DPM Heng Swee Keat at Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region Regional Symposium and MSF Asian Family Conference 2022

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 8 November 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region Regional Symposium and MSF Asian Family Conference on 8 November 2022.


Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, Singapore

Madam I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati, Indonesia Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection 

Madam Zifleena Hassan, Maldives Minister of State for Gender, Family and Social Services

Mrs Patricia Chu, Chairperson of the Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region

And all participants, including those of you who are joining us online, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

A very good morning. 

I am very happy to join you for the CIFA Regional Symposium and MSF Asian Family Conference 2022.

This is the first time that these two conferences have been combined. 

This is an excellent initiative, which will bring together a broader network of researchers and family practitioners from around the region. 

You have a substantive programme ahead of you, with many interesting sharing sessions by policymakers, researchers, and social service practitioners.  

I am also glad that we are able to meet in person, after several years of having virtual conferences due to COVID-19. 

The pandemic has taken its toll on many lives, but one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it has given us more opportunity to spend time with family, especially when movement was restricted.

I myself was grateful that I was able to have many more meals with my wife and children during the pandemic. 

Throughout the world, the pandemic has also reaffirmed the role of family support in challenging times. 

So as we seek to recover from the pandemic, this conference is most timely. And I am glad that we managed to gather partners from around Asia to share ideas and best practices on how we can better empower families. 

Evolving Context 

Families are the bedrock of societies around the world, although the cultural context differs across societies. 

They are our first line of care and support when we face challenges. It is also the family with whom we share our joys. And through the family, we transmit our values, culture, and traditions to the next generation. 

The family is the basic building block of society. But the bonds that are formed extend beyond our immediate family to the concentric circles of relationships – the extended family, circle of friends, neighbours, acquaintances, the local community, and beyond that the broader community. 

By strengthening these concentric circles of relationships and care, we can build strong and cohesive communities in our society and around the world. 
Strengthening support for families is especially important, given the changing context that families are facing. So let me highlight a few trends.   

First, people are marrying later, and having fewer babies.  Japan is well-known for having ultra-low fertility rates. But China, Singapore, South Korea now have fertility rates that are now comparable to or lower than Japan’s.  

Second, ageing demographics is a common challenge across more societies. Countries with low fertility rates are joining the ranks of fast-ageing societies, if they are not already an aged one. Care and support for ageing families is therefore an increasingly important issue.  

Third, there are more families with diverse circumstances and needs. For those who go through divorce, international research shows that their children may be negatively affected even into their childhood, in their education and relationship outcomes. 

As societies continue to evolve, it is important for all of us to share our experiences on how we can continue to strengthen our families. 

The context and circumstances may differ with each society, but the underlying approach and considerations are often similar. 

So, I am glad we have guest speakers from many different countries at this conference.

This morning, let me share briefly on Singapore’s approach. 

And I look forward to other ideas being shared, on what has worked well, within each of our societal contexts. 

A Singapore Made for Families 

In Singapore, families are at the heart of our social compact. This is similar to many other societies.

Over the years, we have provided strong support to young couples to realise their aspirations of starting a family, through substantial housing grants and priority in accessing public housing.  

We also invest heavily in education, from preschool to higher education, to bring out the best in every child.

We are also continually expanding support for seniors so their silver years are their best years. But the work continues. 

As families face more stressors, so too the broader society.

To remain cohesive and strong as a society, we must empower and strengthen support for families, including helping disadvantaged families succeed.

Besides Government schemes and policies, it is also about society’s mindsets and norms. 

The ongoing Forward Singapore exercise is a national movement for all of us to come together to refresh our social compact, and supporting families is an important part of this. 

This morning, I am delighted to launch a new national plan for families: titled “A Singapore Made for Families 2025”. This builds on the momentum of what we have done so far. 

It sets out refreshed strategies to strengthen and uplift our families through all stages of life. Importantly, the plan reflects a whole-of-society effort. 

An Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships was formed last year, involving stakeholders across our society. The Alliance has been actively engaging more than 600 families to understand their aspirations.  

This new plan was developed from the insights from these engagements, and charts out our collective plan to strengthen families. 

There are three broad thrusts: Culture, Empower, Uplift. 

First, Culture. 

We must nurture a more conducive culture that celebrates and supports families. 

I am glad to see the community playing a big role in creating a supportive culture for families. 

The Families for Life movement, which involves volunteers from the people and private sectors, is spearheading this effort.

Employers also play a big part in fostering a family-friendly culture. 

Creating a supportive and flexible environment for their workers to achieve work-life harmony is not just pro-family, it is also pro-business. 

Workers who are able to balance their work and family are able to better contribute at work. 

As family members ourselves, we also make a difference through our own choices. 

This can be as simple as setting aside time to listen to one another, support each other, or committing to family meals so that we can be present with our loved ones.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to call on all fathers to step up even more. 

Compared to fathers in previous generations, fathers today are more involved with their children’s lives.  

I myself was very busy when my children were growing up, and it was difficult to balance work and family. But I am glad I set aside protected time for them.

But with norms and cultures shifting, it is heartening to see fathers today spending more quality time with their children, helping out in the house, and enjoying the journey of parenting.

Ultimately, creating a family-friendly culture must be a collective, whole-of-society effort. Each of us has a role to play.

Second, Empower.

We will empower families through all stages of life.

We have put in place strong support for young couples and families, and will continue to strengthen this together with our community partners. 

But as society ages, we must also empower ageing families. 

For example, we have recently rolled out a grandparenting programme, to empower grandparents to pick up useful skills and care better for their grandchildren.

I am also happy to announce that we are expanding the counselling and mediation support service in our FAM@Family Service Centres to ageing families from 2023, to help them cope with the potential stresses of ageing on marriages or family relationships.

These stressors could arise from new responsibilities as a grandparent, or even caring for the elderly. 

By empowering families through the different stages of life, we can help seniors age gracefully within our communities.

Third, Uplift.

We will broaden our support to uplift families with different needs, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This could include lower-income families, families with persons with disabilities, single parents, and others.

For such families, we will provide more upstream and integrated support, to address their challenges and unique circumstances.

One example is Community Link, or ComLink, which supports families with children living in rental housing towards achieving stability, self-reliance and social mobility. We have seen good outcomes so far, and are progressively expanding this nation-wide.


So in summary, Singapore’s national plan seeks to nurture a conducive culture that celebrates and supports families, empowers families through all stages of life, and uplifts families with different needs.

While Singapore has launched our national plan, there is much that we can learn from each other, given that many societies are facing similar challenges.

Singapore is collaborating with many international partners in the region.

These partnerships have helped us develop more evidence-based positive parenting content and child development programmes, as well as strengthen the capabilities of family life educators.

Today’s conference is yet another platform for us to make new connections and form new collaborations.

And indeed, we are all a big “family” on this shared journey!

I wish you all a good conference ahead.

Thank you.