Have you read about the controversy caused by our Member of Parliament Josephine Teo recently when she said “You do not need too much space to have sex?” This reminds me of the Finnish Baby Box mentioned by the irritating Finnish men in bed marketing campaign run by Sultan.fi.
Well, unfortunately Josephine Teo’s quote has been largely taken out of context by the mainstream media, because Josephine Teo was referring to the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS), which provides priority allocation of BTO flats to first-time married couples with a citizen child below the age of 16. Nonetheless, these views betray the reality of a dwindling birth rate in Singapore, a challenge that any developed and aging country should be concerned with.
Related to this issue, the Singaporean government has always been thought of as using Singaporeans’ dwindling birth rate to justify the liberal import of foreign talent. Interestingly, Singaporean economist Donald Low wrote a thoughtful response to Josephine Teo’s controversial comment and to the larger question of why Singaporeans aren’t having more babies.
And I quote:
“The short answer is that the French and the Nordics all can rely on comprehensive welfare states that guarantee them cheap healthcare, long maternity (of up to two years) and paternity leave, very affordable childcare, affordable rental housing, and much else.
Now, it may well be the case that Singaporeans are not willing to pay for such a welfare state (through higher taxes), or that Singapore cannot afford it (because we’d be a lot less competitive economically if we have such a welfare state). If so, that’s the choice Singapore has made – rightly or wrongly.
But you cannot bemoan the fact that Singaporean couples aren’t more like the French or Nordics AND at the same time not provide the comprehensive, state-financed welfare services to children and parents.
To do so is to engage in cherry-picking: you wish for Singaporeans to behave a bit more like the Europeans, but you refuse to contemplate a Nordic or French welfare state. I’m sorry- you can’t have your cake and eat it too, i.e. for rich countries, you simply can’t have babies on the cheap.
Like Donald proposes, it is true that we can’t have our cake and eat it in a highly stressful and expensive country like Singapore. It is also a verifiable fact that having babies is not cheap in Singapore, and it is too simplistic to just “cut” attitudes and solutions from the Nordics and “paste” them into the Singaporean system.
I posit, however, that there is ONE simple and elegant design concept that Singapore can take adopt and modify from Finland.
And that is the Finnish baby box.
The Finnish baby box looks like that:
You see, the Finnish state offers all expectant mummies either a cash payout of 140euros, or an absolutely awesome Finnish baby box like the above!
There are all sorts of useful baby items in the box for the mummy and the baby–including toys, warm clothes for the babies, mittens, thermometer, socks and even books. Amazingly, with the mattress at the bottom, the box can even be used as a really comfortable bed for the new baby!
Many Finnish mummies opt for the box because it is truly unique, has a value of easily more than 140euros, and is part of the Finnish heritage.
The tradition of the Finnish baby box started in the 1930s, when less wealthy Finnish expectant mothers were given this box by the Finnish welfare state.
Eventually however, the state decided to offer the baby box to everyone in Finland. This is because the Finnish baby box is designed to embody the Finnish societal ideal that every baby has an equal start in life regardless of family wealth. True to the original design concept and ideology, studies have shown that there is indeed a direct correlation between a lower infant mortality rate and family income after the introduction of this baby box.
The pertinent question to us Singaporeans is therefore: Can we actually adopt the concept and design of the Finnish baby box and its items, and tailor them to our Singaporean society? Actually we already did have a special Singaporean baby box last year, but it was only for the special year of SG50.
My question to us all is this: Why not do it every year?
The Singaporean government currently offers all Singaporean mummies a baby bonus and various income tax relief. Considering that a Singaporean version of the Finnish baby box probably costs less than USD150 each to design, manufacture and assemble at cost in bulk for the 5-10 year medium term, and that an average of 33,000 babies are born in Singapore yearly, the total resulting sum of USD4.95million (USD150 X 33,000) is really a small token annual investment by the Singaporean government.
This is because the giving of baby box does communicate to mummies in both tangible and abstract terms that the Singaporean community and the government care for their well-being.
Why not go one step further? Let’s get young Singaporeans to learn from the Finnish experts to design this box and its items for the specific needs of Singaporean mummies, babies, and adapt the design concept to the humidity and climate of the Singaporean state. Therefore, most of the estimated investment sum of USD4.95million a year would be spent back in the Singaporean eco-system to nurture aspiring local designers who know the intricacies of Singaporean culture, while having the benefit of having great Finnish mentors who have done this excellent baby box for years.
In this aspect, the symbolism of a Singaporean-version of the baby box is more significant than the actual physical baby box itself.
For the baby box would then be designed to communicate that every mother and child is valued by the larger Singaporean community and government. This effectively shows that the Singaporean government walks the talk by not simply importing foreign talent to ease our labour shortage, but is instead starting to really nurture and invest in people who regard Singapore as home. This message to every new Singaporean mother and child would definitely justify the annual investment of USD4.95million made by our government.
Definitely, this Finnish design concept is something that Singaporean politicians and policy makers can consider! 🙂
If state expenditure is an issue, surely we can always offer Singaporean mummies an option between their lump sum baby bonus of SGD6,000, or SGD5,800 + a baby box. I am sure most Singaporean mummies would choose the latter, since this baby box seems so fun to receive! That being said, I am even more certain that new local mummies would LOVE a one-off baby box as a gift.
Well–great design always starts with great intentions. Which Singaporean doesn’t love intelligently-designed presents? 😀