Editorial: labour policy + education policy = family policy


PHOTO: Toomas Huik / Postimees

Too often, in Estonia, family policy is only viewed as payments of benefits. No doubt, family benefits are important; even so, never will Estonia be so rich that kids’ wellbeing could depend on state budget alone.

As shown by Statistical Office children’s wellbeing report, yesterday, state and local government support does indeed help mitigate poverty risks. Often, however, it is just attempted to ensure minimum means of subsistence – no support for creating equal conditions for life and growth, for kids. Praiseworthy, of course, if it is tried, from public means, to at least guarantee each kid their food, shelter and clothing. Even so, to cover developmental needs of a kid, this is not enough. Considering the amount of children living in poverty, the problem is wider than state and local government capacity ever will be.

The greatest poverty risk befalls teenagers. For two reasons. Firstly: with them, it is more likely that the family also includes some sisters and brothers. Secondly, this age group includes more kids raised by single parents.

The statistics lead to two conclusions. First: family policy’s main instrument is economy, equalling jobs and salaries. A kid’s wellbeing is related to the parents’ income, which usually comes by paid labour.

Thus, with family policy, the talk ought to be about investments which create jobs and make parents able to make a living to support their kids. For this, not all jobs are fitting – should parent(s) earn minimum wages, pressure on public purse is indeed diminished, but family problems go unsolved.

Meaning: what we need is highly qualified jobs, such as require the corresponding workforce prepared by the education system.

Secondly, let’s take a broad look at the Estonian family benefits system. When a kid’s poverty risk increases as brothers-sisters are born – a happy event for family and state alike – or as a family breaks apart – a sad, sometimes inevitable outcome – it would be prudent to launch a wider discussion over whether the sums allotted for family benefits are going where they’re needed, and whether we should be satisfied with how support payments are currently ordered. Family benefits are doubtless a political choice; even so, with the money scarce, why not channel it to those most at risk – to the bigger, poverty-risked and/or single parented families? 

Talking about single parents: for years we have harped on the ordeal of the parent raising a child while the separated spouse neglects to send support. Considering the needs of the family – would it not be better if the state took on the responsibilities of the negligent one, then tackling the debtor?