Housing is a basic right and necessity for all. However, the reality is that not all groups of the society have equal access and to housing in Singapore. Single-parent families - a small but growing, and nonetheless important group in the society, face several difficulties in obtaining a house. They are excluded from housing benefits by virtue of their marital status and family structure. Yet, their needs and narratives matter too and they should not be written out of our housing policies.
Singapore’s housing policies are intimately tied to the state’s conception of what a family should be like. Housing policies is a state instrument to promote and frame our understanding of the ‘ideal family’- defined as the traditional family nucleus consisting of two parents and their children. Current housing policies favour married couples, situating this ‘ideal family’ form as the only legitimate site where procreation can take place, in order to increase Singapore’s (low) fertility rate. They can also be seen as shaping sexual moralities, by invalidating the existence of and penalising people who give birth outside of marriage. For instance, an unwed mother and her child do not qualify as a family nucleus when applying for HDB housing.
Families are not static – some leave when their partners give birth, some spouses die, some marriages break down – our understanding and definition of families should reflect these realities. Rigidly sticking to one definition of the ‘ideal family’ compresses a diversity of family structures into one single type and effectively marginalizes single parents who do not conform to it. The state’s functional definition of family is also a moral statement on who deserves the housing better. Values and housing are thereby productively intertwined for the state to assert its hegemony in administering the citizens’ private affairs.
Moreover, current housing policies which limit single parents’ access to housing disproportionately disadvantage women. Single-parent families are usually female-led and such policies place additional burden on single mothers who now have to take on both the roles of a caregiver and a breadwinner. Single mothers might already experience financial stress due to the lack of a stable income - many have had to cut back on or stop engaging in paid employment to fulfil childcare responsibilities upon marriage or childbirth. Having to navigate the bureaucratic and legal contours of the housing policies could further intensify their stress.
Finally, policies that privilege a form of family over another create class differences along the lines of family structure. The lack of stable housing results in an environment that may not be ideal for children who are growing up. In penalising single parents, these policies also critically affect the life outcomes of the next generation, and further entrench social inequalities.
Our idea of a family nucleus defines the lived experiences of single parent families. Their lived experiences are conditioned by the discursive and institutional prescriptions set by the state and the society at large. A genuinely progressive society strives towards equality and inclusiveness of all its citizens, and our housing policies should be indicative of this. AWARE has launched a petition in calling for changes to housing policies. Single-parent families often find themselves in a precarious situation- experiencing multiple, frequent moves and/or long uncertain waits for a proper housing. We can show our support for AWARE’s initiative, which hopefully would bring about a socially equitable outcome - having a place called home for all families.
Want to find out more?
Crash Course Video on Gender Conflict Theory
AWARE's article on Single parents' housing
Want to do something? Sign the petition here!
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