Over the past few decades, there has been a constant decline in the Lithuanian population – we are not only dying out, but also emigrating. However in the near future, there will be ever more residents in the country, women will give birth more often and finally there will be more immigrants than those departing.
At least so outlines the 2018-2030 demography, migration and integration strategy plan prepared and presented for public discussions by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
It is expected that in 2030 the Lithuanian population will begin to experience growth, reaching 0.1%. During the same period, the sum birth rate, the average number of children a woman gives birth during her entire reproductive period in life would increase from 1.68 to 1.8 and migration metrics would be positive and would change from 0.98% to 0.34%.
One of the strategies' goals is a family-friendly environment. This part of the strategy outlines sexual education as one of its goals: "More attention dedicated to youth education and prevention of risky sexual behaviours and sexually transmitted disease."
One of the problems specified is the "stereotypical view of gender roles": "Despite increasingly liberal values and norms, the view of a patriarchal family model endures in public. As such, it is necessary to encourage equal women and men's rights, duties and opportunities in public and family life, expanding means, which encourage to change the persisting stereotypical view of gender roles, which limits women's professional activity, opportunities for careers and self-expression."
The quality of relations between partners is also highlighted: "Family stability is reduced by poor quality in relations between partners, which is due to limited knowledge of family and individual psychosocial development stages. <...> It is also necessary to strengthen positive public views of family as the basis of society and state."
The strategy plan outlines that one of the measures, which can help reduce emigration is the nurturing of patriotism: "When reducing the negative trends of emigration, it is important to encourage patriotism and the formation of a cultural identity linked to Lithuania, also the consumption of culture in the broad sense (particularly among children and youth), increasing the spread of Lithuania-related literature, art, history and cultural heritage in public and educational institutions.
"Opinions on the objective processes and changes ongoing in the country are based on not only the factual situation, but also its presentation in the public sphere – news media, television and such. It often presents negative information about life in Lithuania and positive information about emigration, which is not always justified. This is due to the insufficiently coordinated and effective state institution communication of public policy, the significant gap between the public and state institutions, which make decisions," the strategy plan states.
Specialists Delfi has spoken to are sceptical of this one more strategy and doubt, whether it will be possible to accomplish the goals it sets out to do.
Goals for family welfare leave room for doubt
The strategy outlines that there will be a pursuit of favourable conditions for maternity and paternity leave, improvement in the benefits system, young families being provided housing, encouraging opportunities to match working with parenting. According to specialists, some of the goals have already been achieved and others cannot be pursued due to existing matters.
"The view of certain areas, which is presented as problematic, is actually not as bad. Already now, in Lithuania we have ensured one of the most favourable maternity and childcare holiday systems. According to Pew Research data, in 2015, Lithuania took 5th place among 41 researched countries based on the favourability of its benefits, beating a number of the wealthiest countries in the world," Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LLRI) analyst Ieva Valeškaitė commented on the aim to ensure favourable maternity and paternity leave conditions.
The aim of improving possibilities to match working and family duties also raises doubts. "One of the obstacles in working and parenting is the Sodra payment floor established in 2018, due to which the tax burden for those earning minimum wage and working part time has increased drastically," the analyst noted.
Doubts arise regarding the grant system for every child during all stages of their lives. "You can agree with the need to support families considering the country's economic capacities and social challenges, however we believe that it is very important to ensure the accuracy of the support. That is to say, that grants should be provided in consideration of potential needs and capacities of those receiving them, considering their incomes and property. Support should not be directed to all children or all families, only those, who absolutely need it," the LLRI analyst stated.
According to her, grants to families, who can do without, could be a significant burden on public finance. "That every not every child would receive grants during every stage of their lives should not be viewed as not valuing every single new-born," I. Valeškaitė states.
The representative of the National Active Mothers Gathering Rasa Žemaitė is in disagreement, however. "In the country, as in the family, it is namely what you nurture that grows. And that, which we invest everything in. If we invest into poverty and nurture it, that's what you can expect, that we will have increasing poverty and those problems will not be resolved. We would want change, so that the measures to encourage middle class families would be considered, rather than only accenting those, who are in difficulty," R. Žemaitė stated.
The National Active Mothers Gathering representative believes that it is necessary to keep in mind the families that pay taxes and thus contribute to the state budget.
According to her, it is also very important to dedicate to services for families. "The services are greatly needed and they should be accessible to not only social risk or impoverished families, or those facing hardship," R. Žemaitė spoke, "Services should be an obvious phenomenon for families, which pay taxes."
Housing for young families
The strategy states that, "Individuals and families are encouraged to emigrate, among other reasons, by financial difficulties in obtaining home ownership and creating the material basis for family life <...> thus it is important to provide more means of obtaining housing, particularly for young families and families raising children."
LLRI analyst I. Valeškaitė states that personal pursuit of home ownership and material resources should be encouraged, as well as responsible family planning.
"Statistics show that only a tenth of Lithuanians rent their homes. This is one of the lowest metrics in the European Union. We must consider whether granting housing to young families is a relevant issue in the context of their other needs. Furthermore, it is also important that young family housing support would discriminate other young individuals, who have yet to create a family or have chosen a different model for life – they could not aim for these support measures," I. Valeškaitė pointed out issues in the proposal.
This strategy point also appears dubious to R. Žemaitė due to its ambiguity. "It is completely unclear, what will be done. The strategy clearly specifies that the lack of housing is one of the reason, why families emigrate or do not have more children. Thus housing as a criterion is the basis of two of the most important reasons, why the demographic situation is what it is. A very important problem is outlined, however there is no explanation of what will be done," she said.
Financial welfare for retirees
The LLRI analyst observes that the strategy highlights a clear threat looming in the future – population aging and the increasing tax burdens, which follow as a result. This could become a factor, which encourages emigration.
The strategy also outlines the assurance of retirement age income through social security and social support systems. It is specified that there will be a pursuit of encouraging older individuals to integrate, live healthier, avoid illness and ensure access to affordable high-quality healthcare services.
"In implementing the third goal of the strategy – to grant older individuals to integrate into society, it is proposed to improve the pension system, so that more individuals would participate in pension accumulation and would receive extra income from alternative sources. Though the proposed measure does contribute to the accomplishing of the goal, it would be easier achieved by the possibility to employ alternative sources, using a larger portion of one's pension payments," LLRI analyst I. Valeškaitė said.
Another goal proposed in the strategy plan is the regulation of prices. "Goods and service prices declining is achievable in areas, where the state is the supplier or can impact prices in other means (regulations and such), while adhering to the principles of economics," the strategy posits.
The LLRI analyst observes that the most wide-scale price regulation in Lithuania is performed by an independent regulator, the State Price and Energy Control Commission (VKEKK). "We doubt whether an active role of the government in seeking to influence the VKEKK (or other independent regulators) prices without justification would be a suitable measure," I. Valeškaitė states.