Traditionalists thwarted

Home Childcare Payment Axed

With German preschools see more money now? Source: DPA
Will German preschools see more money now?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany offers generous child-care allowances and working conditions to tackle its shrinking population. But the cultural impact of such policies is often ignored, inflaming tensions.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The monthly €150 ($164) payment to parents who cared for preschoolers at home was popular in conservative Bavaria, but not elsewhere.
    • It was offered instead of state-subsidized preschool, but was labeled as bad for women workers and immigrant integration.
    • Germany already pays €188 per month per child as well as offering maternity and paternity pay up to €1,800 a month.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Horst Seehofer, the conservative premier of the German state of Bavaria, said it was about “having a heart for families and children.” But Germany’s highest court wasn’t impressed.

Judges on Tuesday ruled that a controversial monthly payment made to German parents who care for preschool children at home, called “Betreuungsgeld,” was unconstitutional. Such entitlements were not in the federal government’s gift, they argued.

Mr. Seehofer, who leads the Christian Social Union party, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, had pushed the unpopular €150 ($164) subsidy through the ruling right-left coalition in 2013. He argued that it was about giving parents more childcare choices.

But the payment faced fierce resistance with opponents saying it amounted to a “stove premium,” encouraging women to stay at home and damaging the integration of immigrant children. Family Minister Manuela Schwesig from the center-left Social Democrats simply called it the “wrong way” to help German parents.

The payment faced fierce resistance with opponents saying it encouraged women to stay at home and damaged the integration of immigrant children.

Despite the opposition and the court ruling, Mr. Seehofer’s CSU is now planning to implement a similar subsidy at the state level – using state coffers, while other states intend to use any extra money to expand childcare options.

“The money that the federal government will save in the future from the Betreuungsgeld – almost €1 billion ($1.1 billion) per year – must be paid to the states, so we can continue to invest in expanding and improving daycare centers,” Malu Dreyer, the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, told Handelsblatt.

The judges didn’t rule on the cultural aspects of the law, merely that the federal government had no business offering something that was a state competency and billed as compensation for parents choosing not to send their offspring to a state-run preschool.

“The offer of publicly subsidized childcare is available to all parents. If parents do not make use of this, they forgo it voluntarily,” the judges wrote in their decision.

Germany, whose population of 80.6 million is set to shrink dramatically in the coming decades, already pays parents an entitlement of €188 per child each month. And a few years ago, the country introduced a generous maternity and paternity payment worth up to €1,800 a month, which allows parents to take up to 14 months off work after the birth of a child.

But the country’s daycare infrastructure is still considered woefully inadequate to the task of making it easier to work and raise a family, despite the large investments made in recent years.

Changing Work Priorities-01

Research by Handelsblatt has shown that many German parents want more flexible working hours. According to data from the Federal Statistics Office, hundreds of thousands of mothers and fathers are unsatisfied with their current workloads.

Those currently working in full-time jobs want the ability to cut back and many with part-time jobs would like to ramp up their hours.

German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles is planning legislation that would make it easier for people to return to full-time work, but critics say that’s not enough.

“We need a general right to change working times flexibly and smoothly according to circumstances in life,” Jutta Allmendinger, the president of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, told Handelsblatt.

 

Barbara Gillmann and Daniel Delhaes are Handelsblatt correspondents in Berlin. To contact them: b.gillmann@handelsblatt.com and delhaes@handelsblatt.com

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