To save the children...

...let the children save. Should the goverment redirect child welfare payments to the kids themselves?

March 19, 2006 00:40
2 minute read.


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If there is one obvious common-denominator in all the theories advanced as a means of reducing poverty, it's that there is no magic formula for instant results. The reduction of poverty is a long-term process, often interrupted because governments change, and with a change of government there is a change of policy. Yet there is an option which has not yet been tried, but which could help guarantee that future generations of children would not be doomed to remain in the cycle of poverty into which they were born. It's a simple matter of rechanneling child welfare payments. Under existing circumstances, child allowances are paid to the parents, and while the sum is far from princely, certainly less so after cuts in child allowance payments were imposed by Binyamin Netanyahu during his period of tenure as finance minister, it is significant to those families in which the number of children is large. Yet for all the ensuing hardship, these cuts had no effect on haredi or Arab birthrates. Babies continue to be born into large families in both communities. AS THINGS stand, a lot of those babies are going to grow up not just poor, but very poor with no visible light at the end of the tunnel. This could be easily rectified by changing the law on child allowances without the government incurring a single additional agora - barring a sudden surge in birth statistics. Those large families that initially suffered when the sum totals of their child allowance allocations were lessened have somehow managed to make do, and in many cases, have continued to bring children into the world. These same families would probably find a way of making do, even if they were totally deprived of child allowances. This does not mean that the government should be let off the hook, but that a new law should be introduced whereby every Israeli child, in the first month of its life, has a bank account opened in its name by the government. The child allowances are then paid into that account which is a fixed-deposit, interest-bearing account that cannot be accessed by its owner until he or she is 21 years old. Relatively insignificant though each payment may be in terms of savings, 12 payments a year over a period of 21 years plus accrued interest will at the end of the day amount to a tidy sum of money. What it means is that every newly adult member of a family will have sufficient capital to start on a new road in life. The money can be used toward university studies, a car, the down payment on an apartment, the launch of a business enterprise or even that post-army trek to the Far East. The bottom line is that every Israeli, on reaching the age of maturity - as distinct from voting age, which is a mere transition from adolescence, will have the means to start the journey out of poverty. Of course there would be some complications with regard to the bank accounts of children whose families leave the country, or children who die before reaching the age of 21, or mentally challenged children who will not be able to make decisions for themselves as adults, but all these considerations can be thought out and incorporated into the law. Parents might balk initially, but once they realize that the government is giving their children an opportunity that they cannot possibly give them, they will not only learn to live with the new status quo, they might welcome it.

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