|Zsuzsa Kormosné Debreceni, the head of Family Policy Department in the Ministry of National Resources (Hungary)|
Reported at The Third Annual International Riga Family Forum “The Natural Family as a Value and State's Priority” (Latvia, May, 2011)
Hungary is one of the European countries most effected by the demographic winter and being in an even deeper crisis than others due to the seemingly unstoppable decrease of birth rates started in the 1960’s and to the negative population growth since 1981. It is quite clear that all actors of the society must cooperate for slowing this process and make the ship turn toward a growing trajectory instead of wrecking of the unsustainable systems of social security, education, health care etc. and sinking in the ocean of more fertile nations.
The Hungarian fertility rate is about 1.3, and most of the European countries share the same or a similarly low rate. Demographic experts say that about 80 per cent of Hungarian young people declare marriage, family and children as the main source of happiness and they express their wish which amounts to having just as many children as needed for a little growth beyond the reproduction of society. 20 young people would like to have 24 children.
In reality, however, they do not marry or do so only very late, get children later and later (at their thirties) and as a consequence they have only one child or maximum two—which number is not enough for maintaining the size of population and thus the society. Almost half of marriages break up and 40 % of young couples between 24 and 29 choose cohabitation instead of marriage. 40 % of children are born out of wedlock.
Thus one of the main objectifs and a great challenge of the Hungarian Government is to identify the causes and reasons of the gap between the declared values and wishes of Hungarian young people, couples and families and their real deads and attitude toward marrying and having children and give appropriate and effective reaction to these challenges.
A declared fundamental value of the new Hungarian Government set up in 2010 has been the family and one of its most important priorities is the strengthening of families. This value and the high importance of families is expressed also in the new Fundamental Law of Hungary. Later I will shortly present you the related parts of it.
The decisions and steps of the Government related to families are determined by some basic principles.
During the last 8 years the lack of calculability and the constant changes in family policy—even the lack of such policy and a missing vision on family—caused huge difficulties to young couples intending to form a family and wishing to have children. To give birth to children was equal to become poor. It is not an attractive perspective for young people.
It is important to declare that family as a basic unit of the society is a value to be defended, children are part of the common good and treasury, investments into the future of the society and of the nation and so the families upbringing children are to be highly supported.
Consequently a stable and calculable, long-term family policy and family supporting system became indispensable. The example of France proves that this is a right way to follow.
Another new and highly important basic principle is the separation of family policy from a social policy aiming to support the most vulnerable groups of the society. We need to cease to suggest that having children is an automatic way to impoverishment and this is a situation to be avoided—as it was an everyday experience of families in the past period.
The aim of the Hungarian Government is to provide the citizens with the opportunity of a free choice among different ways of living. We should help them to make decisions with equally acceptable consequences. So, if someone decides to take care of the family and home as a “full time mother” and does not intend to return to the labor market, she should be able to do so without the risk of impoverishment and being left behind.
Others, should they decide to have a family and also work and have a carrier, should be able to do so, the most flexible way possible in a part time job if necessary and with high quality and affordable child care. Therefore obstacles for childbearing should be broken down.
It’s a regrettable fact that as a negative effect of the past years an anomy and a loss of faith and trust has become dominant in the Hungarian society and the declaration of common values and aims forming the base of the present and future of the society is necessary for changing this sad situation.
In order to improve the demographic situation we focus on families with children who are active—in other words where parents contribute to the economy by their work.
We support those living and working for their children and not those living by their children.
We intend to encourage couples to have children in an earlier age—if possible under thirty.
We give assistance to parents—first of all mothers—to reconcile their family and care tasks and their work.
We intend to strengthen men in their fatherhood and encourage fathers to be present more in their families, in the life of their children and to participate more in the care and household tasks. This is good not only for the family but also strengthens fathers’ physical and mental health and prolongs their life expectancy.
We intend to strengthen marriages, the stability of families with children and the cooperation of men and women by preparing and educating young people to responsible relationships and to marriage. For couples in crisis we develop a network of supporting services. In these tasks we count on NGO-s and churches.
We support not only the coming into being but also the upbringing of children - mainly by giving a crucial role to education.
A Demographic Round-table had been formed before the elections of 2010, in November 2009, with the participation of scientists, academics, experts, NGOs, churches and the representatives of the business sphere for exploring the causes of the demographic decline, finding solutions and giving propositions to the new government.
Eight workings groups has been set up:
The Government builds upon the opinion, expertise and propositions of the Demographic Round-table and at some decisions related to different family issues the propositions of the Round-table were considered. Another terrain of the ongoing consultation with family NGOs and churches is a Forum besides the Family Policy Department in the Ministry of National Resources - which itself is also a new and important actor of the realization of governmental goals. The last 8 years we had no such Department.
There have been significant changes in the past nine-ten month in Hungary involving different fields and policies.
One of the most important measures we took in connection with the renewal of our country and the family policy mix was the transformation of the taxation system in Hungary, because if we consider families and work equally important, the taxation system must somehow reflect work and family simultaneously, and their values and needs must be recognised in it.
Therefore we introduced a system in Hungary, providing families with their fundamental right to keep their earnings without taxation of their expenses related to raising children—instead of giving them aids and allowances.
Allow me to share some basic details on family related leave in Hungary. Parents are entitled to stay at home with their children for a relatively long period, for instance maternal leave is available for 24 weeks following childbirth and maternity benefit is equal to 70% of the average gross earnings of the mother. Moreover, parents who satisfy social insurance contribution conditions are entitled to parental leave up to the child's third birthday and parental benefit amounting to 70% of their earnings. Adopting parents have also entitled to a 6 month parental leave up to the age of 10 of their adopted child. Fathers and mothers can choose who stays at home with the child.
We have implemented several changes in the field of childcare institutions, since in Hungary the lack of child-care institutions is an acute problem. The Government intends to compensate it by reducing administrative burdens related to the establishment of family day cares and other reliefs.
I would also like to share Hungarian best practices in the field of employment with you. Employers of mothers with small children have had the right to a social contribution subsidy since January 2011. In case of two part-time workers (one of them has to be a mother returning to employment from maternity leave) sharing a full time job, the employer only has to pay a reduced percentage of the compulsory national insurance contribution (20% instead of 27%.) for 3 years.
Since we consider work and family equally important, we would also like to encourage companies to use family-friendly measures. Therefore the Ministry of State responsible for Social-, Family- and Youth Affairs of the Ministry of National Resources publishes the Family-friendly Workplace Tender in a renewed form and revised content from 2011 with the intention that the government could get a picture about the expectations of employers and employees regarding the family-friendly corporate initiatives
In order to ensure the children’s regular attending to school, from 2010, the family allowance is paid as schooling benefit to the families whose children are in the age of compulsory schooling.
In our new Media Law we strengthened the protection of children.
Finally I would speak of our new Constitution named the Fundamental Laws of Hungary accepted by the Parliament at Easter.
I will highlight some main points which are in harmony with the values and goals mentioned before and determine the future relation and engagement of our country toward families:
You could see that Hungary began a huge reconstruction work not only in the economy but also in the field of families too. An important element of this work had been the “Europe for families, families for Europe” Population Awareness Week during the Hungarian Presidency of the EU from 28 March to 1 April where some our Latvian friends participated.
We hope that the example and strivings of Hungary related to families would be taken up and followed by the upcoming Presidencies—first of all the next country, Poland which signed the Trio Declaration in Godollo at the informal meeting of European Ministers responsible for family and demographic issues.
We are ready to cooperate with countries—we hope Latvia would be among them—sharing the same values and considering families as of central importance. Europe would be able to overcome the economic crisis, the demographic decline and the situation threatening the maintainability of our social systems only by strengthenting families, upbringing children and by an economy based on work.
Allow me to finally mention that the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will propose that 2014 were to be designated the European Year of Families, since it will be the twentieth anniversary that the United Nations General Assembly announced for the first time the International Year of the Family. Perhaps a dedicated European Year draws attention and enhances commitment to family policies.