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Family policy – facts, myths and solutions

Published on June 28, 2012 by: in: Society

A great wave of discussion about the pension reform implemented by the government is sweeping through Poland. It is a necessary reform, forced by sad demographic factors. We discuss too little  so-called “the other side of the coin”, by which the state can influence the demography or the family policy. It is worth establishing the actual goals and possibilities of the family policy, evaluate existing solutions, indicate the desired directions of its development.

The family policy- a wonder drug?

Firstly, the constrains of the family policy should be pointed out. Traditional political parties, especially those in opposition, glorify the family policy as a wonder antidote to the crisis of fertility, which allegedly can reverse demographic trends in Poland. Experts often succumb to those optimistic myths. Unfortunately, the wonder antidote to the low fertility does not exist. First, the demographic crisis is characteristic not only of Poland. This malady is a civilizational process that has spread all over the Europe and Russia. It means that the demographic crisis is caused by something more than just a miserable family policy. In the public discourse we tend to overestimate the role and influence of the state on the real socio-economic life. The demographic crisis, which will have a disastrous economic effect on the future of Europe, is caused mostly by the cultural changes.  Families today chose the 2 + 1 or 2 + 2 model.  The phenomenon of defamilisation is intensifying, more and more people decide to live as singles or just don’t want to have children. In 2000 the average age of having the first child in Poland was 23,7. In 2010 it was just 26,6. When we compare this data with the one from the previous decades, the change is even more radical. This situation is caused by several factors, and the economic one is not crucial. First of all a cultural model has been created in which young people do not rush to raise their own family. They prefer meeting several partners in the early stage of their life, and next dating the chosen one for a long time before they make a decision to be parents.  There is a growing awareness and great ability to use contraception. The young want to make conscious decisions about their future. It is hard to blame them for that, it is a good attitude. The extended educational process has a great influence on this phenomenon as well. The popularization of higher education means that a number of young people enter the employment market not when they are 19 years old but five years later. It has also a great and often overlooked by researchers influence on the decision about having children. While entering adult and independent life people have incomparable to any other previous generation expectations regarding their standards of living. As long as they are young, they want to explore the world, buy an apartment and stabilize their finances before they have a child. The fight with this new model of life, which is often proposed by the right wing, is tilting at windmills.  The traditional 19th century model of family is not to be restored.

It should be pointed out that any, even the best  family policy in the country, will not be able to reverse this trend. It didn’t come off in Europe. France, the most successful in this area, has just reached a level of two children per mother. It is worth remembering that such level provides generational revolving rather than population growth! It also doesn’t restore the population loses of previous years. In the discussion on the family policy it should be remembered that it is not a wonderful antidote, but a tool that can only slightly improve the situation. While building the scenarios of future we should remember that there will be less of us than today.

Wrong tools of family policy

The situation described above doesn’t mean that family policies should not be carried out. It is extremely important. But first,  we should not mislead the public opinion by saying the results are impossible to achieve. Even if successful, they will not change the demographic situation of the country. Secondly, the social policy objectives should be reasonably connected with its tools. It seems today that many activities are aiming at political and false flattering of the public opinion. There are more pseudo actions than effective implementations of the real family policy. Thus more important than preaching a populist slogan “more public money for kids” is considering how these measures should be spent, taking into consideration the current cultural trends and the actual motivations of young people.

picture: M Glasgow

The most false assumption of various family policy programs is offering young families, especially young mothers, a variety of benefits.  It is an example of wasting public funds which does not get us any closer to the main goal which is the increase of fertility. Especially in Polish conditions of constraints caused by the budget situation of the state. Why? Just compare the content of some family programs promoted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy with the motives of young people. Here are some examples of this programs: Family allowance. The amount of monthly family allowance is: 1) PLN 68.00 per child aged under 5 years of age, 2) PLN 91.00 per child aged over 5 years to 18 years of age, 3) PLN 98.00  per child over the age of 18 until 24 years of age. The exact rules about who can be entitled for the benefit can be found on the Ministry’s website [3].However, the most important rule is that: a family allowance can be granted, if the average monthly family income per capita or income of a person still learning does not exceed PLN 504.00. Persons who are entitled to the family allowance may apply under certain conditions for further benefits. For example, a supplement to the family allowance of PLN 1000  for the birth of a child; supplement of PLN 80.00 for raising a child in a large family (for third and next child entitled to family allowance). There is also one-time additional benefit of PLN 1000 due to the child’s birth.

The programs described above are examples of spending public money on totally pointless activities. These programs are not family policy as they don’t contribute to the increase of fertility. Somehow I cannot imagine thousands of young people deciding despite harsh situation to have a child because the state has promised to give them one time PLN 2000 and next PLN 68  every month. I cannot see crowds of families motivated to have third child by the allowance of PLN 80 per month. It is mockery of young people and waste of public money. Most of all it is misunderstanding aspirations of the young generation, meaning the people who want to decide for themselves, they want to develop themselves, accomplish their goals and work career. So the question is how the state should act in order to allow them to pursue their goals and have children at the same time? Benefits, as a part of family policy should be abolished, and money from them should be directed to more real actions. Or they can be given to the poorest families, but it is a totally different subject not connected with our topic which is the increase of fertility. The rhetoric of politicians claiming that this king of benefits is family policy and the demographic problems can be solved by simply devoting more funds “for children” is just untrue.

What tools, what philosophy?

The philosophy of the family policy should be aimed at actions which make it possible for parents to come back to the labour market and combine their life aspirations with having children. The state’s responsibility should not be maintaining families with children but making it possible for them to earn their living. By doing so neither the state nor the families will be humiliated. Thus, the state does not humiliate itself by claiming that it will convince parents to have children by offering them PLN 68 per month. By doing so it builds a system which combines modern culture and aspirations of young people with having children. Here comes the key words: nurseries and kindergartens. Upgrading these important institutions, which should be financed by a joint effort of parents and the state (it is worth considering voluntary insurance programs for young marriages which would help to co-finance the stay of a child in the nursery school) is the key to reconcile the life aspirations of young people with having children. The certainty that the mother will be able to come back to work and continue her career because she knows that after a short maternity leave and leaving her child in a professional nursery school she can speed up many decisions about having children. This can also make her decide to have a second or a third baby. Nursery schools and kindergartens will be more important due to the disappearance of the “grandma” profession. The necessary pension reform will make women work longer and they will not be able to fulfill this role.

Nurseries and kindergartens are not everything. Another important direction is to build a system of preventive health care for women, which will allow for a quick detection of diseases that prevent women from getting pregnant after 30 years of age.

The program on childcare infrastructure called Resortowy Program Maluch 2012 by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is heading towards this direction. The scale of this program, however, is absolutely insufficient. It assumes that by the 2014 with its help the number of day care for children under the age of 3 will increase to 57 thousands. Meanwhile, it just means covering 7.8% of children aged 0 -3 with the possibility of institutional care. The direction is good, but the scale is insufficient. In 2012 the budget of this program is PLN 40 million. To understand the scale of the incorrect allocation of public resources, which despite the rhetoric does not increase the fertility rate, just mention again the data from Ministry of Labor and Social Policy[5]. In 2010 on the family allowance, so severely criticized in this text, the state spent an astronomical amount of PLN 3,090,915,000. Just compare it to the 40,000,000 for the construction of nurseries…

Translation: Kamila Kwiecień

[1] Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Budżet musi dopłacać do dzieci, 21 luty 2012.

[2] Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, Rodzaje i wysokość świadczeń rodzinnych, http://www.mpips.gov.pl/wsparcie-dla-rodzin-z-dziecmi/swiadczenia-rodzinne/rodzaje-i-wysokosc-swiadczen-rodzinnych-kryteria-uzyskania/

[3] http://www.mpips.gov.pl/wsparcie-dla-rodzin-z-dziecmi/swiadczenia-rodzinne/rodzaje-i-wysokosc-swiadczen-rodzinnych-kryteria-uzyskania/zasilek-rodzinny-oraz-dodatki/art,5443,zasilek-rodzinny.html

[4] http://www.mpips.gov.pl/wsparcie-dla-rodzin-z-dziecmi/opieka-nad-dzieckiem-w-wieku-do-lat-trzech/resortowy-pogram-maluch/resortowy-program-maluch-2012/

[5]http://www.mpips.gov.pl/gfx/mpips/userfiles/_public/1_NOWA%20STRONA/Polityka%20rodzinna/statystyka/sw_rodzinne_2010.pdf

[6]http://www.mpips.gov.pl/gfx/mpips/userfiles/_public/1_NOWA%20STRONA/Polityka%20rodzinna/statystyka/sw_rodzinne_2010.pdf

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About Błażej Lenkowski

Graduate of International Relations at The Faculty of International and Political Science Studies of the University of Lodz; president of Industrial Foundation the publisher of Liberte!; entrepreneur.

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