The government is understandably concerned about Cyprus’ birth rate, which has been falling every year since the 1983 peak of 2.41 per woman. According to UN data on World Population Prospects, this year it will it stand at 1.3, a projected fall of 0.61 per cent on the previous year. At a discussion at the legislature last year, deputies expressed serious concern about 1.32 births per woman for 2019, but it is now even lower.
These figures are well below the population replacement rate and are a bad sign for the country’s future, which is why the government has decided to take some action. On Monday deputy minister of social welfare Anastasia Anthousi presented a €16 million subsidy scheme for children up to four years old that will be implemented from September. It will cover up to 80 per cent of the fees for children up to four-years-old at nurseries and kindergartens, with amounts between €100 and €350 per month. The assistance could be for children from single-parent or large families.
“It is imperative to find ways and measures that will contribute towards restoring the population to normal replacement rates,” Anthousi said on Monday. She also said that the government’s policy on social welfare issues is mainly based on facilitating people’s accessibility to the labour market. Many women stayed at home to care for young children because of the cost of sending them to pre-school facilities. It was hoped that with the subsidies more mothers would be able to return to the job market.
Another government initiative, which is part of the same policy, would involve the investment of €15 million in the creation of 25 multi-purpose centres for children up to four-years-old and for children between the ages of six and 13. This is aimed at addressing the problem of taking care of six and seven-year-olds after they finish school at lunchtime. All-day school may be a better answer but much more difficult to implement.
These measures may allow more women with young children to join the labour force but would they stop the fall in the birth-rate, let alone increase it? The government must formulate a comprehensive policy for tackling the low birth-rate instead of announcing piecemeal measures. But first it would need to carry out research to establish the main reasons people are having fewer children. It could set up a research group for this purpose and base policy on its findings.
We are not saying that such a move would be the answer to the problem of the low birth-rate, but it would give some idea of the direction that policy should take. And this is a very big problem to be tackled with piecemeal measures.