POLITICIANS elsewhere kiss babies. Polish ones subsidise them. In a new report by the OECD, a club of mostly wealthy countries, Poland was the only one of its 35 members where families receive more in state handouts than they pay in tax. For a single-income Polish family on an average wage with two children, the average net personal tax rate is minus 4.8%, compared with an OECD average of 14%. While the rate has crept up in most of the countries surveyed, in Poland it has dipped by five percentage points since 2016.

Since coming to power in 2015, the socially conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) has championed families, albeit only of the traditional heterosexual sort. Its flagship 500Plus programme offers families a monthly handout of 500 zloty ($139) per child, from the second child onwards (and from the first in poor households). Since the launch in 2016, the government has splurged a total of 42.6bn zloty to 3.7m children from 2.4m families. Recently it proposed new measures focusing on motherhood, including a bonus for having a second child within two years of the first. Meanwhile, PiS politicians have sympathised with church-backed proposals to tighten restrictions on abortion, already among the tightest in Europe.

Poland needs children. The country has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, at around 1.4. (The EU average is 1.6.) Already employers are struggling to fill jobs, despite a stream of workers from neighbouring Ukraine. At a PiS convention on April 14th, Beata Szydlo, who was demoted to deputy prime minister in December, said that “our biggest challenge” was to increase the birth rate. A video clip released by the health ministry in November urges Poles literally to multiply like rabbits.

For the time being PiS’s efforts may be working. Over 400,000 children were born in Poland in 2017, around 20,000 more than the previous year, buoyed by low unemployment and rising wages. Extreme child poverty has fallen, too. Yet the baby boom could prove short-lived. Meanwhile, PiS’s natalist push has angered some women, who resent being treated like incubators. Same-sex couples, who are not recognised by the state, feel slighted by the government’s traditional attitudes.

There are economic risks, too. Apart from its cost, critics warn that 500Plus encourages parents to drop out of work to qualify for the subsidy for the first child. In Poland, the inactivity trap—the disincentive to return to employment after inactivity—is one of the highest in the EU, according to a simulation by the European Commission. Since 2015, it has risen sharply to double the EU average. Already there are signs that mothers are quitting paid work. According to an estimate by the Institute for Structural Research in Warsaw, some 100,000 women were absent from the labour market in the first half of 2017 because of the 500Plus benefit; the effect was strongest among low-educated women and in medium-sized towns. 500Plus has been a political boon for PiS, which continues to lead in opinion polls, ahead of the centrist opposition. But it could make Poland poorer.