What’s the cost of a child in/for our state?

Perede lapsetoetus.

PHOTO: Pm

In some family budgets, state support covers some few percents; in other cases, the percentage would be 60.

When listening to the usual, especially the political talk on how much the state coffers – rather, those of our own – offer for children, one gets the impression that all they/we ever hand out is the €19.18 of child allowance.

In reality, however, things are much more varied. For raising, educating, and «healthcaring» the kids, the sums directly to parents or indirectly straight to the children are dozens of times larger – usually not reckoned by us. 

I attempted to count up the various state-budget moneys meant for children on the basis of four families. Of the ones obtained by parents, this meant parental benefit, single parent’s child allowance, disabled child allowance, student allowance, vocational school student allowance, the «schoolbag allowance», childbirth allowance, family subsistence benefit etc. Then those not reflected in the family purse, still meant for kids out of solidarity: school lunch allowance, hobby group allowance, children’s dental care and other treatments – to say nothing of the sums from common coffers for educating the young ones.

Real money needed

We may debate if these sums are large enough or should more be invested for the good of the children. We may also discuss if more should be handed straight to parents – or, rather, indirectly into things enhancing the development of the kids. And then, also, the basic question: should all be invested in equally, multiplying the universal child allowance – as soc dems propose – or should we try to equalise opportunities of all kids despite of ability of parents to support the family.

What would be the optimal sum needed to feed, clothe, and educate a child? Or: which are the inevitable things a kid should have? Should the little one, for instance, be able to take a trip once a year, to broaden his mind? And how does one do the math if a child, for instance, attends a school for those with special educational needs or in a boarding school in which case the child’s everyday costs, for a considerable part of the week, are covered from the common national wallet?

We do not know nor do we consider how many thousands a surgery performed on us might cost, or what is the real price of the subsidised medicine; still, we might be aware that on average the treatment of all, kids included, takes minimum €300 a year. And never do we stop to think that within the €800–900m education budget, nearly €3,000 a year goes to teach a child. 

True, these thousands and hundreds of euros will not help to fix the kids supper – in basic and vocational schools, they will have had dinner for state or local government money, mostly – or to purchase waterproof boots. For that, real money is needed; should that be scarce, one would be tempted to stick fingers into the common wallet again. The wallet, however, does have its limits just like the one at home.

I did not discover the world finding out, on the basis of the four families, that two of these would actually need nothing out of state coffers except for their children guaranteed education and healthcare. Of their income, the allowances make some very few percent, essentially candy money for the kids. These families might as well rejoice in making it on their own, by the taxes – out of solidarity – basically support the other two families that remain, the ones unable to ensure safe upbringing for their little ones with own income alone.

No discovery, also, that the one having the hardest time making ends meet is the single mother, having two or more children and earning under average – as exemplified on our chart, she might reckon with €280 or less a month per family member, if income is the minimal kind.

Their direct support – child allowance, student support or need-based educational allowance, single parent’s allowance, sports and hobby allowance – cover 15 per cent of the family budget. That will definitely help; even so, they will not be able to afford the once-in-a-year trips to tropical countries nor the latest phones/tablets for kids. In case of a real low-priced campaign, they might get themselves over into Finland, for a day.

Specialised school much dearer

But, when it comes to large families – in our case, a six-member one – then their income per member as calculated by us did actually exceed the single mom case, amounting to €300. Surely, however, there are lots of large families that can only dream of €300 per person. 

Of course, €300 will not be the sum for mind-broadening journeys and fancy computers. Even so, the support from common wallet makes for nearly 40 percent of the family budget. Of €29,000, over €11,000 comes in the form of all kinds of support.

In child support alone, a large family gets over €4,000 a year. Sounds cruel, but it is beneficial to have at least some of the kids with a moderate disability – that means added money. That money will not directly enter purse; still, is serves to cut everyday costs if these kids are enrolled in schools for special educational needs. Meaning: in our example, five days a week the kids spend in specialised schools, fed, kept and taught.

As Estonian specialised schools well know, such cases are no scarce exceptions. Two years ago, Postimees wrote about a family with over ten children, all of whom were attending, or had attended, some kind of a specialised school. Their special needs were rather the social kind and, obviously, they might as well have attended a school close to home. Probably, however, it was safer and more nutritious for the children to spend bulk of their time away from home, in the boarding school facilities. Main thing: the kids are fed and free to study, in peace.

For our common purse, or the impersonal state as we tend to think and speak, teaching and raising such children will be much more costly than in ordinary schools. In a specialised school, one pupil’s academic years costs €12,000; in an ordinary one, less than €3,000. Meaning: during basic school, this family’s allowance might be counted to be bigger by €24,000.

Big equals not poor

On the other hand, options for our large families post-basic school are rather limited, as compared to the so-called average families – for financial reasons only. Instead of gymnasium (upper secondary school), they might be better off opting for a vocational school – not that it would be a worse choice, necessarily. Even so, the path after basic school should, perhaps, not be dictated by family income mainly.

In vocational schools, free lunch continues; there are the small scholarships, and – if needed – additional support is provided. Should the vocational school be far from home, twice a month tickets home are compensated.

Or take the smallest ones, those going to kindergarten: to a large degree, tax exemption for them may be applied for, from local government. That, again, will be the indirect kind of support – one will get no physical money, and allowances like that tend to be forgotten.

At least during the heating (winter) season, these families might also be granted subsistence benefit. Adding up all educational costs and allowances, in the case of our example, we/state pay them over €43,000. For comparison: a three kid family doing well or very well financially – which, in Estonian context, is large, rather – gets about €30,000 during the year and a half when Mom or Dad gets parental benefit; in other times, they get about €4,300.

Not all large families are barely making ends meet – far from it. Examples abound of families as large or even larger, where the parents consider it their honour to raise their kids well with own money first of all. Not sending their kids to specialised and vocational schools, gritting teeth, they try keeping their offspring in gymnasium.

This, however, means paying for their own lunch, no scholarships like in vocational schools, and feeding kids every morn an eve. Possibly, the budgets of some such families – they do get the child allowances – are no bigger than with our example here; even so, they will never talk about that publicly.

Of our sample-families, two also receive parental benefit – the one with three kids and both Dad and Mom earning wages way above average, and the six kid family living on Daddy’s wages only. The former gets about €2,000 per month of state money within a year and a half; the other gets the minimum i.e. €290 a month. 

A well-to-do family gets, during paternity leave, over €25,000 in a year from state coffers – having invested heavily by paying taxes. By that, for a year and a half that family will have peak percentage in allowances – 60 per cent of income coming as parental benefit and child allowance for three. 

Support, direct or indirect

But that’s how we agreed, ten years ago – no upper limit to that, almost (three average wages); the idea of parental benefit being keeping a family’s finances on same level after a child is born as it was while both parents worked. True: of next year’s budget, parental benefit swallows over €171m, while family allowances only total €101m plus.

Herewith, I will not be comparing the two parental benefits, dissecting the glaring injustice of one child being eight times more expensive than the other; but €290 is a considerable share in a six kid family budget as well. It equals the amount that the family may spend, on a member, in a month.

As the parental benefit ceases, in a year and a half, the many-kids-family will have a hole in its budget as the mother stays on at home and will be working at raising the kids and doing the housework. Sure, she might opt to take a «real job», so as to fill the hole by minimum wage, at least.

My calculations also include direct or indirect family support by local governments – these vary quite much. Here, I only looked at additional benefits and other expenses offered in Tallinn, such as for sports and hobbies.

These costs are very significant to provide a measure of equality for kids from varying families. It’s another matter is these sums are enough and whether the poorer-family-kid can choose the things he really likes. Hardly can they go for the sports needing expensive equipment, so as to prove his talent and garner city or sponsorship support.

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