The Family Watch has been responsible as member of the International Federation for Family Development (IFFD) of organizing the United Nations European Expert Group Meeting organized in Brussels 6-8 June 2012, convened as part of preparations for the Twentieth Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, 2014. Around 30 experts and practitioners from 14 countries have discussed about the proposals for recommendations of social policies that should be promoted from UN. The outcomes of the Expert Group Meeting, in particular its conclusions and recommendations, will further guide the preparations for the observance of the Twentieth Anniversary and will be used as inputs to the upcoming reports of the Secretary-General on family issues.
Three main topics for the Anniversary
The preparations for the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family focuses on exploring family-oriented policies and strategies aiming mainly at confronting family poverty; ensuring work-family balance and advancing social integration and intergenerational solidarity. The preparatory process is to accelerate progress in family policy development; demonstrate its relevance for overall development efforts and draw attention to the role of stakeholders in achieving these goals.
Confronting family poverty
Equality is a fundamental right within the EU and other European countries. However, deep-rooted disadvantages faced by certain groups of society, coupled with ingrained attitudes and beliefs of others, means that legislation alone is unlikely to achieve the goal of creating a society which genuinely offers equal opportunities to all and is totally free from discrimination. While extreme poverty affects certain groups within the EU, most notably the Roma in some Member States, the more widespread form of poverty within the EU tends to be relative poverty, both in monetary and non-monetary terms.
Social exclusion relates to being unable to enjoy levels of participation that most of society takes for granted. It is a complex, multi-dimensional, multi-layered and dynamic concept that the EU’s social inclusion process defined as a process whereby certain individuals are pushed to the edge of society and prevented from participating fully by virtue of their poverty, or lack of basic competencies and lifelong learning opportunities, or as a result of discrimination. (1)
Ensuring work-family balance
The feeling of an excessive workload due either to professional or family obligations leads to a substantial reduction in life satisfaction. According to the Second European Quality of Life Survey, women who work outside the home and experience work–family conflict tend to be less satisfied with life than women who work solely in the home. Unemployment, nevertheless, has the most negative impact on life satisfaction: even those who report a high level of work–family conflict are far more satisfied with life than unemployed persons.
Overall, Europeans are more dissatisfied with the amount of time they spend with their family than with the amount of time spent at work, family life being more adapted to employment requirements than work arrangements are to family life.
Substantial differences exist between countries in terms of the reasons for unsatisfactory work–family balance. In the Nordic countries, as well as in the Benelux countries and France, failure to achieve a satisfactory work–life balance is due to a shortage of time. In the central and eastern European countries and the candidate countries, work–family balance is above all negatively affected by tiredness due to poor working conditions resulting from long working hours. Balancing work and family seems to be easier in German-speaking and Anglo-Saxon countries: this may be explained by a lower proportion of dual-earner couples and working single mothers in these countries. (2)
The European population structure is changing and becoming progressively older. A steady increase in life expectancy across Europe during the last century led to increased longevity, while in more recent decades –from the 1970s onwards– Europe has experienced falling fertility rates. These two developments impact upon demographic ageing, a process that has become established in the EU in the last 30 or 40 years and which is expected, by many, to become further entrenched during the next half century, as the absolute number and the relative importance of the population of older persons continues to grow.
These demographic changes will lead to significant challenges for families and individuals –for example, it could become commonplace for people to move into retirement while still having one or both of their parents alive.
Many of the challenges that arise from population ageing are universal and include pressure on public budgets and fiscal systems; strains on pension and social security systems; adjusting the economy and in particular workplaces to an ageing labour force; possible labour market shortages as the number of working age persons decreases; the likely need for increased numbers of trained healthcare professionals; higher demand for healthcare services and long-term (institutionalised) care; and potential conflict between generations over the distribution of resources. (3)
UN European Expert Group Meeting
The primary objective of the European Expert Group Meeting held on the 6th, 7th and 8th of June has been to provide UN Member States and other stakeholders with expert opinion and recommendations regarding the three topics suggested for this Anniversary. Experts dealing with various aspects of family policy have been invited from a broad geographical distribution to participate in the meeting in their personal capacities.
They were asked to provide a paper, participate in group discussions and give their expert opinion and policy recommendations on the best ways of integrating family perspective into overall policy making and developing family policies, and also to provide specific recommendations and examples of good practices in the three areas mentioned above.
The report and experts’ papers will be posted on the UN website, as well as the websites of the International Federation for Family Development the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.
The final report of the Expert Group Meeting as well as expert papers will be used as an input to the 2012 Report of the Secretary-General on the preparations for and observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family. This report will be submitted to the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session through the Commission for Social Development and the Economic and Social Council.
The programme of the Meeting included the following subjects and experts:
‘Child poverty’, by Dominic Richardson (OECD, Paris).
‘Family change, child well-being and social inequality’, by Juho Härkönen (Stockholm University).
‘Maternity, paternity and parental leave arrangements’, by Fred Deven (Kenniscentrum Welzijn, Brussels).
‘Work, fertility and the transition to parenthood: trends and their impact on work and family agenda’, by Dimiter Philipov (Vienna Institute of Demography, Vienna).
‘Integration of family policies, responses and shared responsibilities’, by Lorenza Rebuzzini (International Family Studies Center, Milano).
‘Prevention and development of human skills in the family’, by Silvana Tiani Brunelli (Centro Studi Podresca, Prepotto, Italy).
‘Parenting courses’, by Alonso Gil-Casares (Instituto Superior de Educación Administración y Desarrollo, Madrid).
‘Improving intergenerational relationship focusing on parents’ relationship quality’, by Anna Garriga (Universitat Abat Oliba, Barcelona).
Nine good practices from all over Europe were also presented during the European Expert Group Meeting, as part of the contents of it:
Barnablick (Stockholm City Mission)
The aim of this project is to develop a work model based on a child perspective and a broader vision of the childrens’ rights that provides practical support for children aged from 8 to 15 who face marginal living conditions and their networks. Most children and families make their first contact through open activities.
More information... (In Swedish)
Welfare to work (One Family, Dublin)
An innovative motivational, interagency progression programme designed specifically for lone parents, underpinned by specialist parenting and based on international best practice for supporting groups displaced from the labour market and incorporates proactive community-based recruitment, thorough needs-assessment, key-working and mentoring.
More information... (In English)
Veilig Thuis (Municipality of Rotterdam)
The main aim of the Rotterdam approach to family violence is using a system approach, through family-services (police and criminal justice which focuses on abused women as victims, and men as violent male perpetrators), child protection (focused on children, but where mothers are seen as failing to protect their children from violence), custody and visitation.
More information...(In Dutch)
Cash Transfers (Hungarian Association of Large Families)
The Hungarian legal system to support families includes universal direct financial support, income tax decrease and exemptions, social and cultural services (education, healthcare, reduced rate transportation, childcare, nursing of ill and elderly people, etc.), supports, aids and subsidies from local authorities in cash and in kind, as well as compulsory and optional fringe benefits from employers (extra vacation days, schooling aid, etc).
More information... (In Hungarian)
Audit (Regional Observatory for Social Policies, Veneto)
The Audit certification (label and documentation) enables Veneto Region to implement to promote a better sharing between family and work by means of the elaboration and implementation of concrete measures able to create a new enterprise culture.
More information...(In Italian)
Parler Bambin (Municipality of Grenoble)
This programme trains educators to turn their usual way of taking care of the children into constant interactive conversation during the activities and it helps them to pay special attention to the late talkers by individual workshops and to support parents in their parenthood by involving them in the language stimulation.
More information...(In French)
Belgian Time Credit System (Knowledge Centre WVG)
Although it was first labelled as ‘Career Break System’ and designed to tackle raising unemployment levels, the Belgian system rapidly developed over the years into a valuable tool for work-family balance. It got an increasing take up rate and was ‘successful’ among young mothers as it was far ahead the EU Directive on Parental Leave. It was also made more flexible and became more focused as a tool to better combine work and care responsibilities, and in 2011 has been reviewed in the context of the budget deficit.
More information...(In English)
Family Enrichment Courses (Families University, Vilnius)
IFFD courses for parents are designed to suit the different stages of child development. All courses are structured on the participant-based case study method and use real situations, to help families in 65 countries to build stronger and happier relationships as the best way to prevent conflicts.
More information...(In Lithuanian)
European Alliance For Families (European Union, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion)
The European Alliance for Families is a portal devoted to family policies in the European Union. It aims to create impulses for more family-friendly policies through exchanges of ideas and experience in the various Member States.
More information...(In English)
(1) Cfr. Eurostat, ‘Combating poverty and social exclusion: A statistical portrait of the European Union 2010’.
(2) Cfr. Eurofound, ‘Second European Quality of Life Survey - Family life and work – 2010’.
(3) Cfr. Eurostat, ‘Active ageing and solidarity between generations - A statistical portrait of the European Union 2012’.