Family policy – facts, myths, solutions

picture: M Gloasgow
picture: M Gloasgow

There is a great wave of discussion on pension reform being implemented by the government in Poland. The essential reform, forced by sad demographic factors. However, we discuss too little the so-called “other side of the coin”, through which the country can influence demography, that is the family policy. The real objectives and opportunities of the family policy are worth determining as well as assessing the existing solutions and indicating desirable directions of its development.

Family policy – a miracle drug?

First of all, limitations of the family policy should be clearly emphasized. Traditional political parties, especially the ones being temporarily in opposition, glorify the family policy as a wonder antidote to fertility crisis, which can allegedly turn demographic trends in Poland. Experts also yield to these optimistic myths and Lukas Hardt’s text entitled “One should envy families” from Rzeczpospolita is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, there is no miracle antidote to low fertility. Firstly, demographic crisis in our country is not a phenomenon characteristic of Poland only. This malady is a civilization process, which in fact has affected the whole Europe, including Russia. A simple conclusion can be reached: demographic crisis is caused by something more than only the country’s family policy pursued ineffectively. We generally overestimate the role and the influence of the country on social and economic life in a public discourse. Demographic crisis, which will have fatal economic consequences for the future of Europe, is caused by cultural changes, above all. Nowadays, families decide to have one or two children on a large scale. The phenomenon of defamilization is intensifying. More and more people decide to live as a single person or they just do not want to have children. The age, at which women decide to have children, is also changing drastically from the historical point of view. The average age of giving birth to the first child was 23,7 as early as in 2000 in Poland, and already 26,6 in 2010[1]. When we compare these details with the previous decade, then the change is even more fundamental. Some factors influence this great change and this purely economic one is not decisive here. Firstly, a cultural model, in which young people do not hurry to start a family, was formed.  They prefer to have some partners in the initial stage of their life, and then long dating with the partner before making a decision on parenthood. The awareness and broad ability to use contraception is growing. Young people want to take decisions consciously on their future. They should not be blamed for it, because it is a good attitude. Extension of the educational process and dissemination of higher education also influences this phenomenon and it appears that the increasing percentage of young people enters the labour market not at the age of 19 but 5 years later. This factor also influences greatly decisions on having children and is rarely discerned by researchers. People starting adult and independent life also have expectations regarding their life status that is incomparable with any other previous generation. As long as they are young, they want to travel the world, buy an apartment and settle down financially before having a baby. The fight with this new lifestyle, which is often suggested by the right wing, is a losing battle. The traditional 19th-century family model is unrestorable.

Then, it should be emphasized that this trend cannot be reversed completely by even the best family policy of the country. It has not happened anywhere in Europe. France as a good example has already reached a level of a mother having more than two children. It ought to be remembered that this level renews generation but does not guarantee demographic growth! It does not restore the population loss from previous years either. When we discuss family policy, we should remember that it is not a wonder antidote but a tool that can only improve the situation a little. We have to know that there will be less of us than now when building up future scenarios.

Incorrect tools of the family policy         

Of course, the situation described above does not mean that the family policy should not be implemented. It is extremely important. Firstly, we should not misinform public opinion by telling about its impossible effects to be achieved. Even in case of success, the effects will not change the strategic and demographic situation of the country. Secondly, the objectives of the social policy ought to be combined rationally with its tools. Today, it seems that a lot of activities are to flatter public opinion politically and falsely. There are more sham activities than effective implementation of the real family policy. Well then, it is more important to think how we are supposed to spend these resources, understanding the current cultural trends and what actually motivates young people rather than propagating the idea of: “more public money for children”.

picture: M Gloasgow

The falsest assumption of many programs called the family policy is to offer a variety of benefits to young parents, especially young mothers. This is an example of total wasting public resources, which does not bring us closer in any way to achieving the basic objective, that is fertility increase. Particularly in the Polish conditions of limitations resulting from the budgetary situation of the country. Why? It is enough to connect the contents of some family programs promoted on the website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy [2] with motivations of young people’s conduction. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy offers us the following: child benefit. The monthly amount of the child benefit is: 1) PLN 68 for a child at the age of up to 5; 2) PLN 91  for a child being over 5 and up to 18; 3) PLN 98 for a child being above 18 up to 24. Precise rules concerning people entitled to benefit can be found on the website of the Ministry[3]. Nevertheless, according to the most significant rule, if the family’s average monthly income per capita or the income of the studying person does not exceed the amount of PLN 504, then family is entitled to the child benefit. People entitled to the child benefit can yet apply for another benefits under certain conditions. For example: extra money of PLN1000 to the child benefit on account of giving birth; extra money of PLN 80 for account of bringing up a child in a large family (the third and another children are entitled to the child benefit). A single extra allowance of PLN 1000 for one child is also entitled on account of giving birth besides the benefit for having a child.

The programs described above are the examples of spending public means on activities, which completely fail to meet the objectives, for whose accomplishment they were established. These programs are not the family policy as they do not contribute to the fertility increase. I cannot imagine how thousands of people decide rationally to have a baby despite difficult financial situation, because the state will give them PLN 2 000 on a one-off basis, and then PLN 68 every month. I cannot see crowds of families, who were motivated to have the third child with the benefit of PLN 80 by the state. It is mockery at young people and throwing public money away. First of all, total incomprehension of the young generation’s aspirations, that is people who want to make decisions on their lives by themselves, who want to develop, realize their aspirations and career. Then, the question arises: how can the state work to help them combine these aspirations with the possibility of having children. Benefits as the element of the family policy ought to be abolished and considerable funds allocated for them, reallocated to real activities. If necessary, they can be an element of the policy supporting the poorest, but it is a completely different issue that is not connected with the activities directed at the fertility increase under discussion. The politicians’ rhetoric saying that these kind of benefits is the family policy and demographic problems will be solved by means of simple adding of budgetary resources “for children” is just false.

What tools, what concept?

The whole concept of the family policy should be directed to activities, which enable young parents to return to the labour market as soon as possible and combine the work and life aspirations with having children. The state ought to make it possible for the families to earn their living but not to support them. The state does not humble oneself or humiliate the parent by saying that it will convince the parent to have a child for PLN 68 per month, but it builds up a system that can combine the contemporary culture and the young people’s aspirations with the possibility of having children. Then, we come to the keyword: day care center and kindergarten. The network development of these unusually important institutions, which are supposed to be financed by a common effort of the state and parents (maybe it is worth thinking about voluntary insurance programs for young marriages, thanks to which the child’s stay at the day care center could be co-financed for many years) is the key to combining young people’s life with having children. The certainty that the mother will be able to return to work quickly and continue her career as she knows that after a short maternity leave, leaving her baby in the professional, hourly flexible day care center, can hasten a lot of decisions on having children. It can make mother decide quicker also on having the second and the third child. The network of day care centers and kindergartens will be getting more significant due to disappearance of the grandmother institutions. The essential pension reform will make women work longer and they will be able to take care of the children later.

However, day care centers and kindergartens are not everything. Another important aspect is to build up the system of preventive medicine for women, which allows to detect diseases quickly that make it impossible for women to become pregnant after 30.

A very interesting Resort Program Toddler 2012[4] of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy concerning development of the day care centers infrastructure is following these directions. Nevertheless, the scale of this program is absolutely insufficient. It is enough to mention that it says that thanks to it, the number of places of child care up to 3 will rise up to 57 thousand till 2014. But surprisingly, this means only including 7.8 % of children at the age of 0-3 in the possibility of institutional care. Well then, the direction is good but the scale insufficient. The program’s budget is 40 m. zlotys in 2012. So as to understand the scale of faulty allocation of public resources, which despite rhetoric do not accomplish the objective of fertility increase at all, it is enough to quote the details of MPiPS[5] again. In 2010 an astronomical sum of: PLN 3,090,915,000 [6] was spent on child benefits so harshly criticized in this paper. Let’s compare it with 40,000,000 allocated to building day care centers…

Translation: Sylwia Syposz

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

[2] Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, Rodzaje i wysokość świadczeń rodzinnych,