Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) has proposed that families with minor children should receive a monthly subsidy of NT$3,000 to encourage couples to have more babies, but critics said the government could not afford the idea.
However, Yeh’s proposal has highlighted the inequitable distribution of government subsidies, which have tended to favor older citizens over the younger generation. Every year, subsidies and benefits worth hundreds of billions of New Taiwan dollars are given out to retired public servants, senior citizens and fat cat politicians. Public servants, in particular, enjoy an astoundingly high income replacement ratio, with incredibly well-funded pension plans. All these subsidies and benefits should be evaluated based on the same standards used to judge Yeh’s proposal.
The new crop of legislators should ensure subsidy programs adhere to the principles set out in the Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 485, which states that, given limited state resources, social legislation must “consider the economic and financial conditions of the state” and “ensure fairness between the beneficiaries and the rest of society”; and “the rules governing the means and amount of provision should also seek to be consistent with the basic needs of the beneficiaries.”
Although the subsidies and benefits in question are all legal, their enormous size and questionable nature goes against the spirit of the Constitution. Legislators should cut inappropriate subsidies to ensure the nation’s fiscal stability, not saddle future generations with more debt.
Yeh’s proposal also raises concerns about whether doling out cash to families is an effective way to boost the birthrate. There are many ways the government can encourage childbirth. Here are some options:
First, provide subsidies for community daycare centers to help young parents who are struggling to balance their roles as parents and breadwinners.
Second, create a door-to-door childcare service. This can be done by forming professional childcare teams consisting of borough officials and nurses specializing in nursery and public health, which would regularly visit households with children to give childcare consultation and supplies, such as formula milk and diapers, based on the age and needs of the child.
Similar policies have been employed in Scandinavia, where governments regularly provide brain game toys to families with children. Such childcare services can also help detect early signs of child abuse without intruding upon the family or treating them like suspects.
Third, the government should invest its resources in developing measures to help divorcing parents understand their rights and obligations, such as custody, parental visits and alimony, and make sure that the obligations are fulfilled. Should a parent fail to meet their obligations, the government should step in and cover childcare expenses to ensure continual support for the child.
This way, the child’s mother or father would not have to file a lawsuit to obtain support for childcare and the government can later request compensation from the derelict parent. Such a measure has already been implemented in countries such as Germany and France, and proven to be worth emulating.
The investment and childcare policies of Germany and France show what can be achieved when governments work effectively with families and carefully consider the needs of growing children. A well-planned childcare system like theirs is far better than simply giving out cash subsidies that require asset checks. This is what the younger generation really needs to build a stable and happy life with children.
Chen Jwu-shang is an associate professor at the General Education Center at National Kaohsiung Normal University.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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