The long farewell to the welfare state

The german bundestag has approved the introduction of parental benefits. As of 2007, family policy now focuses entirely on high-income earners who want to have children

Those who had promised themselves far-reaching, consistent and long-term reforms when the grand coalition came to power are more humiliated after less than 12 months than they were after 16 years of spiritual and moral change and seven years of the red-green spirit of optimism. The self-proclaimed alliance of purpose is miles away from future-oriented visions that could be communicated to the population as the tasks and challenges of a community of solidarity. The federal political personnel, who even when they took office avoided giving the impression of being the first choice in terms of competence, enthusiasm and persuasiveness, seem to have been used up after only a few months, and at present there is little hope that the long remaining period of this legislative term can be reduced to anything more than the lowest common denominator.

"Explosion of emotions"

But there’s no use getting alarmist, especially not on the berlin political stage, where pertinent counterarguments or poor poll numbers always draw the same reflexes. Sometimes it seems to be the very contestability of a decision that activates rehearsed behavioral patterns in its representatives and virtually forces them to stage the positions they have once climbed to with an extra portion of disenchantment and exaggerated drama. It is hard to explain otherwise that the german minister for family affairs, ursula von der leyen, seemed to be close to tears when the german bundestag passed a resolution on the drug on 29 september. In september, the government passed the bill on parental allowance. The numerous objections raised by various associations, lobbyists and opposition parties melted into petty rebuttals that were not worth further consideration or even mention. In its place still blows through the written catch of the ministerial speech a homely mixture of incense, mysticism and parental happiness.

Now the parental allowance also has the partner months. For the first time, fathers have an honest chance to take time for their irreplaceable role. They have a concrete space to have the borderline experience of being there for the child day and night. This explosion of feelings that is so difficult to put into words. Because even though we are rightly debating facts and figures here today, it cannot be said often enough: children are an almost indescribable blessing.

Ursula von der leyen

As a mother of seven, however, the minister was not content to dress up the indescribable and never quantifiable in a makeshift verbal costume. She said "thank you".

I thank from the bottom of my heart the parliament and especially the technical committee that we are experiencing this historic moment today. In just ten months, we’ve managed to put together a completely new benefits law and make fundamental improvements for young parents and their children in germany.

Ursula von der leyen

Numbers games for the whole family

If the bundesrat (upper house of parliament) approves the bill – which, given the current state of affairs, can be safely amed – the new provisions will apply from 1. January 2007. Then the mother or father who interrupts his or her professional activity to raise the children or reduces it to a maximum of 30 hours per week receives an income replacement amounting to 67 percent of the previous net income for twelve months. If the other parent also takes at least two months shorter leave, the period of entitlement is extended to 14 months. The parental allowance can be at most 1.800 euros per month – mother and father who were not gainfully employed before the child’s birth receive a minimum sum of 300 euros.

The motives that led to the introduction of the parental allowance, which is based on scandinavian models, are acceptable and consensual insofar as a number of serious deficits must be remedied as soon as possible. After all, it is not only a question of an idealistic revaluation and material support of family work, which has long been underestimated, but also of a better reconciliation of work and child rearing, a reduction in child poverty or a changed, open and exchangeable understanding of roles between women and men. Family policy could therefore actually become the engine of social change and also make a decisive contribution to readjusting the relationship between the individual responsibility of citizens and the state’s duty of care.

This is all the more true since current studies – such as the 15. Shell youth study 2006 – have registered a significant increase in the importance of the family, which was not necessarily expected. According to the study, not only do 73 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 21 and 34 percent of those between the ages of 22 and 25 still live with their parents, but 72 percent also believe that one needs a family to be able to live happily.

At the same time, the number of young adults in germany who forgo the realization of children and family is growing. The desire to have children of one’s own exists primarily for emotional reasons. However, unfavorable social conditions can prevent many young people from fulfilling their desire to have children. Young women in particular are confronted with many difficulties when starting a family, because education, professional integration and partnership with starting a family are compressed into a very short time window, the so-called "rush hour of life".

15. Shell youth study 2006

"Stovepiping for high earners."?

Political measures that obey von der leyen’s credo – "to fundamentally improve things in germany for young parents and their children" – came just at the right time in this situation. But parental allowance only partially meets these demands. The main beneficiaries of the new regulations are mothers and fathers who earn enough to ensure that 67 percent of their net salary is enough to live on. They will no longer be subject to any means-testing that could have been carried out before the payment was made.

In return, the unemployed and low-income earners, who could previously count on an education allowance of at least 300 euros for two years, will now receive the same amount for 14 months at best. The family-political spokeswoman of the fdp parliamentary group, ina lenke, ames that about 155,000 families will be financially worse off from 2007.000 families will be worse off financially as of 2007, but does not dare go beyond bemoaning "many design flaws".

The faction of bundnis90. At least the aging oko activists are now pulling out the green childcare card and demanding a straightening of the social imbalance and fair transitional arrangements that also take into account children who were unfortunate enough to be born before 1. January 2007 were born. In addition, the legal right to a childcare place for children over the age of one is to be guaranteed by federal law.

A bit further to the left, less friendly language rules apply. Here, some observers get the idea that parental allowance could be a new form of state birth control, which considers the well-off offspring to be particularly demanding. Kerstin kaiser made a similar statement in may 2005. The parliamentary party leader of the left party in the brandenburg state parliament, whose suitability for discussion is sufficiently certified by four children of her own, criticized the parental allowance as early as may as a "pampering of the heart for higher earners".

Financial einbuben, missing care places and higher taxes

The asta of the westfalische wilhelms-universitat munster sees it similarly and calculates with very concrete numbers and persons. In munster there are 4.800 young academics with children, in about half of all cases the offspring is not yet two years old. Most students receive only the basic amount of 300 €, according to the present bill, they are no longer entitled to support in ten of the twelve months of the important second year of upbringing. However, the financial burdens are only part of the problem.

The many students with children in munster have few affordable childcare options from the university or the city. Numerous free projects are repeatedly threatened with "extinction" due to insufficient public funding.

Asta of the university of munster

Whoever places the parental allowance in the broader framework of family, financial and social policy, of course, encounters ever new questions, not only in munster. According to conservative estimates, the cost of the new benefits law will amount to 3.87 billion euros per year, which will, however, not fall into the accounts of the recipients without compensation. Because starting in 2007, the grand coalition also wants to eliminate a billion-dollar tax subsidy for public health insurance and, as is well known, increase the value-added tax by 3 percent. These reductions alone could eat up part of the money due to rising health insurance premiums and a significantly higher rate of inflation, and hit the unemployed and low-income earners in particular, who will not benefit from the introduction of parental allowance anyway.

It also remains unclear what the social democrats and christian democrats had in mind when they set the actual time limit at 12 and 14 months, respectively. Will the children be released directly into adulthood, or is berlin actually thinking about increasing the number of childcare options across the board??

At least the federal ministry for family affairs can show a recognizable upward trend, because the so-called place-child ratio improved between 2002 and 2005 in the area of care places for children under three years of age from 8.6 to 13.7 percent. Admittedly, there are considerable regional differences and a difference between eastern germany (39.8 percent) and western germany (9.6 percent) that is difficult to bridge.

Apart from this, germany not only lacks the institutional prerequisites for a child-friendly society, it also has a lack of childcare facilities. According to a survey by the allensbach institute, the results of which the ministry of family affairs actually considers particularly encouraging and positive, 48 percent of local business and human resources managers are comfortable with the idea of young fathers taking time off from work for their children. However, these number games also mean: 52 percent find the proposal less edifying.

Without social balance, sensible transitional arrangements, sufficient childcare options and the idealistic and energetic support of business and society, however, the highly praised parental allowance is not a milestone in family policy, but just another step in the enlightenment of the solidarity community. The deficits are so deliberately arranged that belief in accidental design flaws is actually out of the question. If the state is willing to pay for some children 1.Paying 800 euros a month, while others are only worth 300, is self-explanatory. Unemployed people, hartz iv recipients and low-income earners, whose social status is being cemented ever more obviously, are thus given the next "explosion of feelings that is so difficult to put into words" by the grand coalition."

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