Although the challenge of stopping demographic decline sometimes seems “almost impossible,” Hungary decided to move forward with its policies to help families have as many children as they want, Katalin Novák, the minister for family affairs said on Tuesday at the international “Hungary at First ‘Site‘” press conference organized by the Friends of Hungary Foundation, Hungary Today’s publisher, and held online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Just like other European countries, Hungary has been grappling with a declining population for four decades, Novák said. When the Orbán government took over in 2010, the fertility rate, birth rate, and number of marriages were all extremely low. “Our demographic outlook was sad,” the minister recalled.
Since 2010, however, the government has been concentrating its efforts on building a “family-friendly country,” to put young couples in a position to have as many children as they want, Novák said, adding that Hungary wants to create an environment for couples to have children free of any financial difficulties.
FactNovák on the Geneva Consensus Declaration
The Family Affairs minister called opinions that referred to the Geneva Consensus Declaration as an anti-abortion initiative, a simple “misinterpretation.” “It is not against abortion but in favor of protecting life, and we agree with this sentiment- that is why we signed it, noted Novák, stressing that the government has no plans to change the country’s abortion laws.
Talking about the difference in approach, Novák said in the past years, the Orbán government has made a distinction between social policies and family policies, arguing that the latter should not only concentrate on those living in poverty or in underprivileged circumstances. “Family policy should be accessible to everybody,” Novák outlined.
One of the main principles of the government is that family benefits are linked to having a job- “we are not only giving social subsidies but enabling families to have decent jobs with a decent salary,” Novák outlined.
A successful family policy requires a successful economic policy, Novák emphasized. If more people have a job and earn more, they can also spend more. That is why the government’s main objective was to decrease the unemployment rate, the minister said.
Today, the Orbán government invests almost 5 percent of Hungary’s total GDP to support families, which is way above the EU average and two and a half times as much as it was ten years ago, Novák said.
The government does not think of these support schemes as expenses but as investments in our future.”
Novák also emphasized that it is not by definition that a successful family policy goes against economic success but quite the opposite, that these two should go hand in hand helping each other.
For instance, Hungary is starting a home creation program that enables families to buy, build, or renovate their homes and also helps to boost the Hungarian economy through the construction industry, she outlined.
Many people are skeptical that it is possible to spend so much money for family protection and still have a booming economy, but the government aims to show that this ‘Hungarian model is possible’ and feasible for other countries as well.”
According to Novák, many countries are already interested in Hungary’s approach to slowing its population decline and supporting families, including Japan, Poland, and the US.
The minister noted that certain statistics already seemed to indicate that Hungary’s measures work. The number of marriages in Hungary is at a forty-year peak, the number of divorces is at a six-decade low. Meanwhile, the total fertility rate has increased 20 percent in the last ten years, while the number of abortions has also dropped by more than a third, Novák listed.
Also, the increase of Hungary’s fertility rate was the highest across the member states of the European Union in the past decade.
Regarding the Orbán government’s recent veto to the EU budget, Novák emphasized that the decision won’t affect any of Hungary’s family protection programs as these are all financed from internal sources. She added that the whole issue is about representing Hungarian interests during this “negotiation process.”
Answering Hungary Today’s question about the seemingly unbridgeable gap of yearly 40,000 more deaths than births per year, Novák admitted that the situation is “difficult” and the challenge of stopping demographic decline sometimes seems “almost impossible.” She drew attention to the fact that
the problem we are facing is not only the huge gap between the number of births and deaths but also that the decline has been persistent for the past four decades.”
Additionally, there are a lot fewer women of childbearing age than there used to be and their number is rapidly decreasing. This also means that fewer people have to have more children even just to maintain our population, the minister outlined.
Reflecting on the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Novák said that right now we can’t really know what the demographic impact will be especially regarding the changes to the number of births as those will only show up in the statistics nine months later.
The situation raised the question of how to go on, she said, but the government made the decision to move forward with its pro-family policies.
Featured photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI