Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Country profiles - Hungary: Policies and progress towards investing in children

Introduction

In 2018, the focus of Hungarian child and family policy is on fertility: the aim of the government is to increase fertility rates and to support families with children.

Indeed, fertility in Hungary was one of the lowest in Europe at the beginning of the 2010s, having fallen to 1.24 children per family by 2011. A series of family policy measures were introduced at that time (including more flexibility in the parental leave system, a tax break for families and housing subsidies) in order to support families with children.

From 2010 onwards, Hungarian government policies have been more explicitly targeted towards supporting families with at least three children and with parents who are active on the labour market. Financial support to families through taxation has increased considerably and the importance of universal benefits (to which everyone raising children is entitled) has decreased. The (traditionally long) parental leave became more flexible, enabling parents to combine work and childrearing. However, social norms still support women in taking on the primary role of caring for their children in the first 2-3 years.

The government has also introduced a seven-point family protection action plan. Measures to be implemented over the course of 2019-2022 include a general-purpose loan for young families; a scope extension of the housing loan system with state-subsidised interest rates for second-hand properties; expanding the scope of mortgage repayment relief; a car purchase programme for large families; complete exemption from personal income tax for women with four or more children; the introduction of a state childcare benefit for grandparents; and a nursery development programme.

Fertility began to rise in 2012 and reached 1.49 by 2016 while the number of births remained stable during these years. This is mainly due to the fact that, according to the Hungarian Demographic Research Institute, the number of women in childbearing age is diminishing more rapidly than in the previous years, and that a lower number of women had the same number of children that a larger cohort previously.

The main authority for implementing child and family policy is the central government. Local governments are responsible for some social allowances and for organizing childcare for children under the age of 3 (including operating most of the nurseries).

Family life and work life balance

Hungary is by-and-large characterised by a dual-earner model: the labour market participation of 15-64 years old women (62.3%) and men (76.3%) was not far from the EU average (63.4% and 73.9% respectively) in 2018. However, women with young children tend to leave the labour market for 2–3 years to look after their children at home and this is the main explanation of the low Hungarian employment rate of women with children under 6 years old in 2016 (41.8% in Hungary compared with 63.1% in the EU-28). Part-time working is also not widespread, with only 6.3% of women working part-time, compared with 31.3% in the EU-28.

Table 1: Employment rates in Hungary (15-64), 2018

 

Females

Males

 

Hungary

EU average

Hungary

EU average

Overall employment rate

62.3%

63.4%

76.3%

73.9%

Part-time employment rate

6.3%

31.3%

2.5%

8.7%

Employment rate of adults with children aged less than six years old

41.8%

63.1%

90.6%

89.6%

Source: Eurostat, [lfsi_emp_a]; [lfsi_pt_a]; [lfst_hheredch]

For the past fifty years, the Hungarian family policy system has encouraged women to leave the labour market for approximately 3 years after childbirth. Since the introduction of paid parental leave (GYES) in 1967, this has become the social norm and is accepted by most mothers and fathers, the latter becoming the main breadwinner during these years. In recent years, however, there has been an organic development in viewpoints and young people are demonstrating a different approach, which suggests that there may be future improvements regarding gender stereotypes. Since 2010, the Hungarian government has introduced several kinds of measures that aim to support the development of women’s labour market participation.

Family policy reforms, introduced in 2014, aimed to promote the employment of mothers with children under 3 years old by offering part-time employment and financial incentives for mothers to take up work before the 2nd birthday of their child. Since 1 January 2016, women may take up employment without restrictions when the child reaches 6 months of age without losing their eligibility for child home care allowance and child care fee. The emphasis is, however, on the right to choose: staying home for several years on paid parental leave is still possible since all parents (irrespective of previous employment) are entitled to financial support to look after their children at home until they reach the age of 3 (or 8, if a third or subsequent child). However, this is a small amount of financial support compared to the employment-related subsidy, so it may encourage women to participate in the labor market. As child care allowance and child care fee can be used by both parents separately, there is also a possibility for paternity leave for fathers as well.

The leave system in place in Hungary consists of:

  • Maternity leave covering 24 weeks. It is paid if the mother has an employment record of at least a year within the two years prior to the child’s birth. It also offers some flexibility, as mothers can choose to take maternity leave from four weeks prior to the birth itself.
  • Paternity leave covering five days (or seven days, in the case of twins). It is paid if the father has an employment record of at least a year within the two years prior to the child’s birth and offers some flexibility, as it can be taken during the first two months of the child’s life.
  • Parental leave covering the first three years of a child’s life. It is paid through an accompanying parental benefit and the amount received and the flexibility of using it depend on whether the parents have social security insurance. Parents are able to receive the benefit and work unlimited number of hours after the child is six months old and until their second birthday (if insured) or third birthday (if not uninsured).

Hungary also offers additional leave entitlements for parents with three or more children. This leave can be taken between the youngest child’s third and eighth birthday, and parents receive benefits as during parental leave.

As of 2016, 49.1% of the population reported finding it difficult to combine paid work with care responsibilities – with a moderate difference between women at 51.7% and men at 46.5%. In 2015, 33% of employees reported having some or significant flexibility in their working hours or setting their own hours entirely, compared to the EU average of 44%.

Early Education and Care (ECEC)

There is a legal obligation for children to be enrolled in kindergarten for at least four hours a day, five days a week, from the age of 3. Parents can be exempted from this obligation until the child turns 5, as long as the exemption is not against the interests of the child (i.e. the fact that the child is looked after by his family must not compromise his development). Children typically start infants’ nursery (or, less commonly, at a family day-care centre) when they are between two and three years old at the earliest.

Table 2: Percentage of children in childcare in Hungary, 2017

 

Children aged 0-3

Children aged 3+

 

Hungary

EU average

Hungary

EU average

Children in full-time formal ECEC

11.8%

17.2%

76.9%

49.9%

Children in part-time formal ECEC

2.0%

17.0%

14.0%

34.9%

Children cared only by their parents

57.0%

46.1%

5.2%

9.6%

Source: Eurostat, [ilc_caindformal]; [ilc_caparents] 

In Hungary, working parents can access nurseries that provide day care for children aged 20 weeks to 3 years old. The vast majority of children under 3 years old are looked after at home by their parents (in most cases, by the mother).

The age of compulsory participation in kindergarten was lowered in September 2015 from the age of 5 to 3 years of age, with the aim of providing equal opportunities amongst children and improving their later performance in school.

The Safe Start Children's Houses has been operating since 2003 to provide early childhood care for socially disadvantaged children aged under 3 and their families. Originally launched as an EU development, it has now become a service funded by the national budget and regulated by the Child Protection Act. As part of this service, the parent learns what they should do to promote the healthy development of their child(ren) and to strengthen their own life skills. The Children's Houses operate in 176 places, with an average of 2,500 children and parents using their services each year.

The Tanoda programme (an afternoon learning programme) helps and develops students living in material need and in bad social conditions. Every afternoon it provides a complex service to children and young people who are less successful at school in order to prevent school drop-out and reinforce their school career. It also improves students’ performance in the short term. The Tanoda programme has been operating since 2004. At present, more than 180 ‘Tanodas’ operate and reach more than 5,000 disadvantaged children.

Since 2015, children at nurseries and kindergartens with a long-term illness or disability and children from families with three or more children (who were previously entitled to a 50% discount on the fee for institutional child catering) have been entitled to free catering. The healthy siblings of disabled or long-term ill children and children from families with less than three children whose monthly income is less than 130% of the net minimum wage are also entitled to free catering in nursery and kindergarten. In total, nearly 610,000 children in various institutions of public education and nurseries have a free or discounted daily meal, compared to just over 340,000 in 2010.

According to the OECD, expenditure on pre-primary education (ISCED 02) as a percentage of GDP is 0.8%, slightly above the OECD average.

Table 3: Barriers to participation in ECEC, 2016

 

Hungary

EU average

Percentage of children who reportedly do not have access to formal childcare services for financial reasons

18.7%

16.2%

Percentage of children who reportedly do not have access to formal childcare services for lack of places

1.7%

3.9%

Source: Eurostat, [ilc_ats04]

Child and family-funding schemes

In Hungary the family benefits are generous and complex, especially compared to other EU and/or OECD countries. Thanks to this, the total fertility rate (TFR) had increased by almost one-fourth between 2010 and 2017, by now almost reaching the EU-28 average. Indeed, policies and family-related benefits support maternal childcare, and as a result, most women take up paid parental leave for several years after childbirth. In recent years, effort has been made to make the system more flexible in order to enable couples to have their desired number of children. Part-time employment for parents with children under 3 years of age has been extended and it is now possible to receive the most generous family benefit (GYED) with a salary. Other recent measures include supporting housing and families who are active in the labour market.

In this year, the Hungarian government introduced the Family Protection Action Plan which contains seven measurements for the next years. The main goal of this new Action Plan is to encourage the further childbirths.

Benefits offered to families in Hungary include:

  • universal child benefit to all resident children, in the form of the family allowance. This includes two benefits: childrearing support (paid from birth until the beginning of primary school) and schooling support (paid for children who are in school). This is paid until the child finishes compulsory education and the amount depends on the number of children in the family. The allowance can be stopped if the child doesn’t comply with their obligation to attend school.
  • A baby-care allowance that is paid during the 24-week maternity leave to mothers who have been insured for at least 365 days within the two years prior to childbirth. The rate of baby-care allowance is 70% of previous daily earnings and there is no upper limit on the amount paid.
  • A childcare benefit paid from the end of maternity leave until the second birthday of the child (only for mothers who have been insured for at least 365 days within the two years prior to child birth). The amount of the childcare benefit is 70% of previous daily average earnings and it has an upper limit of 70% of twice the amount of the minimum wage.
  • A child home care allowance is paid to parents who did not have sufficient insurance contribution or eligible income before the birth of their child to claim baby-care allowance and childcare benefit. Child home care allowance is paid at a fixed rate equal to the statutory minimum amount of old age pension from the child’s birth until their 3rd birthday.
  • Tax allowances for families with children, the amount of which varies according to the number of dependents. Tax allowances are higher for third and higher order children.
  • There is also a tax break available for newly married couples where at least one of the spouses is married for the first time. It can be claimed for no more than 24 months. For two years the monthly tax base is reduced, even if a child is born into the family in the meantime.

An additional birth grant is available as a one-off payment upon the completion of at least four prenatal medical examinations. Additional child raising support is available for parents raising three or more children (if the youngest is between the ages of 3 and 8).  

As of 1 July 2015, the social housing subsidy was replaced by the family home-start subsidy (CSOK). This is offered to a wider range of beneficiaries in order to promote the achievement of housing-related objectives of families who have or bring up children. This is an important measure in a country where 86% of the population are homeowners. In 2018, the number of admitted applications concerning the CSOK was around 30,000. Overall, since its introduction until April 2019, about 104,000 families have been recipients of the family home-start subsidy.

The interest-subsidised housing loan is extended to the purchase of used homes: 10 million HUF for families who have or undertake to have two children and 15 million HUF for families with three children.

Children and families at risk of poverty and social exclusion

In Hungary, 31.5% of children were considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017. This is above the EU average of 24.4% in the same year.

In 2016, spending on family benefits and expenditure on social protection benefits was 2.3% of GDP (compared to the EU average of 2.4% in the same year). The family benefit system comprises approximately 20 different types of benefits. Some of them aim to reduce the financial burden of bringing up children by providing financial or in-kind assistance directly to families. Others aim to support families in certain life situations, such as additional annual leave entitlement, paid sick leave to look after children for working parents and child maintenance advance payments for parents that are getting divorced.

There are two benefits targeting children who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion:

  • A regular child protection allowance for families who are risk of poverty and social exclusion which is paid when the per capita monthly income does not exceed a certain amount. Families entitled to receive regular child protection allowance are allowed to make use of a variety of benefits, including a normative allowance to child catering, financial support (twice a year), and free textbooks.
  • An irregular child protection support paid in kind if the family is temporarily in a desperate economic situation, or if the child is in an extraordinary life situation requiring urgent support to enable subsistence.

Since 2016, local governments are obliged to organize children’s free holiday catering, at the request of the legal representative (parent) of children with disadvantage and multiple disadvantage (a total of approximately 207,000 children) who receive a regular child protection benefit. It must be provided free of charge during the summer holidays for at least 43 working days, as well as during the autumn, winter and spring holidays, and during all working days when kindergartens and nurseries are closed. Children who do not have an institutional relationship - typically from the age of 5 months to 2.5 years - are also entitled to this benefit for the same period. According to the data provided by the municipal authorities in November 2018 for the 2019 holiday meals, there were 122,534 children in the summer holidays, 92,648 children in the spring break, 91,212 children in the autumn break, and 97,570 children in the winter holidays in a total of 2,222 settlements who claimed for meals. This means that approximately two-thirds of eligible children received this benefit on the basis of the parent's request.

Migrant children and children of migrant parents

In 2018, 360 people applying for asylum in Hungary were aged younger than 18 years.

Minor asylum-seekers under 16 years of age are entitled and obliged to attend public education (primary or secondary schooling is mandatory for all children in Hungary until the age of 16). Children have access to kindergarten and school education under the same conditions as Hungarian children.

Children in institutions

There has been a drive towards deinstitutionalisation in Hungary for the past thirty years, and EU funding has been directed for this purpose. Presently in Hungary, there are over 20,000 children in the alternative care system, approximately 6,000 of whom live in institutions.

Today, foster parents care for about 67% of children and about 90% of children under the age of 6 who have been taken from their families under official control. Their legal relationship was transformed into an employment relationship providing full health and pension insurance entitlements in 2014, whereby their income increased to a multiple for the social value of the profession. Foster parents will also be entitled to child care fee (GYED) from 2020 for children under 2 years of age.

Children with disabilities

As of 2018, Hungary offers no special allowance for children with disabilities, but there is an entitlement to higher amounts of family allowance.

The concept of children with “specific educational needs” was introduced in Hungary in 2003 and is now part of the 2011 law on national public education. This law categorises the different needs of these children and provides for their education and integration.

Children living in single parent households

As of 2017, 50.4% of single parents in Hungary were experiencing material and social deprivation. This is above the EU average of 28.4% in the same year.

Hungary offers no special allowance for single parents, but they are entitled to higher amounts of family allowance.

Roma children

The National Social Inclusion Strategy of 2011-2020 is a mid-term inclusion strategy established in the framework of the EU Framework for National Roma integration strategies. The strategy is aimed at combating poverty and promoting inclusion for all vulnerable groups, not just Roma.

 

References

The indicators used in this profile are drawn from the following sources: Eurostat, Eurofound Quality of Life Survey 2016 and the European Working Conditions Survey 2015, the Mutual Information System on Social Protection (MISSOC, ‘Family Benefits’ indicators) and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (EASNIE) 2014 Dataset Cross-Country Report, published in 2017. Information on children in institutions was drawn from the Opening Doors country profiles (http://www.openingdoors.eu/).

The following Eurostat indicators were used: [ilc_caparents], [ilc_caindformal], [ilc_ats04], [educ_uoe_fine06], [tesem180], [lfst_hheredty], [lfst_hheredch], [lfsi_pt_a], [lfsi_emp_a], [ilc_peps01], [lfst_hh2jchi], [ilc_mdho06b], [ilc_li33], [migr_asyunaa], [migr_asyappctza] and [ilc_mdsd02]. Eurostat data was extracted on 21 May 2019.

The data available on these platforms is provided by Member States and are subject to the individual limitations of the Member State data collection processes.

These country profiles were updated from March-May 2019.

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