We often hear stories about single unwed parents struggling to find a place they can call their own, particular since it’s been impossible for them to apply for subsidised flats.
In fact, one woman had to sleep at Gardens by the Bay while pregnant while another stayed with friends. Yet another was so desperate to find her own space that she e- mailed the Prime Minister for help. The trio are single unwed mothers under the age of 35, which precludes them from housing benefits such as being able to apply for a Housing Board flat and getting grants as a first-time buyer.
But there are exceptions, even as some quarters press for these to be the norm.
Figures from the Ministry of National Development (MND) show that since 2014, 28 single unwed parents were allowed to apply for a subsidised two-room flexi flat. This works out to about a quarter of the 121 who had appealed.
A breakdown of the figures was made public for the first time last month in Parliament, in response to a question from MP Louis Ng.
Separately, MND told The Straits Times that 33 out of 57 requests from single unwed parents to buy a resale flat before they turn 35 were approved. HDB policy allows singles aged 35 and above, including unwed parents, to buy flats.
The Straits Times understands that single unwed parents do not get the grants to which eligible singles are entitled. These can be as much as $60,000. Neither can they get HDB loans, which means that they pay less cash upfront than with bank loans.
In recent years, activists and MPs such as Mr Ng have pressed harder for HDB to relax its rules for single unwed parents. But the MND had said that it was mindful “not to undermine the prevailing social norm of parenthood within marriage” when helping unmarried parents.
Still, the Government has narrowed the gap between married and unwed mothers in recent years. Since 2013, unwed mothers have been entitled to paid childcare leave. From 2016, their children have also been allowed to open a Child Development Account, a co- savings account between parents and the Government, for their education and medical expenses. And as of January 2017, unwed mothers, like married mums, also receive 16 weeks of paid maternity leave – up from eight weeks.
But the Baby Bonus cash gift, which can go up to $10,000, is still only for married parents. Housing, though, is an overriding concern for most of these mothers.
Four years ago, secretary Xin Lim was 29 and pregnant when she was living with her parents and two siblings in a flat with two bedrooms. Desperate for her own space, she e-mailed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, detailing her circumstances. The next day, she received a call from his office. Two months later, she bought a three-room resale flat in Tampines for $310,000. Though she was not eligible for any grants or HDB loans, Ms Lim was grateful.
“My son will tell his friends, ‘You can come to my house’. It’s nice to see your child proud of you,” she said.
But many unwed mothers need financial assistance. Last year, the authorities disclosed that the median monthly income of a single unwed parent under 35 was just $600 in 2017 – amounting to $1,800 per parent when the monthly average income of this group is calculated.
Ms Khairianti Putri, 22, lives in a two-room rental flat with her mother, sister and two-year-old daughter, Luna. She slept in public spaces – including under a statue at Gardens by the Bay – when her parents first learnt of her pregnancy and kicked her out of their home.
Her application to rent an HDB flat was rejected in January this year. But Ms Putri, who started full- time work as a passports officer in March, plans to apply again.
“I want a place where Luna and I can create happy memories,” she said.
In its response to Mr Ng, the MND said that since 2014, it has approved 380 out of 1,014 requests from single unwed parents to rent a flat.
Aware’s head of research and advocacy Shailey Hingorani found these parents’ rate of success in getting HDB housing to be “shockingly low”. She urged the authorities to view a single unwed parent and child as a family unit.
“Making multiple appeals only compounds the stress of these parents, who are usually juggling care-giving and employment as well as housing problems,” she said.
Calling for more to be done, Mr Ng said the current system requires single unwed parents to jump through hoops to get the same benefits as a married mum.
“At the end of the day, they are all fellow Singaporeans. Do we want to force these mums to marry the father of their child, get a place and then divorce them, just to follow the system?” he asked.
Text: Rachel Lay/ The Straitstime
Images: Unsplash, The Straits Times