Katalin NOVÁK: The Hungarian model of family support - politics supporting demography

The Hungarian model of family support - politics supporting demography

Photo of Katalin NOVÁK

Katalin NOVÁK

Government minister and Member of Parliament in Hungary, as well as vice president of the Fidesz party. A candidate for the position of president of Hungary.

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„Ten years ago, when we won the elections with a 2/3 majority, we made a decision in Hungary that we would come out of the economic, political and moral crisis by focusing not only on economic growth, but also on supporting families. Our primary goal to this day remains stopping the process of population decline. Hungary’s pro-family policy is unique in the world,” writes Katalin NOVÁK

.There is a European view on stopping population decline, which is based on the idea that in one part of the world the problem is caused by a drastic increase in population and in another part by a decrease in population, so the simple solution is to balance these processes. The Hungarians, on the other hand, believe that the decline in population should be dealt with by our own efforts, with the emphasis on strengthening families and supporting the decision to have children. We have taken a different direction from the European mainstream, we have announced a government that puts the family at the center.

In addition to political intent, certainty and consistency are necessary for success, and the family must also be protected in the highest laws. With this in mind, we have included basic pro-family provisions in the constitution. The Hungarian constitution protects life conceived, expresses the belief that marriage or the parent-child relationship is the foundation of the family, includes a provision on the importance of supporting the decision to have children, specifies that the institution of marriage is a union between a man and a woman based on a voluntary decision, and that the mother is a woman and the father is a man.

We have also realized that an economic basis was necessary to achieve our goal. After all, effective family policy is extremely expensive. At the same time, we believe that there is no better investment than support for families, which is why we have tripled the budget allocation for families in ten years. The Hungarian government spends 5 percent of GDP on family support, which is almost double the average of OECD countries, the highest in all of Europe. Our goal is to help with all available tools so that the awaited children are born, after all, today young people would like to have more children than they ultimately decide to.

The basis of our family policy is that we link family benefits to taking up work. Breaking away from the benefits-based approach of the previous era, under the sign of couples’ responsible decision to have offspring, we are primarily increasing benefits linked to the work undertaken, restoring the value of work as a place that creates community. Thanks to effective family policies, in 10 years the unemployment rate has fallen from 11 percent in the pre-pandemic period to a historic 3.4 percent, and today more people are working again.

It has been important to strengthen families not only economically but also spiritually, to support family-oriented thinking, to provide protection for Hungarian communities that support such thinking. We are fortunate because Hungarians are family people, treating family as a value. We do not only want to prevent the negative effects of the demographic crisis – we are also building a community, after all, without a young, strong society, Europe and Hungary will die economically and culturally.

Starting a family is a personal decision, but its impact extends to the entire community. We do not tell anyone that they should decide to have a child, when they should do so, or how many children they should have. We merely provide conditions so that a couple who wants to have more children will not face obstacles, financial or otherwise. The interests and demands of families appear as the basic point of view, more important than any political decision.

Research confirms that Hungarians are the most family-focused nation in Europe. We are currently second in Europe in the percentage of people who consider it ideal to live in a large family. 9 out of 10 Hungarians think that instead of supporting immigration, the birth of Hungarian children should be supported, and the Hungarian public believes that young people should be helped to decide to have a child as early as possible.

We have created the most comprehensive family support system in Europe. We support Hungarians at every stage of their lives. We offer financial assistance for the beginning of life, for creating a home, for the decision to have a child and for raising a child. We help large families in a unique way. We support parents so that they are also able to adequately share work responsibilities according to their requirements. We help single parents or parents of sick children, we support elderly people who are an important part of the family.

We plan our family support system so that it is easy to calculate, plan and secure. We continually expand the range of relief and do not give up any form of benefit. Even during the pandemic emergency, we have introduced new forms of assistance for families to get them through the period safely.

We have a family-friendly tax system so that the Hungarian family pays less tax the more children it raises. Two working parents with average incomes raising three children essentially pay no personal income tax. Moreover, mothers of at least four children are exempt from paying personal income tax for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, from the beginning of next year – following the Polish model – people under the age of 25 will also not pay personal income tax. According to our recently announced plan, if economic growth is at least 5.5 percent in 2021, we will give back to employed Hungarian families at the beginning of 2022 a significant portion of the income tax paid in 2021.

In our family policy, we have always assigned an important role to the creation of a home; after all, starting a family begins with creating a home, a certain place. In 2015, we launched the “flagship” of our housing support system, the Housing Relief for Families, a subsidy based on the number of children, which can also be applied for on the basis of a declaration of intent to have children in the future, for the construction, purchase or enlargement of a new or used house. (The subsidy that families can receive is €1,600 (PLN 7,400) for one child, €7,200 (PLN 33,000) for two, and €28,000 (PLN 129,000) for three or more). A year later we introduced the Housing Loan for Families with an interest rate of no more than 3 percent, which can be obtained for the purchase of new or used real estate. (In case of three or more children: 42,000 euros (PLN 193,000), for two: 28,000 euros (PLN 129,000)). In 2018, we introduced a reduction in mortgage debt for families. Families expecting a second child can reduce their mortgage debt by €2,800 (PLN 13,000) and families expecting a third child by €11,000 (PLN 51,000). In July 2019, we announced the action programme for family protection, which includes elements concerning the housing programme. Under it, we made it possible to receive financial support before the birth of a child in the form of an interest-free loan for married couples who plan to start a family and have children. If children are born, part of the loan (after the second child) or all of it (after the third child) is cancelled. Another new feature of the Family Protection Program is that families with at least three children can apply for a subsidy of €7,000 (PLN 32,000) to buy a new car for at least seven people.

Mothers of young children are guaranteed a choice: they can stay at home with their child until it is 3 years old, but they can also return to work without losing the right to family benefits, so they receive the benefits due to them during maternity leave. The return of mothers to work is also supported by the increasing number of places in nurseries: we are opening new nurseries – the number of places in nurseries has increased more than one and a half times in the last period, a significant part of nurseries is free. Our commitment to supporting mothers is confirmed by the fact that during the pandemic we increased the childbirth allowance. From 1 July 2021, mothers can receive more money for six months after giving birth than they earned in the period before the birth, so a woman who gives birth to a child does not lose financially, but on the contrary, gains.

This means a change of attitude in relation to the situation 10 years ago, when the then left-wing government faced the consequences of the world economic crisis by liquidating family benefits. For us the basic issue is not only to maintain the existing family benefits, but also to present new proposals. Apart from the increase of the amount of childbirth aid, in January this year the largest housing programme in history was launched, including among others support for renovation. This year we also returned to paying the 13th salary, which had been stopped during an earlier crisis by the then government.

We also help those already raising children. As of the 2020/2021 school year, every primary and secondary school student is entitled to free textbooks, and 60 percent of children in nurseries and kindergartens receive free or partially paid meals. It is an important principle for us that most family benefits are also available for fathers, and it is particularly important to emphasize that most family benefits can be applied for after the 12th week of fetal life.

Although a lot of work is still ahead of us, one decade is a sufficient period in the field of demography to be able to take stock and measure the results quantitatively. We are happy to see that this courageous decision we made 10 years ago is starting to work and the Hungarian model is attracting more and more interest.

Although Hungary’s population has been gradually declining since 1981, it seems that the rate of decline has started to slow down since 2016. Marriage is fashionable again – the number of marriages has not been this high since 1992 and has almost doubled from 10 years ago, and the number of divorces, in turn, is the lowest in 60 years. Married couples with children are divorcing less and less frequently. The number of children born to married couples has gradually increased since 2015. The process of increasing the age at which married couples decide to have a child has stopped. In 2010, the fertility rate indicating the desire to have offspring across Europe increased the most in our country (+24 percent), so that we reached the EU average. In 2020, it was the highest in 25 years.

.The results indicate that the spending on families is not wasted. This analysis can be used to conclude that we will reach the goal that there will be more and more of us Hungarians.

Katalin Novák

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