying for rental flats.

It will also look into having a dedicated section on HDB’s website to address common housing queries from single unwed parents.

She added that the Government will study Mr Ng’s suggestion that unwed single parents under 35 be allowed to buy a two-room flexi flat.

HDB, she reminded the House, also has to meet demand for such flats from other applicants such as singles above 35 as well as seniors who want to downsize or buy a short-lease flat.

Replying to Mr Ng’s suggestion that HDB should have a clear criteria for single unwed parents when they apply for a rental flat, she pointed out that HDB does not rely on a “few pre-determined metrics to understand the applicant’s circumstances”.

For instance, HDB will assess if an applicant can live independently at the point of his application.

“So HDB does not apply a one-size-fits-all policy. Where appropriate, HDB works closely with social workers to assess the best option for the applicant at that point in time,” Ms Sun said.

Related topics

discrimination housing single parents HDB

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