How Italy’s new ‘Family Act’ aims to increase the plunging birth rate

How Italy's new 'Family Act' aims to increase the plunging birth rate
Photo: AFP
Italy's parliament approved a new bill on Thursday aimed at supporting parents. Here are the measures being introduced to help make starting a family in the country a more affordable and realistic prospect.

“We have approved the Family Act to support parenting, combat the falling birth rate, encourage the growth of children and young people, and the help parents reconcile of family life with work, especially for women,” Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters after parliament passed the bill.

Italy has suffered a declining birth rate for decades. Some 464,000 births were registered in Italy in 2018 – the lowest on record, ever.

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

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The growing demographic crisis, with births falling and life expectancy rising, is thought to be both a symptom and a cause of Italy's chronically stagnant economy.

Italy's government announced last year it would be focusing on measures to curb its shrinking and ageing population. With the act now coming into force, here's what it provides.
 
 
Financial support for all under-18s
 
The Family Act's flagship policy is a “universal” monthly allowance, to be paid from the seventh month of pregnancy until a child reaches 18 years of age. This may be in the form of a direct payment or tax credit.
 
Despite being described as universal, the payments are means-tested and are on a sliding scale depending on a family's income. A maximum of €240 a month is available to parents of a child under the age of 18, with that payment increasing by up to 20 percent for each child born after that. There are also additional allowances for children with disabilites.
 

 
More paternity leave after birth
 
After the government initially said it would increase paternity leave to seven days, the final bill gives ten days of fully paid leave – and makes it mandatory.
 
Each parent can also choose to take a period of two months of additional leave (not transferable to the other parent) “granted regardless of the marital or family status of the working parent”, personal finance website QuiFinanza writes.
 
Ten days may not sound like a great deal to people from many other countries. Fully paid leave for new fathers was only introduced in Italy in 2012, and Italy is still lagging far behind Germany and Scandinavian countries, offering new dads weeks if not months of paternity leave.
 
But it is double the previous provision of five days, and meets the 10-day minimum the EU is trying to get member countries to abide by. 
 
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
 
Salary supplements for mothers returning to work
 
The bill also includes payments intended to help mothers get back to work following the birth of a child.
 
The Family Act includes “a supplementary allowance paid to working mothers by INPS (the social security office), for the period in which they return to work after mandatory maternity leave”.
 
It's not yet clear how long this period will last or how much the supplement will be worth.

 
More money for childcare
 
The amount of money available to help with the cost of nursery of babysitting will triple – from the current €1,000 up to €3,000 per year, although the exact sum will be dependant on the applicants' income. 
 
The payments will be divided into three income-dependant brackets: €1,500, €2,500 and €3,000.
 
Average nursery fees in Italy are about €500 a month, but in big cities this figure can rise to €700.
 
 
When will these changes come into effect?
 
Disappointingly for anyone imminently becoming a parent, the funds won't be available straight away – in fact, the law gives the government two years to make the contents of the bill into a reality.
 
The flagship universal child allowance policy however may be introduced much sooner as this is being fast-tracked after being processed separately from the rest of the Family Act, in a bill presented to parliament several weeks ago. Italian media reports it could be processed by the end of 2020.
 
Will these measures work to 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).
 
Womens' labour market participation and inclusion is seen as a major factor in trying to raise the country's low birth rate.
 
Up to 73 percent of women in Bolzano aged 20 to 64 work, compared to 53 percent in the rest of Italy. 

The payments will be divided into three income-dependant bracket – €1,500, €2,500 and €3,000.


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