Family policy: an alternative to the demographic crisis?

According to the Hungarian Government, the solution to European demographic problems lies in the provision of incentives for family creation, as opposed to supporting immigration. Opinions differ however on the effectiveness of Fidesz's numerous family policy measures. While some think that they do not provide a realistic solution to all challenges, others deem the measures the cornerstones of a harmonious society.

Family and Migration in Fidesz's Policy

05/29/2018 - 00:00
“Immigration does not in any way solve European labor market and demographic challenges”, said Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in 2015. The direction of the Hungarian government's migration policy has not changed over the last three years. In fact, it started introducing extreme elements. Such examples are, among others, the anti-asylum seeker and anti-UN proposal posters as well as degrading declarations on Hungarian Roma people. For Fidesz, the solution to demographic problems is a successful family policy, instead of immigration: in a rather nationalistic spirit, it emphasizes the "growth" of the Hungarian people.

The issue, however, is much more complex: more and more Hungarians go abroad each year to pursue a higher quality and a more free life for themselves and their future children. The government, however, only deals with the relatively small number of refugees and immigrants. Can Fidesz's family benefit system bring significant changes in a country that fears immigrants, but looks on idly while hundreds of thousands of Hungarians emigrate?

If we examine the family policy of Fidesz, we may think back to Szilárd Németh's words. In May 2017, the Vice-president of the party stated that "those who fill the world with children own the world." Therefore, increasing the population seems to be of paramount importance to the government but this is contradicted by the fact that the family benefit system does not offer any real solutions behind flashy promises. Since the party has not published a program for the 2018 elections, we will examine the family policy measures of Fidesz governments during the last eight years.

Here and beyond CSOK*

The government has had great plans for developing a family policy package: it wants to increase the current fertility rate of 1.4 to 2.1 children. This number seems unrealistic if we take into account the characteristics of European countries with a high birth rate such as Ireland (1.93) or France (2.01). There are factors at play in these countries such as a flexible labor market or a predictable social benefit system. There are also well-organized services to help with infants, such as well-equipped and widely available childcare facilities and kindergartens. Much more opportunities exist for men and women to participate more equitably in caring for a small child. Hungary is lagging behind regarding all the factors listed above, so reaching the 2.1 percent target – and thus countering migration – does not seem to be a realistic plan.

What is the government's family benefit system? When this concept is mentioned in Hungary, most people probably think of the famous-infamous CSOK (Home-creation Subsidy for Families*). The subsidy has been used by tens of thousands of families to date. However, these are already big families or families who have higher and more stable income. CSOK does not provide opportunities for families in need, with an unstable income. Another major flaw in the program is that it does not offer a long-term, permanent solution, because it’s a one-off discount, which does not guarantee that "CSOK children"** are born at all, and if so, that they will have enough resources and their family can bring them up later.

The government also announced that it would release one million forints (approx. 3,000 EUR) from existing debts for a third and fourth child. This is discriminatory against families with one or two children, as well as a dangerous and misguided measure. Responsible parents do not undertake having more children just to reduce their debts. Such ideas are harmful and do not represent real help for growing families. According to HVG's calculations, the upbringing of a child represents a long-term expenditure of at least 13-15 million forints (40,000 – 45,000 EUR) up to the age of 18. That amount does not change if the parents' bank debt is somewhat reduced. Such measures have a degrading effect on the role of parents and encourage families to grow in return for benefits, even if they do not have the appropriate financial background to do so.

Those in need lack support

A realistic solution would be for the government to think in terms of long-term subsidies instead: to contribute more effectively to childbearing, to provide more nursery and kindergarten facilities and to support flexible working hours for parents. There is also a lack of regulation of the housing market. Current rental prices often put families, as well as young graduates in an impossible position. An efficient public rental housing program could be a solution. Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, said in May 2017 that families needed more child-care facilities and nurseries with flexible opening hours, increased wages for childcare professionals, flexible working hours for parents and affordable rental prices. She added that women should be able to have a predictable and foreseeable future, to allow them to do a get of job that they can actually support themselves on, once they have children. The MP criticized the government's family policy as favoring the upper classes, rather than those who really needed it. The amount of family allowance has not changed in a decade (12,200 HUF, approx. 37 EUR per month), and according to information from Népszava, in 2017 nearly 800,000 families lost this allowance because of their lack of permanent taxable income. Fidesz takes away help from those who would need it the most. There is not enough funding available for single-parent families, and over the past seven years, maternity and child care allowances (GYES) and child-raising allowances have not increased either.

All in all, Fidesz's family policy shows serious shortcomings. Instead of long-term and real-life help, it seeks only to back appearances. According to data from the Central Statistics Office, the number of births shows a significant increase in only two age groups; the group of adolescents (15-19 years) is one, which is more cause for concern than pride. The rise in the number of teenage parents is a measure of poverty and lack of family planning opportunities. These young people often find no purpose, nor perspective other than having children. The other "growing" group consists of young people in their early twenties; in their case as well, it is often hopelessness combined with the prospective of financial support that are decisive factors for having children early on. The majority of young, 20-24 year old parents do not yet have the any financial resources, as neither do adolescent mothers and fathers.

The question arises then: how can the government consider the registration of refugees and immigration a more serious problem than the financial insecurity that Hungarian families need to face? Figures speak for themselves: In 2017, annual subsidies for maternity support were just under 5.4 billion HUF (16,400,000 EUR), while the Soros campaign against asylum seekers and immigration cost 12.3 billion forints (approx. 37,500,000 EUR) (and it has grown to about 20 billion forints, approx. 60,500,000 EUR, by now).

A country of immigration or emigration?

"Hungary is becoming an immigrant country". We can see this statement in the government press and public media on a daily basis. According to the data of the Central Statistical Office, a total of 151,000 foreigners stayed in Hungary in 2017, but only 1,300 refugee applications were accepted by the government. About 90 percent of immigrants soon left the country. On the other hand, the number of Hungarian citizens who have left the country in recent years is several times higher than that: more than 600,000 people emmigrated to other parts of the European Union alone. Hence, Hungary is an “emigrant country” really, but Fidesz, instead of solving real problems, deals rather with fabricated enemies. According to Portfolio, "it is precisely that age group which pays taxes, social charges and contributions on the one hand, and which is in a childbearing age on the other, and thus contributes to the improvement of the demographic situation, that is leaving Hungary right now ". The children of emigrant workers are already born abroad, their numbers have been increasing for years. Fidesz does not really fight to create better living conditions that could be incentives for families to come home.

The government's current family policy does not offer solutions to problems of immigration nor to emigration. Encouraging responsible childbearing as well as creating families with balanced and happy children can only be possible in a country, where the standard of living is appropriate. In a country where wages are proportionate to accomplished work, where financial security is not only the privilege of higher social classes, where politics do not incite fear but support the people. Where opportunities are expanding, not decreasing, and where the children of the future are not just targets to achieve as part of a plan.


*CSOK is an abbreviation that stands for “Home-creation Subsidy for Families”. It is a type of government subsidy that provides loans to families who have children, or are planning to have children, to buy new homes.
**This refers to the fact that families can apply for the subsidy if they agree to have more children in the future.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

Families: Investment in the Future

05/29/2018 - 00:00
Europe at the beginning of the 21st century deserves the name "old continent" and not only because of its historical prestige. The alarming rate of aging nations, nations that have been living on the continent for many centuries now, combined with a drastic decline in births, have motivated most of the elected politicians to see the solution to the problem in supporting immigration, with all its perceived advantages and real disadvantages . Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to think about a much more practical solution, since measures of financial and non-financial nature that encourage family growth are not only capable of supporting the social welfare system but are also essential for the development of a spiritually more balanced society.

Hungary is perhaps one of the most affected countries in this demographic disaster. Since 1981 its population has decreased by about 1 million people. The government, which took office in 2010, therefore pays particular attention to reducing and reversing these negative trends. The goal is to support the birth of children who are planned by their parents.

Laying down a cornerstone

After the change of government (in 2010), the new cabinet, almost simultaneously with financial stabilization, took to the adjustment of the birth rate ratio that was in a lamentable state at the time. One measure followed another, always aiming at supporting family creation and family life. Just think of the three-year-long maternity leave, the extended tax cuts for families (extended to those recently married, and those with two children) and for young mothers or the “GYED extra” (an additional type of childcare subsidy). Efforts were made to back these benefits with appropriate steps on the labor market, which materialized primarily in the provisions of the Workplace Protection Action Plan and the extension of compulsory part-time work for mothers.

Undoubtedly, the home-creation subsidy for families (CSOK), which appeared in 2014-2015, was the cherry on the cake, which could provide successful applicants with up to 10 million HUF (approx. 30,300 EUR) state aid. It is an important principle for policy makers and decision-makers alike that the financial burden of having a family and childbearing should not automatically imply living in poverty to young couples, who wish to take on this beautiful “job".

Following the next election victory in 2014, it was possible to further expand the already established framework and to designate longer-term goals.

Growth: looking ahead to the future

In the field of family policy, the last four years have been characterized by a broader "scattering" of goods harvested from good economic results. The administrative burden of applying for the CSOK has decreased and the institution of family bankruptcy protection has made it possible for mortgaged families with three or more children to write 1 million HUF (approx. 3030 EUR) off their debt.
In order to positively influence the short and long-term trends, promotional campaigns have been launched in different media outlets and in schools. A positive attitude of the young generation towards families is indispensable for stopping unfavorable demographic processes in the future. One of the culmination points of this initiative is the government’s decision to declare 2018 the "Year of Families". In these endeavors, many NGOs, such as the National Association of Large Families (NOE), proved to be valuable supporters of the executive power.

As a result of the measures taken so far, the Hungarian birth rate has been elevated successfully to 1.5 from its low point at 1.25. However, this is far from sufficient to maintain the natural reproductive level. The government plans to achieve a magical 2.1 level by 2030, which depends on many other factors.
It should be noted, however, that the results of the programs can only be measured in decades, not in four-year government cycles. A pro-birth governmental approach, independent of party programs, is indispensable in achieving future success. The basic concept has also proven itself through the test of time, since 2010. The decline in negative trends has also lead to a reduction in the interruption of unwanted pregnancies. We cannot omit either that in the Central European region, Hungary spends proportionally the most (3.57%) of its GDP on supporting families. In Austria, this indicator is at 2.6%, Slovakia 2%, while in Poland it is only 1.61%.

Overall, it can be stated that the fruits of effective family support policies can be much more abundant and are easier to harvest than the promotion of immigration. From a strictly non-emotional, economical perspective, both financial and time-wise, it is much more cost-effective to include local youth in the labor market by which we can eliminate the stakes of the integration process. From a human point of view, existence in the family as the most basic community can release emotional and psychological energies in an individual that can lead to a spiritually balanced life, thus contributing to the creation of a more solid, healthier society.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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