European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results
Content archived on 2024-05-29

Social quality and the changing relationships between work, care and welfare in Europe

Final Report Summary - WORKCARE (Social quality and the changing relationships between work, care and welfare in Europe)

The WORKCARE project, a cross-European study funded by the European Union (EU), has furnished important new finding which provide pointers for developing public policy in the EU. The recommendations made by the expert project team provide the basis for evidence-informed public policy to improve the lives of Europeans and enable the realisation of key policy objectives. These findings develop from ideas set out in the Lisbon Strategy and later reinforced in the Renewed Social Agenda adopted by the European Commission in July 2009. The Renewed Social Agenda is based upon three goals:
- creating work opportunities;
- providing access to employment; and
- demonstrating solidarity.
It explicitly highlights the importance of reconciling private and professional life by improving parental leave arrangements, introducing new forms of leave and strengthening protection for pregnant women.

EU policy is concerned to encourage as many people as possible, women as well as men, to be active in the workforce. There is also a commitment to promote equality of opportunity for men and women and an over-arching goal is promote a high quality of life for the whole population. Concerns about European demographic trends such as an aging population and low fertility rates have led to concerns about whether it is possible to both maintain high rates of employment for women as well as men and to encourage family building. This raises questions about how these policy objectives can be achieved when some of them seem to be in conflict with others. This lead us to ask: how do we enable families with young children to combine work and care, to take benefit from equality of opportunity for mothers and fathers and at the same time to enjoy a high quality of life? This project, carried out by an expert team of social scientists from seven European countries, was designed to explore how families with young children could best be supported by public policies to do this.

The research was carried out between 2005 and 2009 through:
- analysis of cross-European data sets to provide the 'big picture' of European patterns of work and care;
- analysis of childcare, flexibility and workplace policies at both national and European level;
in-depth interviews with a cross-section of countries having contrasting traditions of work and care: Denmark, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy.

In terms of our research findings, the extensive family policy regime comes closest to one which is likely to meet European policy objectives and the aspiration parents have for combining paid employment and caring. In this respect, an important finding is that the extensive family policy model is not invariably the most expensive option, the long leave, part- time and extended parental leave models are comparable in costs. The 'cheap' alternatives are when there is a very low level of public support for families. The highest level of public investment in supporting families is in Denmark (3.9 % GDP) and the lowest level in Spain (0.7 % GDP). However, the levels of investment are much the same in Sweden (3.1 % GDP) which provides high levels of support for families to work and care and Austria (3 %) which encourages fathers to have paid employment and mothers to become full-time careers. The costs of the extended family leave model are not much below the costs of the extensive family care model (in effect long leave for mothers).