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How ageing Italy plans to bump up its birth rate in 2020

Italy’s birth rate hit a record low in 2018, making it the least procreative country in the EU. Here are the measures the government is planning to introduce in 2020 to encourage Italians to be parents.

How ageing Italy plans to bump up its birth rate in 2020
Photos: AFP

Some 464,000 births were registered in Italy in 2018 – the lowest on record, ever.

With around eight births per 1,000 inhabitants, Italy's birth rate is getting alarming low, according to Francesco Scalone, a demographer at the University of Bologna.

“If Italians don’t start having more babies, you have to wonder what Italy will look like in the next few decades,” Scalone says.

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Declining fertility rates, combined with longer life expectancy, has left Italy with a significantly older population. Its median age is now 45.9 years compared to the EU’s median of 42.8, higher than any other European country except Germany.

Faced with this demographic crisis, Italy’s government has chosen to focus on what it can do to curb its shrinking and ageing population. 

More paternity leave after birth

Italy isn’t exactly at the forefront of paternity leave in Europe. 

Fully paid leave for new fathers was only introduced in 2012 and set at five days.

This puts Italy at the bottom of the EU table together with Malta and Holland (two days) and far behind Germany and Scandinavian countries offering new dads weeks if not months of paternity leave.

Italy’s Minister for Families Elena Bonetti wants to extend paternity leave to seven days in 2020, not exactly a figure that will encourage Italians to have offspring and one that still falls behind the 10-day minimum the EU is trying to get member countries to abide by. 

It’s not due to a lack of will that Italy’s government appears to be offering so little but the burden of paternity leave on state coffers, every extra day of leave costing €10 million, meaning they’ll have to allocate €70 million to the measure by 2020.

More money for nursery fees 

Italian parents will receive up to three times as much money for each child under three to cover their nursery or babysitter fees- up from the current €1,000 to €3,000 per year– although this will be dependant on the applicants’ income. 

Average nursery fees in Italy are about €500 a month but in big cities this figure can rise to €700.

The “bonus nido” (crèche or nursery bonus) will be divided into three income-dependant bracket – €1,500, €2,500 and €3,000 – and there’s a mention in the draft law of pushing the maximum amount up even higher. 

Even more money during the baby’s first year of life

Here’s an extra social grant that mothers who give birth in 2020 can look forward to. 

The “universal birth rate” fee will again be dependant on the parents’ income and divided into three brackets: €80, €120 or €160 a month per child under the age of one. Self-employed parents can also benefit from this social grant. 

More financial aid during childhood and young adulthood

Italy’s Democratic Party has proposed that from 2021 a “children cheque” of €240 a month is given to parents for each of their children under the age of 18 and €80 for dependent young adult offspring under the age of 26.
This would be available to all families whose yearly income is under €100,000.

For this to happen Italy’s government would have to allocate €9 billion, a good portion of which would be taken from other family allowance funds. 

Does giving money to couples increase the birth rate?

The northern region of Bolzano has a considerably higher average rate of children per couple than the rest of Italy – 1.67 compared to 1.3  – a figure that’s higher even than the EU average of 1.6. 

Bolzano, which enjoys more autonomy than other regions of Italy when it comes to setting policies, has in recent years been offering double as much money in child benefits to its population to encourage them to have children. 

There are also special subsidies for Bolzano parents with low incomes and easier access to family-friendly services such as childcare (in the rest of Italy there are only enough nursery spots for one in every four newborns).

Another policy which is incentivising couples to have children is women’s labour market participation and inclusion. 

Up to 73 percent of women in Bolzano aged 20 to 64 work, compared to 53 percent in the rest of Italy.  

Employers in the South Tyrol region offer far more flexible working hours and arrangements that help to combine motherhood and career advancement.

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BUDGET

Salvini vows not to yield to Brussels in Italy budget dispute

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini vowed Saturday not to back down in a dispute with Brussels over the country's budget as Rome scrambles to avoid EU punishment for failing to reduce its heavy public debt load.

Salvini vows not to yield to Brussels in Italy budget dispute
Matteo Salvini at a press conference following last week's European elections. Photo: AFP

The EU infuriated Rome this week by warning over its soaring debt, rekindling a process that could eventually see Italy hit with sanctions for breaking spending promises to the EU.

“Next week I will tell Brussels 'let us do what Italians request: fewer taxes and more jobs',” Salvini said during a political rally.

“And if they say 'no', we'll see who is more stubborn,” he added.

The country's public debt stands at 132.2 percent of GDP in 2018.

This is well above the 60 percent threshold set by European rules and next week the European Commission is expected to recommend opening an “excessive deficit procedure” as punishment.

Italy's populist coalition — Salvini's far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) — told the commission late Friday it will review both the country's tax system and public spending.

“The government is setting up a comprehensive program to review the current spending” ahead of the budget law for 2020, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said in a reply to Brussel's request for an explanation over Italy's finances.

The government will also review Italy's revenue, including taxes, Tria said.

The opening of the EU procedure, which needs to be validated by EU finance ministers, could result in financial sanctions of up to 0.2 percent of Italian GDP, equivalent to three billion euros.

READ ALSO: The biggest winners and losers in Italy's EU election results

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