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CHILDREN

What you need to know about Germany’s new parental benefits reforms

Juggling family life and work can be tough. A new series of reforms on parental allowances and time off work after the birth a child aim to make it easier.

What you need to know about Germany's new parental benefits reforms
A father walks with his child in the fall in Ludwigsburg. Photo: DPA

The Bundestag passed a series of reforms on Friday, with the aim of helping families reconcile personal and work life even better, said Family Minister Franziska Giffey of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Mothers and fathers of premature babies are to receive Elterngeld (parental allowance given out during the Elternzeit, or parental leave) for longer in future.

In addition, options for part-time work while receiving Elterngeld and for sharing Elternzeit between mothers and fathers will be expanded.

The reforms have to pass through the Bundesrat, and will likely come into force in September.

Extra benefits for early birth

For children born six weeks before the due date of birth, an additional month of Elterngeld is to be paid under the new regulations.

If the child is born eight weeks early, two additional months will be granted, three extra months will be given for children born 12 weeks early and four additional months if there was an early birth of 16 weeks. 

“We want to give parents special support during this difficult and emotionally demanding time, so that they can give their children the attention they need,” said CDU/CSU deputy parliamentary party leader Nadine Schön.

Who receives Elterngeld?

Elterngeld is one of the most important state family benefits, with more than €7 billion spent on it each year. Mothers and fathers receive the benefit if they do not work or work part time after the the birth of their child. 

The state supports this with a minimum of €300 and a maximum of €1800 per month – depending on the net earnings before the birth of the child. 

It is paid for a maximum of 14 months if both parents participate in the Elternzeit. The payment period can also be extended further but with smaller monthly payments.

READ ALSO: Here’s how Germany plans to reform Elterngeld for new parents

More flexible rules

The rules for parents who want to work part-time while receiving Elterngeld will also be made more flexible under the new rules: the amount of weekly permitted working hours will increase from 30 to 32 hours – making a four-day work week mathematically possible. 

In addition, the requirements for the so-called partnership bonus, if both parents work part-time at the same time, will be relaxed.

To finance the changes, top-earning couples with a combined income of more than €300,000 will no longer receive Elterngeld. The limit was previously €500,000.

According to the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, the plans are also intended to ease the bureaucratic burden on parents, parental allowance offices and employers. 

For example, parents who work part-time while receiving Elterngeld would only have to provide proof of their working hours in exceptional cases.

What do opposition parties say?

The opposition criticised parts of the proposal: The reform is overdue, said the Free Democrats (FDP), who at the same time called for the time in which parents receive Elterngeld be extended in some instances.

For  example, this could apply if parents may take their children to Kitas (daycare) for the first time later than originally planned due to coronavirus related restrictions, and need to spend more time at home with them.

The Left Party called for the minimum amount of parental allowance to be increased from €300 to €400 and from €150 to €200 euros for the so-called Elterngeld Plus, which allows parents to work part time during their Elternzeit.

The far-right (Alternative for Germany) AfD criticized the plans as “meagre tinkering” with a system in need of more fundamental reform.

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SCHOOLS

Schooling: What you need to know when moving to Sweden with children

Sweden is often cited as one of the best countries in the world for raising children, but what do international parents need to know when planning a move here with their family? And can your children access schooling without a Swedish personal number?

two children on a swedish farm
From the age of six, every child in Sweden has access to free education. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se

Depending on your child’s age, there are a few things you should be aware of when planning a move to Sweden. If you’ve recently arrived in the country and didn’t have to apply for residence permits before entering, you and your family may not yet have their Swedish personnummer – the 10 or 12-digit personal number linked to everything in Sweden from healthcare to gym memberships. This guide will give you some advice on how you can sign your child up for school before they have received their personnummer.

Firstly, you may be wondering how the Swedish school system works. Sweden has three different types of school: the first type of school is voluntary preschool – förskola – for children from 1-6 years of age.

Starting at 6 years of age, schooling is compulsory, starting with förskoleklass, a one-year preschool class as a sort of bridge between preschool and primary school. Then, from age 7, primary or grundskola starts. Grundskola stretches from age 7-16 and is split into three stages: lågstadiet for 7-9-year-olds, mellanstadiet for 10-12-year-olds and högstadiet from 13-15. From the year a child turns 16, they can attend gymnasieskola (which is voluntary in theory, but many Swedish jobs require a gymnasie diploma) – lasting three years.

Some schools offer both grundskola and gymnasieskola, some only offer some of the grundskola stages, so check directly with any schools you are considering to see how many stages they offer if you want your child to stay in the same school for the majority of their schooling.

Check out the websites Skolverket and Skolinspektionen for more information on Swedish schooling.

How much does it cost?

The vast majority of schooling in Sweden is free, apart from förskola, where fees are heavily subsidised by the state and are income-based – costing a maximum of 1,510 kronor ($175) per child per month in 2021. Free school meals are also offered for all children. For teenagers at gymnasium level it is up to the municipality to decide whether school meals are free or have to be paid for.

Many independent schools – such as bilingual and international schools – are also free to attend. It’s also helpful to know that these schools aren’t allowed to charge for textbooks or school trips.

There are a few fee-paying private schools in Sweden, but not as many as in other countries.

If you’re moving to Sweden with teenagers, they might qualify for a study allowance (studiestöd). This is available to young people between 16 and 20 attending gymnasium full-time, and amounts to 1,250 kronor a month, paid out from September to June. It is possible in some cases to get this study allowance without a personal number, but you will need to contact the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN) directly to register. See more information here to find out if your child qualifies.

The type of school you need to apply for will depend on your child’s age. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

How do I apply?

Many schools, especially in the big cities, have long waiting lists, so it pays to sign your child up early. If you have a personnummer, the sign-up process is relatively simple – for förskola and grundskola, your municipality website will have an online sign-up service (e-tjänst) which you can sign in to with your BankID. If you’re still waiting for your personnummer, this process is a bit more difficult – you can still apply, but you will most likely have to apply via a paper form.

Even if your child does not yet have a personal number, they still have the right to attend school while they wait for their personal number application to be processed – you may have to supply documents showing that your family intend to stay in Sweden for an extended period of time before your child can access schooling – your municipality will be able to help you with this.

Contact your municipality if you are unsure of which form you should use and who you should send it to. They should be able to help you if you move to Sweden after application windows for schools in your area have already closed. If your child is old enough to attend grundskola or gymnasieskola, you may need to contact the school directly for advice on how to apply.

This is part of The Local’s series about what you need to know when moving to Sweden with children. If there are any particular topics you would like us to cover next, you can always email our editorial team at news[email protected]. We may not be able to reply to every email, but we read them all and they help inform our coverage.

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