AN OLD English proverb says: "Children are poor men's riches." Such an assertion was eminently understandable when it was first transcribed in 1611.
But in 400 years much has changed. Today, children are not so much "poor men's riches" as a luxury the poor (and often the middle classes) can no longer afford.
Higher living standards bring with them higher expectations. The traditional family can, by and large, no longer survive on one wage. The right for women to take on a full role in professional life, has quickly been transformed into the duty to do so.
The results of such rapid and far-reaching social change are obvious. Across Europe, birthrates are falling, with dramatic consequences. Italy tops the league for shrinking families. Fertility rates of 1.2 are quite literally unsustainable.
Friends of mine, with thee children, living in Tuscany, speak of the opprobrium thy suffer from acquaintances for having been so "thoughtless" as to go over the undeclared socially acceptable maximunn of two children!
But amid the great child shortage there comes the kw, still, voice of reason, from he unlikely source of secular, finethinking Norway. A subtle, hit, massively important change is under way there, a change of approach which could have fir-reaching and positive implications for the rest of Europe. • "Many of the greatest chl.lenges today regard non-mamrial human needs. We rejec ..a view of the human being bat sees him as a being with ody material needs." That declaxlion comes not from the Holy See (though the view s expressed accurately nirror he Church's own position) tat from the Norwegian Govern,ment.
And in one very practial way they have decided to int that vision into practice. Tley have recognised the importacie of parents having enou;11 money to do what they instise tively want to do — look aex their children.
The so-called "Cash Bentit Scheme" is revolutionary kits simplicity. It offers die cah equivalent of money the site would otherwise spend on kindergarten or nursery plus., to parents themselves, the making it financially possile for families to chooseto brag up their own children.
The genius of the scheme Its in its simplicity. It costathe site no more to pay a mother to hip a toddler in those vial ealy years than it would cat to jay a nursery nurse to do the sae . Parents benefit, by being ale to spend vital quality tine vtl-2 their children. Children beni-t by growing up in the waritta and security of the famiy hoe , while being cared for by mn-a and dad. The state betetitsv having a higher birthate ad fewer problems about funchg state pensions severaldecass down the road.
Yet that simple ilea is provoked howls of rsistate from, of all people, lard-le feminists. Completelf failg to see that this propoal oft women real choice, thy dey it as forcing women lack is:3 positions of subservierce. Tkr dogmatic view seems o be it all women should won outale the home, and that kinergarns are best for the child, tatter tit being cared for by prentat home.
Such a view is reOlenie Danton's chilling assrtiont the height of the Frenh Reolution's excesses: 'Their= is. come to establish the rince that children belong to e Republic before they lelonp their parents."
Here in the UK, Candid.
Thomas Winning, tie Anbishop of Glasgow, hapubly called for the UK govearnerc, match the Norwegianichee. Public reaction has ben pi tive, the Government silee deafening. But hope eniaa. It may be that econone lair than moral argumentamill as the day. Larger fannies inn better support for to