Backward momentum -- politicians propose withdrawing free childcare

In Upper Austria, the ÖVP and the FPÖ seem to believe that withdrawing free afternoon childcare will solve all of Austria's educational and social problems in one go. 

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Backward momentum -- politicians propose withdrawing free childcare - NewsMavens
Kindergarten. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

"I hope you have a nice house in the countryside, full of toys," wrote a mother from Upper Austria in a letter to the governor Thomas Stelzer (from the Austrian People's Party - ÖVP). "Because I'll take your role as a statesman very seriously and hand over my daughter to you, for lack of alternatives." This letter, posted on Facebook, caused a stir.

It is a response to the plans of ÖVP and FPÖ to introduce fees for afternoon care in the kindergartens of Upper Austria. Consequently, from February, low-income parents will most likely withdraw their children from kindergartens in the afternoons. Who will stay home with them?

Yes, you figured it out. Women often have little choice -- the majority of them cannot take up full-time jobs or work at all, if there is no free kindergarten available. In Austria, all-day care facilities for four-year-olds and younger children are scarce. More than a quarter of kindergartens close before 2pm, and far less than a third of all Austrian children have access to nurseries.

In some states, the compatibility of family and work is not a political priority. Especially in rural areas, the conservative image of women and mothers is still a major obstacle on the path to gender equality. This is also the case in Upper Austria

In her comment, Petra Stuiber writes in Der Standard:

"This is about something else: the political enforcement of an archaic vision of society. The man is the breadwinner. The wife should only work part-time, if at all, and be there for the children. According to our current leaders, enforcing this would solve all of Austria's educational and social problems imposed by full-time childcare in one go.”

Politicians seem to ignore the long-term consequences of the lack of state child care, like old-age poverty of women who could not work long enough to collect a sufficient pension.

Petra Stuiber draws attention to another key point. Full-time free childcare offers more opportunities for integration, especially for the children of migrants.

Clearly such issues are low priority for the ÖVP and FPÖ.

Details from the story:

  • In Austria, all-day care facilities for four-year-olds and younger children are scarce. More than a quarter of kindergartens close before 2pm, and far less than a third of all Austrian children have access to nurseries.
  • The majority of women cannot take up full-time jobs or work at all, if there is no free kindergarten available.
  • The state government in Upper Austria, a federal state of Austria, has abolished the non-contributory afternoon care of children. A mother from Upper Austria has written an open letter to the governor and posted it on Facebook. It has inspired a heated debate on kindergartens in Austria.
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