Spidla to offer cash incentives to boost baby production

It is a well-known fact that the Czech population is ageing. Within 30 years, about one third of the population is expected to be over 60. More and more young couples are having their first child after 30 and families with more than two children are less and less common. One reason is that unlike the generation of their parents living under Communism, young people now are free to enjoy a wider range of opportunities - travelling, studying, pursuing a career - and as a result they're putting off starting a family. And having children in the Czech Republic is also a costly business. The ruling Social Democratic Party think they know how to bring more Czech babies into the world. More from Pavla Horakova.

Social affairs are at the heart of the ruling Social Democrats' pre-election campaign. The party's leader, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Vladimir Spidla, says that having children is becoming less and less attractive. He is suggesting a system of incentives for young people to start families. If his party remains in government, Mr Spidla says it will try and push through a system of financial contributions. He suggests that the state should pay 50,000 crowns for every firstborn child and 60,000 crowns for every second child. As a comparison, the average monthly wage in the Czech Republic is around 15 thousand crowns. I asked sociologist Vera Kucharova from the Research Institute of Labour and Social Affairs whether such financial contributions can help boost the birth rate.

"I don't think contributions alone can motivate people to start a family or increase the birth rate. Such contributions may appeal to families on lower incomes because they are a substantial part of the family budget. Young people do want to have children but at the same time they want to keep their jobs and hobbies and maintain the standard of living they are used to. According to our research, young families would welcome such an incentive becoming part of a whole complex of measures which would help them to secure their living conditions themselves - they don't want to rely on external help."

It seems that in the long-term perspective those amounts won't make a difference to families. What young people - and young women in particular - want is a social environment favourable to having families while at the same time allowing them to realise their full potential in their profession and keep on earning money rather than receiving it from the state. The financial contributions proposed by minister Spidla would cost the state 4.5 billion crowns or 125 million US dollars a year but for most families, they would be no more than a drop in the ocean, given the fact that the cost of rearing a child has been calculated at around one million crowns. So it's no surprise that observers are describing Mr Spidla's proposal as another pre-election trick.