Family and Reconciliation
In the context of the increasing involvement of women in working life, reconciliation of family and work has been at the forefront of family policy discussions in Germany and across Europe. Reconciling family and work is a double-edged issue that needs to be approached from two directions: time for work and time for the family, the latter one meaning more time for childcare or care for relatives. The focus of reconciliation policies on mothers has recently widened to include also fathers and caring relatives. Reconciliation can be supported through more time for work. Formal childcare, for instance, public childcare institutions, plays a central role here. On the other hand, parental and care leave schemes offer more time for the family. The latter aspect is part of the Work-Life Balance Directive adopted by the European Commission in 2019. The Commission hereby sets a fresh impulse on the European level.
Reconciliation of Elderly Care and Work
More and more people are working and at the same time looking after children or relatives in need of care. How do policies support these people to handle this double burden? The Observatory takes up this question and conducts comprehensive research on the issue.
Counselling services for (working) family carers in Austria and SwitzerlandIn Austria and Switzerland, the largest proportion of people in need of care are supported and cared for at home by (caring) relatives – an often exhausting task that has increased in intensity due to the coronavirus pandemic and at times many closed support services. Many family carers find it difficult to distance themselves or ask for help when they are overwhelmed by the situation. Therefore, good counselling structures are needed to support caring relatives in a preventive way, but also in an overload situation, to organise their own lives – also alongside employment and childcare – and to organise informal care well.
An overview by the Observatory produced in July 2021 (not published) shows that there are a variety of information and counselling services for family carers in both countries. Counselling structures that support reconciliation can be found increasingly in Switzerland. One explanation for this could be that the need is higher in Switzerland, as the proportion of working carers is considerably higher than in Austria. However, the majority of counselling services for family carers focus on the care (situation), disability or illness as the trigger for the need for counselling.
80 percent of care in Europe is provided by informal caregivers. Family carers are especially reliant on information and counselling on care issues. Furthermore, they should have access to information about their rights as carers advice and support for family carers can positively contribute to their own health and can prevent them from becoming overburdened. The expertise “Young Carers – Support measures in Austria, the United Kingdom and Ireland” shows furthermore that many children and adolescents are caregivers who would be highly benefited from support and advice.
Aims and Requirements of Work-life Balance Policies from a Gender Equality PerspectiveThere is one predominant, implicit assumption within the debate about improved reconciliation of work and family life: fostering work-life balance also fosters gender equality. However, this assumption has to be questioned in its generalisation. For instance, long-term unpaid leave options offer more time for the family. However, due to existing differences in salaries as well as societal norms and values, it is mainly women who make use of such instruments. The effects are long career breaks, low career development opportunities as well as wage and pension gaps. Therefore, it all depends on the concrete policy design of such instruments. They determine how work-life balance policy affects the organisation of paid work and care work as well as gender equality. The Observatory discusses which aims and requisites work-life balance policy should have from a gender equality perspective.
Father Involvement in Family WorkFathers all over Europe wish to get more involved in family work – and they are expected to do so. The work-life balance package of the European Commission aims to promote father involvement. Across Europe, there are many policy measures to support this aim: father specific leave month with income replacement, flexibility in the use of parental leave, and paternity leave. The Observatory shows how these policies can be designed and what effects they have.
ChildcareChildcare is a key factor in enabling parents to participate in gainful employment and in family work simultaneously. A good care infrastructure, as well as trust in the care facilities, are crucial for parents to find a balance between work and care responsibilities. Additionally, early childhood education and care also have a decisive relevance for children and their development. The Observatory shows how initiatives on the European level as well as national and regional measures and legislation are aiming at improving access to high-quality childcare for all children.
Economic Situation of single parents after divorce/separation
A separation or a divorce can have a significant – mostly negative - impact on the economic situation of ex-partners. If the couple has children, often one partner becomes a single parent. This short expertise compares the economic situation of single parents in Germany and Austria.The expertise is only available in German. You can find it here.