On February 26, 2019 the French High Council for the Family, Childhood and the Elderly issued a report recommending reform in parental leave policies to improve balance between work and family life.

Based on the shortcomings observed in the parental leave reform implemented in 2015, the recent report examines the issue of parents caring for their own children, and their eligibility to receive parental benefits if they interrupt or reduce their professional activity.

This report complements the report dealing with “care arrangements for children under age 3, arrangements which mainly concerned the development of complementary means of formal childcare”.

Indeed, the report emphasizes that the use of the financial help known as “PreParE” (compiled benefits for a child’s care and education), rapidly decreases (a 32% drop between 2016 and 2017, and more than half (52%) since 2009). This indicates how inadequate this subsidy is for families, partly because the amount granted is low, and because of the eligibility criteria, and the reduced duration for entitlement. One of the reasons accounting for the parental leave’s lack of appeal is that the benefit has been devalued by 38% compared to salaries.”  Henceforth the rapporteurs propose calculating a benefit index based on salaries, on a permanent basis.

Parental leave had previously been reduced to 2 years if only the mother took time off work. However, despite losing a year of benefits for interrupting their professional activity, “mothers remained inactive until their youngest child turned 3, or even until he began kindergarten.” The loss of income has doubled the number of poor families. The percentage of poor households has increased from 16% to 33% in families where mothers took maternity leave.

French childcare policies were previously focused on giving parents a free choice. Reducing parental leave benefits to only 2 years has had a huge impact. The report states that “one of the most important criteria cited was to have reliable child-care until school enrollment”.

Therefore the recommendations aim to mitigate the conditions and fulfill family’s requisitions. Some specific propositions include to continue parental leave benefits until the child enters kindergarten, to encourage part-time work and to simultaneously extend parental leave for a longer time period, or to allot more substantial benefits for short-term parental leaves.

The proposals focus on 4 points:

  • early child care;
  • Helping parents of young children keep or find work;
  • Reforming parental leave conditions and subsidies;
  • Better equality for sharing time between both parents, and to fight gender inequalities.

 

The authors warn that “although reform appears highly necessary, the immediate costs would rise, therefore negotiation would be required to establish a timeline. The reform should not only be considered in terms of its immediate impact on the public finance budget, but also the anticipated long-term benefits for society, beginning with the children.”

To put the latter observation into perspective: the current “PreParE” policy has been demonstrated as being inadequate for assisting families; and from 2013-2018 families allotted benefits were decreased by 1 billion €.

A recent European agreement dated January 24, 2019, has also addressed this issue of balancing work and family life, thus paving the way for a new policy, as the current report cites in Appendix 1.