Mum with a child on her lap, dad next to her, all hunched over a picture book, all shiny, all well dressed. Basically, the huge kitchen bathed in light, with fresh fruit close at hand. This is how the CDU imagines family life in Germany, as it shows on its website. “Family friendliness is a hallmark of every federal government led by the Union,” writes the party in its electoral manifesto.
The reality is different, at least in many families. In reality, parents are torn between their full-time jobs, without which they could hardly afford the rent, and childcare and schooling, which collapsed completely in the pandemic and previously only functioned moderately. In fact, in 2020, youth protection offices saw the well-being of around 60,000 children within their families at risk, for example due to battered parents, 9% more than the previous year – a new record. In fact, there are 2.7 million single parents in Germany, mostly women, who are four times more at risk of poverty than couples with children. In the federal government’s Ninth Family Report, nearly 40% say they can’t afford the support they really want for their child. There isn’t enough money for fresh fruit in light-flooded kitchens, and there’s no time to read happy books. And the father is also often absent – because he is no longer part of the family or because he has to stay at work for a long time.
This Union-led federal government does not take a serious interest in families. Family policy is expensive. Every improvement that earns individual families a few dollars costs billions. And it is difficult because everything is connected. An example: The risk of poverty for single parents also finds its roots in the inequality of opportunities between women and men in the labor market. When women earn less in their “typical women’s jobs”, they tend to take longer parental leave than their fathers, not only because of traditional role models, but also because the family cannot otherwise afford it. Spouse splitting, which further reduces the incentive to work for the lowest paid partner, usually the wife, does the rest. And so women find themselves in the part-time trap. After the divorce, they have so little money left that they cannot afford recorder lessons for their children.
But just because social problems are so difficult to solve, and all improvements are expensive, does not mean that politics can simply ignore them. A lot of things are expensive, including the Lufthansa rescue program. Family associations are now calling for financial relief for families and a more serious family policy from the future federal government. Families are of systemic importance, according to the German Association of Families. The working group of German family organizations speaks of “emaciation and exhaustion of families”. And the Association of Single Mothers and Fathers is pushing for tax relief for single parents and an expansion of child care services. They are right, the lobbyists of the association.
You can help families with money, but not only
You can help families with money, but that’s not all. Here is a list of demands, without claiming to be exhaustive: A reduction in social contributions for people with children, that is to say a family allowance for health, retirement and long-term care insurance. On the other hand, everything that prevents mothers from working should be abolished and replaced by fair regulations: for example, the splitting of spouses, their family insurance or zero-rated mini-jobs. Parental allowance should be redesigned so that fathers not only take the two “father’s months”, but also have a financial incentive to seek more time off for their babies. Single parents need significantly more tax relief. Flexibility of work in terms of hours and place of work must become a legal obligation. More and better quality daycare spaces and more salaries for educators. Schools where the Internet works. More affordable living space.
“This is how we see family: when parents laugh, cry, learn and tackle life with their children,” the CDU website explains. It is high time to create the framework for this.