Wspólnotowy Serwis Informacyjny Badan i Rozwoju - CORDIS


IPROSEC Streszczenie raportu

Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00031
Źródło dofinansowania: FP5-HUMAN POTENTIAL
Kraj: United Kingdom

European case studies in family change and policy practice

All the papers in the sixth issue in the series, written by the national research assistants in the participating countries, attempted to track changing family structure, with a view to identifying the challenges being faced by policy actors, their responses, and the experiences and perceptions of families themselves. Each of the country case studies drew together the findings from the different stages in the IPROSEC project.

The first paper presented the situation in France, where family policy is well established on the policy agenda, and where a close partnership exists between policy actors. Addressing the four project themes of population decline and ageing, changing family structures, gender and intergenerational relations, Olivier Buttner found that, in all cases, the French state and electorate are aware of the need for policy and recognize the legitimacy of intervention by the state. Building on this consensus, policy has been adapted in response to changing socio-demographic trends. While the normative family has become less rigidly defined, families have been given greater choice as to how they organize their lives, with support from publicly provided services. The state has, thereby, become the facilitator of choice. Despite the long tradition and strong consensus between policy actors over the responsibility of the state towards families, the author concluded that parties from the right and left continue to differ in their views about the forms family support should take.

The second paper also illustrated the close relationship between policy actors in the formulation of family policies and the acceptance among Swedish families of increased state intervention in certain areas of family life. Olga Nimeus focused on the first three themes of the project, illustrating the link between population decline and ageing, changing family forms and changing gender relations associated with women's greater participation in the workforce. She demonstrated how extensive public policy, especially the provision of public services such as childcare, has been adapted to the changing needs of families, facilitating, among other things, the balance between work and family life. She found that, despite extensive state support for reconciliation and gender equality, the workplace remains gender segregated, and women continue to carry the main responsibility for caring. Consensus appears to be less strong than in France among policy actors about the extent to which the state should intervene in family life.

The third paper, which reported on the situation of families and family policies in the United Kingdom, illustrated the gradual shift towards greater acceptance of state intervention in family life and the development of partnerships between policy actors. Elizabeth Monaghan, Elizabeth Such and Moira Ackers focused on the two themes of population decline and ageing, and changing family structure, arguing that such issues have been addressed by a more 'hands-on' policy approach since the late 1990s, with the introduction of explicit policies to encourage women into work, to institute parental leave and to regulate working time. The aim of policy is to tackle child poverty and social exclusion, and to strengthen communities by obliging families to meet their responsibilities. Paradoxically, while the state has intervened more directly than before in family life, its policies have been designed to increase rather than replace the responsibilities of families towards their members. The researchers found that families expect public services to play a greater, though not an intrusive, role in assisting them in their daily lives.

In her analysis of the German case, Jutta Trager focused on the themes of population decline and ageing, and changing gender relations, identifying the need for state intervention in response to the decline in fertility and low female economic activity rates. While the right and the left are divided in their responses to these issues between the stay-at-home mother and the working mother with children in day care, family members were found to be calling for greater intervention to support them in their desire to have children. They are demanding the improvement of living conditions and infrastructures to assist with the care, education and financial costs of raising children. German families are seeking a holistic approach to family life, aware that single policies fail to meet all their needs. Disagreement was revealed, however, over who should provide that assistance. As in the United Kingdom, the state has delegated responsibility to families and civil society. While families continue to reject state interference in what they see as private decisions, they expect the state to work with civil society to guarantee a safety net for families at risk.

The paper on Ireland also illustrated the ambivalence of attitudes in Irish society regarding socio-economic change and policy responses. Julia Griggs examined the four project themes, contending that, while the impact of population decline and ageing, and changing intergenerational relations is not yet being felt to the same extent in Ireland as elsewhere in Europe, policies have already been implemented to help cope with the problems that are likely to arise in the future, demonstrating that Ireland has learnt from the experience of other EU member states. At the same time, Irish governments have been more cautious in addressing issues arising from changes in family structure and gender relations, largely due to the influence of conservatism, which was enshrined in the 1937 Constitution and is being sustained by the Catholic Church. Change is also being impeded by the reluctance of families to see the state interfere in family life. They are, in addition, less willing than in the past to accept intervention from the Catholic Church as a civil society actor.

The Estonian paper pursued the theme of the shift in responsibility for family well-being from the state to families themselves, in a context where economic restructuring and the withdrawal of the state, following the collapse of Soviet rule, have provoked a return to traditional family values, self-reliance and mutual aid, both horizontally and vertically. Kati Karelson and Katre Pall argued that transition has provided a stimulus for family empowerment and an opportunity for civil society to assume a more proactive role. However, distrust of the state extends to non-governmental organizations, with the result that families continue to rely most heavily on their own members not only in coping with adversity but also in managing everyday life.

The paper by Judit Takacs again highlighted the increasing heterogeneity of family forms, in this case in Hungary, and found policy was lagging behind the new living arrangements of families. As in the other Central and East European countries, Hungary has witnessed the collapse of the state, and it is families, rather than private or civil society organizations, that are taking on responsibility for family care. While Hungarian families are more accepting of this role, they see the need for holistic policy intervention to address the many factors contributing to the combined causes and effects of declining fertility rates, including women's employment.

In Poland, the third candidate country in the project, the experience of transition has brought into sharp focus the many paradoxes facing policy actors. In their paper, Malgorzata Potoczna and Lucyna Prorok-Mami ska identified the need for greater support for families to offset the effects of population decline and ageing, but they found that economic restructuring and the associated withdrawal of state and employer intervention in family life have removed vital resources from family policy. Women have been the main losers, as high unemployment and inadequate welfare support have provoked a return to the legacy of traditional conservative values buttressing the male breadwinner model. Rather than seeking explicit family-friendly policies, families are demanding the provision of job opportunities and of more effective public services, including education and health care, which are expected to create more favourable conditions for work-life balance and lead to families being able to turn their attention to family building.

The reliance on family support networks was also a strong focus in the three papers on Spain, Italy and Greece, but, because of the changing roles of women, families feel less able to fulfil these duties and are calling for more state support. In her paper, Monica Badia i Ibanez argued that, as women in Spain have been entering the labour market in larger numbers, in the absence of flexible working hours and part-time contracts, the burden for child and elder care is more difficult to manage. However, the underdevelopment of the welfare state in Spain is preventing the implementation of policies that might assist families and, more especially, women.

Valentina Longo and Devi Sacchetto presented a similar case in the Italian context. They argued that, despite the changes in family life that occurred over the last decade of the twentieth century, policy appears to have stagnated and, in some cases, has become inaccessible to many families because of high costs. Focusing on the first two themes of population decline and ageing, and changing family forms, they emphasized the geographical diversity in socio-demographic change and the need for it to be addressed by policy. In particular, they highlighted differences between the north and centre-north of Italy and the south, arguing that, while socio-demographic change throughout the 1990s is most apparent in the southern regions of Italy, the conservative values intrinsic to the local and regional policy environment render them inflexible. Where fertility rates and family forms have changed in the north and centre-north, policies are, however, being implemented to some extent at the municipal level to deal with the challenges raised. In contrast to Spain, however, respondents in Italy are more deeply committed to the idea that the family should take care of itself, arguing that the state should help by making services more accessible in terms of cost, and of geographical coverage and provision.

The final paper on Greece also made the case that socio-demographic change has brought about a situation in which families are less able to carry the burden of family responsibilities than in the past. However, to a greater extent than in Spain and Italy, according to Dimitra Taki and Spyridon Tryfonas, while the need for state intervention is recognized, families are reluctant to allow the state to intervene, not only because it may threaten the family networks that provide the social safety net in Greek society, but also because many people do not trust the state to look after the family. The paper explored this ambivalence and the search for a compromise between family solidarity and extra familial support. The preference expressed by families was decidedly for additional benefits rather than services to enable families to choose their own forms of support without interference from the state.

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