According to Fernandes de Matos, a researcher in regional development: “Essentially, for municipalities that have very low birth rates, […] a monthly subsidy for each child could help”, noting that this support at the local level should be allocated “according to the family income”, similarly to the family allowance.
Speaking to Lusa News Agency, the researcher in regional development and professor at the University of Beira Interior considered that the municipal support to encourage births given once and with a fixed amount is "a contribution", but works as a "quick thought" without responding to the structural problem of the interior territories, including the lack of proximity public services, from the area of education to health.
Among the municipalities with measures to encourage births is Alcoutim, in the district of Faro, which in the last two decades occupied the ranking of the five municipalities with fewer births in Portugal, with 16 live births in 2001 and 11 in 2020, leading the county to decided to allocate €5,000 for each baby born in the municipality.
The municipality of Almeida, in the district of Guarda, which registered the largest decrease in the country in the number of births in 2020 compared to 2001, with a reduction of -71.8 percent, dropping from 64 to 18 newborns, predicts the allocation of €1,000 for the first child and €1,250 for the second and subsequent children.
For the researcher Fernandes de Matos, this type of support for births should remain “an initial incentive”, but it needs to be “complemented with measures of a more permanent nature”.
Despite being a trend recorded in the last two decades across the country, with the exception of the Algarve region, the decrease in birth rates was more accentuated in the interior municipalities, which reflects the dynamics of population loss in these territories, according to the preliminary results of the 2021 Census.
From the perspective of the researcher in regional development, in addition to measures to support births, it is needed to incentive the population to set in the interior of the country, increasing the network of kindergartens and public transport, and to strengthen the investments in these territories, namely projects of national interest with an “anchor effect”.
"We need positive discrimination for the interior of Portugal, to allow for increased support,”said the professor at the University of Beira Interior, indicating that these territories with a small population also end up being harmed in the attribution of community funds, as well as in the representation by the political power, including in the Assembly of the Republic.
“With most investments concentrated on the coast, metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto suck resources, whether human or financial”, the social and economic policies of the inland territories has difficulty in advancing with new projects, including due to “their own discouragement”, explained the researcher, giving as an example the remittances of emigrants from the interior that are channeled to investments on the coast instead of in the region of origin.
"If there is no such infrastructure, of course the economic will get weaker, production will disappear, because there are no opportunities, no jobs, no growing companies, no new companies being headquartered, all of this is accumulating”, he exposed.
The reversal of the downward trend in birth rates “requires medium-long-term public policies, therefore they cannot be public policies designed for a legislative cycle, they have to be designed for 10, 15, 20 years”, considered Fernandes de Matos.
"The issue is not just the increase in the birth rate, I would say that this is possibly the simplest issue, assuming that there is a young population and that they want to take on this challenge of having more children [...], but it is necessary to think that, after the children are born, we have to give them and their parents conditions to have what their development is and all that is after the creation of opportunities, so that these children created, trained, can stay in the region." sustained.
The researcher also stated that the conditions “are not favorable” for the cycle of decreasing births to be naturally reversed, due to specific dynamics that are created and generated in the region.
"If nothing is done or if the same policies, the same actions are maintained, the situation will naturally worsen", he warned, arguing that, in terms of public policy, "it is necessary to take a good look at proximity services".
Among the services lacking in the interior of the country, health, public transport, including buses and trains, and post offices are also highlighted, in addition to other problems to be solved, namely the cost of tolls on ex-SCUT motorways, affordable housing, the price of water and the internet access network, indicated Fernandes de Matos.
In this sense, the answer must involve an articulation between the various levels of governance, central and local, involving the community, the business fabric, universities and polytechnics.
In addition to concrete measures such as the attribution of a monthly allowance for each child based on family income, the researcher highlighted the need for awareness-raising work on the problem, which "is serious" and puts the country as a whole at risk: " if today we don't have babies, tomorrow we don't have people to create wealth and tomorrow we won't have old people either”.
Regarding the exception of rising birth rates in the Algarve's coastal municipalities, the teacher said that it may have to do with the structure of the population itself, possibly because it is younger and has more young immigrants living in the region: “assuming that there will be young immigrants there may be the key to this differentiation”.
The case of Odemira, in the district of Beja, which also registered a rise in births in the last 20 years, may also be associated with the immigration of young people working in the agricultural sector, in which a large part comes from Asia: “even for their cultural characteristics, they have more children than we Europeans”.