A government-appointed commission is urging some major changes in how Norway helps its families with small children. The commission is urging free day care for all children, to be financed largely through abolition of the long controversial kontantstøtte payments made to those parents who opt to keep their children at home.
The commission, led by Professor Anne Lise Ellingsæter, also proposes cutting or eliminating the monthly child welfare payments (barnetrygden) that have been paid out for years to all children in Norway until they reach the age of 16. Such payments should be based on actual need, according to the commission.
It turned over its report to the government minister in charge of children, family and equality issues, Solveig Horne of the Progress Party, on Monday. Several of its proposals have been discussed for years, and may now gain more momentum.
Day care centers are heavily subsidized in Norway but working parents who send their young pre-schoolers to day care still must pay a few thousand kroner (generally around USD 350 a month, per child) depending on the municipality where they live. The commission’s proposal would basically equate day care with public school, and provide it at little or no cost.
Kontantstøtten, the program that has literally paid parents who opt to raise their young children at home instead of sending them to day care, would be abolished in return. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) noted on Monday that a series of commissions studying child welfare programs in Norway have almost all recommended that kontantstøtten be eliminated. Many have argued over the years, for example, that opting not to send children to day care can hinder integration. Many immigrant families, for example, have chosen to receive the money instead of sending their children to day care that can help their children learn the Norwegian language and become familiar with Norwegian customs.
Ellingsæter’s commission calculated that the cost of making day care (barnehage) free for all children in Norway will amount to NOK 11.6 billion a year. Tailoring monthly welfare payments only to those who need them, meanwhile, will save NOK 9 billion a year, while abolition of kontantstøtte would save billions more.
The Liberal Party, the Socialist Left party and the Conservative Party’s program committee have earlier proposed making day care free for parents. “The reason we recommend this is that we feel day care plays an important role as an institution in Norway,” Ellingsæter told NRK. “We would like to see the threshold lowered for use of day care for those groups who don’t use day care today.”
The commission also urges some changes in how maternity and paternity leave is allocated in Norway. Mothers should receive three weeks before and six weeks after the birth of a child, according to the commission, but all the weeks after should be allocated with 20 for the mother and 20 for the father.
Horne, meanwhile, thinks parents themselves should be able to decide how they want to share parental leave, which overall allows parents to stay home for at least the first year of their child’s life, at full pay.