Conclusions

Author:European Union Publications Office
Pages:115-121
 
CONTENT

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In this report we have reviewed a number of recent national policy reforms or debates about tax/benefit reform that relate to the ‘making work pay’ agenda set by the recent Communication ‘Modernising Social Protection for More and Better Jobs – a comprehensive approach to making work pay’. We have also compared the parental leave and childcare provisions in the 30 countries of this study, for the Communication also identifies the important role played by support mechanisms in relation to care responsibilities for ‘making work pay’.

Let us reiterate our opening, general points. While the national focus on ‘making work pay’ varies between the countries in the study there is a general absence of gender mainstreaming or gender impact assessment in most governments’ policy proposals, and a gender perspective was lacking or carried little influence in any accompanying public debate. Yet the national reports have demonstrated that a potential gender differentiated impact can be identified when a gender mainstreaming perspective is brought to the analysis.

Where a gender perspective has been developed in the content of the reform, this is uneven, and largely confined to certain target groups where it is recognised either explicitly or implicitly that women predominate, such as among lone parents or ‘second earners’ in couples. Yet the gender assessment usually stops here, at the identification of particular gender-differentiated target groups, rather than considering the labour market and household processes which give rise to these outcomes. Here a key, and familiar process, is that the gendered division of care responsibilities means that women are more likely than men to become lone parents or ‘second earners’ while at the same time being less able than men to secure well-paid employment.

Another risk in the gender mainstreaming process is that gender impact assessment may expose issues, but that these are not resolved due to competing political priorities. Here arguments about the negative impact of household-based assessments on the work incentives of ‘second earners’ are well-known in public debates in many countries, yet many governments refuse to tackle this question in tax/benefit reform due to other political priorities in terms of targeting social assistance on low-income households, or providing fiscal support which supports ‘the family’ but in fact favours a ‘single-earner couple’. This study was not designed to provide a systematic analysis of the disincentives created by the interaction of the tax/benefit system in the 30 countries in this study. However, Appendix Table A.3 provides a summary of examples of some of the main ways in which the tax/benefit system creates disincentives for ‘second earners’ in low-income households with dependent children in the different national systems, largely due to the lack of individualisation in taxation and benefit systems. This overview shows that in most countries there are still elements of policy design which undermine efforts to ‘make work pay’ for women by constructing and reinforcing their role as a ‘second earner’ that is presumed to reside with an employed man in the role as ‘main earner’. This is not merely a legacy of old policies which were developed in an earlier era, this presumption and neglect of gender mainstreaming is also evident in some of the recent reforms discussed earlier in this report as well as well as other examples highlighted in the Appendix.

The traps for ‘second earners’ which result mitigate against broader policy pushes to ‘make work pay’ for all the non-employed, but may be overlooked or not accorded sufficient priority unless a gender mainstreaming perspective is brought into policy design and evaluation. In this regard, the tax credit reforms in Belgium, France and the UK illustrate some of the design issues that need to be considered when attempting to design policies which ‘make work pay’ for low-income households in ways that do not increase or create traps for the ‘second’ earner.

In relation to reform of social protection systems for low-income households to promote work incentives the need to address childcare issues has obtained greater acceptance in policy debates across the EU, as expressed in the European Employment Strategy. This is a positive development; however, here there is a new form of risk that emerges – often the development of childcare lags behind the changing policy presumptions of social protection systemsPage 116 that mothers of young children should be active job-seekers in the push to raise women’s employment rates. Here the recent reforms to social assistance in Germany and the Netherlands are examples of reforms which aim to co-ordinate the development of childcare services with increased job search requirements for carers, and monitoring of the development of these new policies may provide important lessons for other Member States. A conundrum which persists is how to ‘make work pay’ through enhancing the financial returns for those in employment while simultaneously guaranteeing an adequate minimum income to the non-employed to protect them from poverty. A particularly stark trap here is how to direct resources to reach children in low-income families without exacerbating the marginal tax rates faced by their parents when seeking to enter employment or move from part-time to full-time work.

Where reforms have targeted additional means-tested support at low-income families with children (see Appendix Table A.3 which identifies some national examples) this is a positive redistribution which improves the safety net for such families and reduces the financial pressures on the carer to take employment regardless of the quality of either the job or the available childcare. However, the negative effects of income-related child payments may be to raise the effective marginal tax rates and so create ‘traps’ which make labour market entry difficult for mothers with low-earnings prospects. This conundrum is well-known, as is one of the solutions advances by many of the anti-poverty and feminist campaigning groups, namely that the introduction or extension of universal (not means-tested) child benefit provides the most neutral system of redistribution for this has little impact on marginal tax rates. The additional costs of a universal over an income-related benefit can be redeemed in the tax system, for example by making child benefit into a tax credit for higher earners. Furthermore, from a gender mainstreaming perspective, payments of such benefits/credits to the parent providing most of the day-to-day care ensures that the resources are targeted at the carer who is usually responsible for the day-to-day budgeting and expenditure in relation to children, thus providing an effective means of channelling resources to children in low-income households.

More generally in relation to ‘making work pay’ for carers, work-reconciliation measures have expanded, and this is clearly a positive development in relation to facilitating women’s employment. However, here too there are risks – that political complacency develops based on the view that this problem has now been addressed, and that work-family reconciliation remains targeted at women and the question of how to promote men’s use of parental leave and working-time adjustments remains ignored. Where measures have been introduced, such as the ‘Daddy leave’ provisions in Sweden and Norway, these still reserve only a small portion of the total leave period available to the family for fathers. While these are important measures, the impact of such systems have to be evaluated and monitored over a long-term perspective across generations of parents – as investments which promote a more equitable gender division of labour through shifting the attitudes and behaviour of mothers, fathers and employers as to what constitutes ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ roles for mothers and fathers. Furthermore, the impact of long leave provisions on women’s subsequent employment and earnings profile needs to be monitored.

The problem with a failure to gender mainstream the ‘making work pay’ debate is not only about how this undermines progress towards gender equity. We have also discussed how gender mainstreaming provides a different angle or vantage point which can be the basis for developing more effective policy solutions, that for example expose the articulation between tax/benefit systems and childcare services, or the potentially negative reverberations of tax cuts on women’s public sector employment, or even more broadly on the problem of falling fertility rates. When these broader linkages are acknowledged then it becomes evident that tax/benefit reform needs to be evaluated from a gender perspective that is broader than narrow supply-side debates about ‘making work pay’.

In relation to tax/benefit reform Bennett (2004) identifies some key features that inform a gender-sensitive analysis, which might form the basis for developing a checklist for assessing policy reforms in response to mobilising men and women into employment. She argues that a gender-sensitive analysis of social protection reform undertakes the following:

  1. Critically examines whether typically male patterns of behaviour are being taken for granted as the norm for both sexes.

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  2. It is interested in the distribution of resources and bargaining power within the aggregate unit of couple/family/household rather than treating the unit as a ‘closed box’. As Daly puts it (2000, cited by Bennett, 2004), gender-sensitive analysis ‘goes beyond the front door’.

  3. Gender-sensitive analysis of policy instruments for income transfer and redistribution is not just interested in how much is being redistributed to which kinds of family unit; it also considers it relevant to address where the resources come from, who receive them within the family, what purpose they are intended to serve and what the transfer is labelled in order to analyse how the redistribution may affect gender roles, relationships and inequalities, both within the home and outside.

  4. Scale is important. The impact of any reform should be assessed in relation to pre-existing patterns of gender inequalities, and therefore in relation to the distance still to be travelled towards gender equity.

  5. The effect on ‘capabilities’ and hence men and women’s abilities to achieve longer-term security and autonomy from a dynamic, lifecourse perspective is assessed.

    This check list emphasises the need to move beyond cross-sectional analysis in order to identify risks and change over the lifecourse in relation to ‘making work pay’, and the need for policies to be developed in ways which encourage new norms and modes of behaviour that reform gender relations and create new opportunities for men as well as women (e.g. a more active engagement in childcare for fathers) in relation to both employment and care work.

    Finally, while this report has focussed on the issue of tax/benefit reform and work-family reconciliation measures for the carers of young children, we should not lose sight of the problems of job quality and employment sustainability for those labour market entrants with primary care responsibilities – mainly women – who face the prospect of combining low-wage job opportunities with their household role as main carer. The national reports identified key issues of job quality and sustainability that should be kept in view in more narrow debates about tax/benefit reform to promote work incentives, such as whether the job openings carry the risk of low pay, instability, time schedules which are incompatible with care commitments, or particular forms of discrimination which impact on mothers in particular. The issues identified as particularly salient in the different national settings are summarised in Table 5.1.

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    Table 5.1. The key problems of job quality and employment sustainability faced by women in low-income households with children identified in the national reports

    Key

    *: A key issue

    No: Not a major problem

    Not mentioned: Not identified as a major problem, but may still be a feature of the labour market


    National expert assessment: key features of the jobs available which limit the viability or sustainability of employment for mothers from low-income households
    Country Low-wage levels Job instability Time schedules incompatible with care Gender segregated job openings for the low qualified Other – including specific aspects of gender discrimination by employers
    BE No (Gender pay gap but high minimum wage) * * * Not mentioned
    CZ * Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned Low-paid jobs are not sufficiently attractive and often pay little more than social protection levels.
    DK Not mentioned * Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned
    DE * * * * Not mentioned
    EE * * * Not mentioned Limited practice of equal opportunities policies by employers
    EL * Not mentioned * * Discrimination by employers of women of child rearing age
    ES * * * Not mentioned Over-representation of women on temporary contracts.
    Progress has been made in collective agreements to improve parental leave but still much scope for improvement (CES, 2003b, p. 87).
    FR * * * * Not mentioned
    IE * * * * Employment policy is not aimed at enforcing workers’ access to family-friendly options, particularly in the case of atypical workers.
    Immigrant workers trapped in situations of tied employment are not in a position to seek better employment opportunities on the labour market.

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    Table 5.1. The key problems of job quality and employment sustainability faced by women in low-income households with children identified in the national reports (cont.)


    National expert assessment: key features of the jobs available which limit the viability or sustainability of employment for mothers from low-income households
    Country Low-wage levels Job instability Time schedules incompatible with care Gender segregated job openings for the low qualified Other – including specific aspects of gender discrimination by employers
    IT * * * Low qualified men and women do not compete for the same jobs, but limited openings exist for women Low wages are a key issue
    Lack of jobs for women with low educational levels, particularly in the south
    Discrimination against pregnant women by private sector employers
    CY * Not mentioned * * Government and employer policies rely too much on the family (especially the extended family) to provide reconciliation between family and work life.
    LV * * * * Women are over-represented in an insecure service sector with few benefits and incompatible work and family schedules.
    LT * Not mentioned * * Sex discrimination by employers in recruitment and promotion
    LU * Not mentioned * * Low-paid jobs/part-time jobs
    HU * Not mentioned * Not mentioned Employers often discriminate against women with family responsibilities. They assume they are less reliable and they are less willing to fulfil unsocial working hours. This practice is widely accepted by the population, but it is very difficult to prove.
    MT Not mentioned Not mentioned * Not mentioned Not mentioned
    NL Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned
    AT * Not mentioned * * Evidence of a backlash: as more women attain management positions, it becomes difficult for women to complain of discrimination.
    Employers discriminate against mothers returning from maternity leave and fail to comply with requests for flexible employment.
    Sexual harassment in the workplace.

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    Table 5.1. The key problems of job quality and employment sustainability faced by women in low-income households with children identified in the national reports (cont.)


    National expert assessment: key features of the jobs available which limit the viability or sustainability of employment for mothers from low-income households
    Country Low-wage levels Job instability Time schedules incompatible with care Gender segregated job openings for the low qualified Other – including specific aspects of gender discrimination by employers
    PL * * * * Discriminatory practices of employers are affected by their perception of women as an immobile and inflexible labour force due family obligations.
    PT * * * * Female graduate unemployment
    Continued discrimination against pregnant women
    SI No No * * Discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace
    Under-representation of women in top managerial posts
    Gender pay gap due to double burden of paid and domestic work
    SK Not mentioned Not mentioned * Not mentioned ‘Double discrimination’ of Romany women
    Discrimination against women of childbearing age and pregnant women, particularly by private sector employers
    FI Not mentioned Not mentioned No * Discrimination against young women of child-rearing age because of the cost of leave entitlements for employers
    SE Not mentioned Not mentioned Not mentioned * Not mentioned
    UK * * * * Over-representation in low-paid, part-time work
    Long working-hours culture
    Discrimination faced by pregnant women
    BG * * * * Discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace
    IS * * * * Unemployment among women with university education has risen slightly since the 1990s.
    The overall unemployment of women is now higher than that of men and women are almost twice as likely as men to be

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    Table 5.1. The key problems of job quality and employment sustainability faced by women in low-income households with children identified in the national reports (cont.)


    National expert assessment: key features of the jobs available which limit the viability or sustainability of employment for mothers from low-income households
    Country Low-wage levels Job instability Time schedules incompatible with care Gender segregated job openings for the low qualified Other – including specific aspects of gender discrimination by employers
    unemployed in the region where the largest state-owned hydro power plant is under construction. This was expected to create new job openings for unskilled workers but 60% of the work-force is not Icelandic.
    LI * Not mentioned * * Employers show little interest in creating better conditions for women and oppose new rights, such as the recently introduced parental leave.
    NO Not a major problem (the wage structure is compressed) Not mentioned No No Involuntary part-time workers want longer working hours
    Deregulation of overtime work and temporary work: in general, working-time regulations with less regulation and more negotiation between employer and employee tilts the power relation in favour of the employer.
    Discrimination against pregnant women and a lack of a strategic job adjustement policy in most workplaces.
    RO * * No * Rapid erosion of institutional support for employed women, especially for mothers.
    Precarious childcare services.