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Our View: Not up to MPs to set policy for increasing births

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One of the problems facing Cyprus that does not get too much attention is the low birth-rate, which in 2020 was a disappointing 1.3 per cent, well below the replacement level. The issue was discussed at the beginning of last month by the House ad hoc committee on demographics, which is chaired by the Elam deputy Linos Papayiannis.

Papayiannis, in keeping with his party’s xenophobia, also highlighted the fact that in 2020 there were 8,016 births to Greek Cypriot parents and 2,664 to foreign parents, pointing out that “we have one birth by migrant parents for every three births to Greek Cypriot parents.” No information was given about the ethnic origin of the foreign parents, as they were all classed as migrants, but the implied message was that Cyprus was in danger of being over-run by the children of migrants.

The committee decided to prepare a list of proposals aimed at increasing the birth-rate and these were discussed on Tuesday with Papayiannis saying that there was a general agreement among the parties. The proposals primarily consisted of cash incentives, which is understandable, considering that raising children is costly and many parents often decide they cannot afford more than one. Deputies were guided by the experience of the ’90s when money incentives led to an increase in the birth rate.

One proposal was to offer tax discounts as had been done in the past. Another was a one off-payment of €5,000 for a second child and this amount to be increased by €1,000 for every child after that. It is a very generous proposal, which as Papayiannis said, should not be seen as a cost to the state, but “as an investment in having a majority of Greeks of Cyprus in this country.” Would foreign parents who are also permanent residents or citizens of Cyprus not be entitled to the state subsidy? Probably not, according to Elam’s values.

The main proposal of the committee, a housing policy, underlined the superficiality with which the matter was approached. Deputies wanted state housing policy “to secure for as many young couples as possible access to purchasing their home.” When will the young couple be given the state assistance to buy a home? Before they have a child, after they have one child or after the second?” This is way over the top. State assistance to buy a home so a couple will have children is economically unjustified.

There is a need, however, for the government to consider the idea of incentives, because the low birth-rate is a problem, but an in-depth study should be carried out before any schemes are finalised. It is the government that should prepare these schemes and not the ad hoc committee on demographics.

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