Sustainable population 'most critical' issue

Andrea Ong Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

THE Government is studying ways to develop a strategy that will produce a sustainable population which will ensure the country thrives as well as meets its people's aspirations in the future.

Coming up with the strategy is the 'most critical' issue Singapore faces in the long run, and it is important for the Government and people to come to a shared understanding of how to tackle the challenge, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

The outcome of the study will be made known by the end of the year when it is presented in a White Paper in Parliament.

In announcing it, DPM Teo said the study will be spearheaded by the National Population and Talent Division, which falls under his charge in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). He was speaking during the debate on the PMO's budget.

The division is 'comprehensively examining' the nation's population goals and policies, he said. It will also discuss related issues via dialogues and online channels with other agencies, stakeholders and the public.

These issues, which include topics like the size and make-up of the population, will have an impact on how the Government plans its land use and infrastructure, said DPM Teo.

The results of its work will be incorporated into the White Paper. He said: 'Through this process, we hope to bring to light issues that are important to Singapore and Singaporeans, and develop a shared understanding of our strategies to build a sustainable population that secures Singapore's future.'

Four MPs, including Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), had asked for the Government's population parameters for planning purposes.

DPM Teo assured the House that Singaporeans' views, aspirations and concerns would be considered in developing a population strategy.

The strategy would maintain Singapore's vitality, strengthen its harmonious multi-ethnic society, and 'enable Singaporeans to achieve their life aspirations'.

He also had good news for those worried about the twin woes of low total fertility rate (TFR) and the foreigner influx.

Slightly more babies were born to Singapore citizens last year compared to in 2010. With 30,922 babies against 30,131 babies in 2010, the TFR rose to 1.2 from a historic low of 1.15 in 2010.

The low number of new citizens last year was partly because the citizenship application process was changed.

Would-be citizens have to go through a compulsory orientation programme before the process is complete. Hence, 4,000 who got in-principle approval for citizenship late last year will get their pink identity card this year.

The pool of new permanent residents last year was also the smallest in five years: 27,521 were made permanent residents, around 6 per cent less than in 2010.

However, DPM Teo cautioned that Singapore is at a 'demographic turning point' this year, when the first cohort of post-war baby boomers starts turning 65. This marks the start of an 'unprecedented age shift', with more than 900,000 set to retire from now to 2030.

He painted a dire picture of Singapore's future if birth rates stay at today's low levels and there is no immigration. The workforce will shrink and there will be less support for a growing elderly pool.

But DPM Teo remained optimistic: 'While we face serious demographic challenges and difficult trade-offs in managing population growth, Singapore has a good foundation on which we can build our future.'



Number of babies born to Singaporeans, nearly 3 per cent more than in 2010.


Number of new citizens, lowest in five years.


Number of new permanent residents, lowest in five years.

If the birth rate remains constant and immigration stops, the median age of citizens will rise from 39 in 2010, to 47 in 2030, and 53 in 2050.

By 2030, fewer young citizens will enter the workforce - about half the number of elderly people leaving the workforce.

Singapore's population at "demographic turning point": DPM Teo
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government is taking a comprehensive look at its population policies in view of the country's changing demographics.

Even as it does this, it is introducing measures to better help parents with the cost of raising a child and helping foreign spouses sink their roots here.

Speaking in Parliament during the Committee of Supply Debate for the Prime Minister's Office, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced enhancements to the Child Development Account.

Under the scheme introduced in 2001, parents set up a deposit account for their child.

The government matches the deposit one-for-one, up to a cap of S$18,000 per child, depending on the child's birth order.

The money can be used for the developmental needs of the child, up to age six, in areas such as child care, kindergarten and health care.

The enhanced scheme will expand the scope of this account to cover expenses at pharmacies, opticians as well as assistive technology devices for children with disabilities.

The account will also last the child up till the age of 12.

The changes will be implemented in the second half of this year.

Another announcement - the introduction of a Long Term Visit Pass Plus (LTVP+) for foreign spouses of Singaporeans, especially those with Singapore children.

The new pass will be introduced from April 1, 2012.

Currently, most foreign spouses who have yet to be granted Permanent Residency or citizenship, qualify for a Long Term Visit Pass.

Under the new Long Term Visit Pass Plus, they will have greater certainty of stay.

The new pass will last for three years in the first instance and up to five years for each subsequent renewal, instead of the current shorter periods of typically one year.

Holders of the new pass will also receive health care subsidies for inpatient treatment at public hospitals, pegged at a level close to that for PRs.

That is, about the same rate as PRs even though they have not yet been granted PR status.

Holders of the Long Term Visit Pass Plus will also find it easier to work to supplement the family income.

They need only get a Letter of Consent from the Manpower Ministry to work.

This can be obtained easily online.

To qualify for the new pass, factors such as the length of marriage and whether there are citizen children in the family will be considered.

Even as Mr Teo announced new initiatives, he stressed on the need for Singapore to attract new immigrants.

He described 2012 as a "demographic turning point" for Singapore.

That's because the first cohort of post-war Baby Boomers, that is those born between 1947 and 1965, will start turning 65 from this year.

So Mr Teo said, from now till 2030, Singapore will experience an "unprecedented age shift, as over 900,000 Baby Boomers, more than a quarter of the current citizen population, retire from the workforce and enter their silver years.

Mr Teo said at the current birth rates and without immigration, more than 1 in 4 citizens will be aged 65 and over in 2030.

The median age of Singapore citizens will rise to 47 from 39 today.

And to 53, post 2030.

Fewer working adults will also support citizens aged 65 and above.

While those entering the working-age pool will shrink.

"Without immigration, we will face a shrinking workforce and the prospect of a shrinking economy. This challenging situation is compounded by the need to support a significantly larger elderly population at the same time," said Mr Teo.

Mr Teo said the most critical long term issue is to "develop a sustainable population strategy that will maintain the vitality of Singapore, strengthen our harmonious multi-ethnic society, and enable Singaporeans to achieve their life aspirations".

To this end, the National Population and Talent Division will release a White Paper by the end of the year, setting out the issues important to Singaporeans and strategies for a sustainable population.

The division will consult various stakeholders over the course of the year.

- CNA/cc/fa