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Singapore Budgets S$300M to Increase Birth Rate

SINGAPORE, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Singapore announced a S$300 million (US$175 million) baby-boosting package on Wednesday in hopes of reversing an alarming slide in its birth rate to record lows and countering rapid ageing of the population.

Measures include bigger housing grants to encourage singles to marry, cash payments of up to S$18,000 if the baby is a third or fourth child, babycare subsidies, tax rebates for working mothers, longer maternity leave and more leave days for working parents.

Like many developed Western countries, Singapore is grappling with a fall in its birth rate to far below the 2.1 children per woman needed to replenish its population.

Baby-making has become a national priority for the new prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

Women in the city state of four million people gave birth to 1.3 babies on average last year, the lowest in the nation's history and a fraction of the 5.8 in the "baby-booming" 1960s.

"Our declining birth rate is an issue of long-term national significance. Efforts to promote parenthood therefore warrant a substantial investment by the government," Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang told a news conference.

"We work on scenarios of the total fertility rates going to 1.5 and if we can dream, even better than 1.8," said Lim, who chairs a committee on population.

The new measures will cost the government an estimated S$300 million a year, bringing its total expenditure on pro-family measures to about S$800 million a year.

The government said most of the money would go not towards financial incentives but for children's educational development, paid leave for parents and the provision of more childcare options. ($1=S$1.71)

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