Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Babies, babies, babies

Politicians love babies. People love babies. Everyone loves babies. I suppose that's why Prime Minister Donald Tusk has followed up a rough political patch with a couple of major pushes to produce and encourage more babies. In demographic terms, this is probably smart. In political terms, this could be too.

The first step came Monday night when Tusk's government passed a previously promised move to give families more options to take longer child-care leave. Mothers' main maternity leave will remain at 20 weeks but the extra maternity will be extended to 6 weeks from the current 4 weeks. 

But the centrepiece plan sees the government offer a so-called "family-care" leave to mothers or fathers that will last 26 weeks. This leave can also be combined with part-time work. One goal is to explicitly help fathers do more. 

Those taking 6 months will get 100% of pay with the option to later add another 6 months at 60%. Families can also choose right away the full 12 months available at 80% of pay. None too shabby, I might say. 

The next step came Tuesday when the government decided to transfer just over 200 million zlotys from an EU program to help subsidise pre-schools. This is in addition to the 500 million zlotys the government has already pledged to help lower pre-school costs. 

Some 2,300 pre-schools will be financed at a total cost of 1.5 to 1.7 billion zlotys in 2007 to 2013. Get 'em while their young has always been good strategy. 

Demographically, the baby-boosting measures are likely to prove too little. According to the latest data, Poland's fertility rate was just 1.3 (2011). That is well below the replacement level of 2.1. No matter how you slice it, some type of immigration is likely needed to offset societal ageing in Poland. 

But in political terms, Tusk is clearly looking to play the long game. The extra funds to promote babies, whether born or unborn, will probably not hit with a bang, but they could indeed help undershore wobbly support for Tusk's senior ruling Civic Platform (PO) going forward. 

Happy May Day.

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