“We are speaking up because we are worried,” wrote former ministers Rita Süssmuth, Ursula Lehr, Christine Bergmann and Renate Schmidt in a joint statement in Thursday's Die Zeit newspaper.
Süssmuth and Lehr are both members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union – as is the current minister Kristina Schröder, while Bergmann and Schmidt belong to the opposition Social Democrats.
Schröder has championed the plan to pay €150 a month to parents who keep their children between two and three at home, saying it will give people greater choice while simultaneously relieving some of the pressure on local authorities to provide day care places.
A law requiring the provision of day care for all children between the ages of one and three whose parents wants it, takes effect in August 2013, although at least 130,000 places are yet to be created.
Yet there is widespread concern that the payment scheme would increase the pressure on women to stay at home rather than return to work – and that this would be felt the most in families whose children who would particularly benefit from day care.
The former ministers said the idea was “structurally ineffective, humiliating and discriminating against women, as it is nothing more than monthly pocket money.”
They said the idea created the danger that mothers with low levels of education would no longer register their children at day care.
“Particularly considering the foreseeable insufficient expansion of day care places for children under three, it would make more sense for the money planned for child care payments to be invested in this area,” they said. The government should scrap the idea they said.
Yet Schröder's spokesman said the discussion was effectively over. “Everything has been said, and by everyone,” he said. Schröder had made her considered position on child care payments and the expansion of day care facilities clear. It was also obvious, “that the coming year must become the year of day care expansion,” he said.
The government intends to get the child care payment scheme passed by parliament in September so that it can be paid to parents from 2013. It is a particular favourite of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, the Christian Social Union, which says it would serve to strengthen families.
Many within the CDU and coalition partner the Free Democrats are opposed, while the Social Democrats have promised to challenge it as far as the Constitutional Court.