Social Policy Research Unit financial incentives and mother’s employment: a comparative perspective


If yes, what is the age of the child?



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If yes, what is the age of the child?

% of lone mothers with dependent children who are employed


Australia

No but about to begin

-

-

Children under 15: 46 (2000)

Austria

yes

yes (subject to childcare)

about 3

80 (1999)

Belgium1

yes

discretion

-

59 (1997)

Canada2

yes

yes

6

51 (1996)

Denmark

yes

no (subject to childcare)

-

73 (1995)

Finland

yes

yes

4

65 (1998)

France3

no


-

-

Children under 18: 66 (2001)

Germany

yes

yes

3

Children under 18: 67 (2000)

Greece


no

-

-

75 (1996)

Ireland

no

-

-

53 (1999)

Israel

yes

yes

7

N/a

Italy4

yes

yes

3

65 (1998)

Japan5

discretion

no

-

Children under 20: 83 (1999)

Luxembourg

yes


yes

6

82 (2000)

Netherlands6

yes

yes

5

42 (1997)

New Zealand7

no

-

-

45 (2001)

Norway

yes

yes

3

68 (1999)

Portugal8

no

-

-

88 (1996)

Spain9

no

-

-

68 (1991)

Sweden

yes

no

-

68 (1998)

UK

no

-

-

52 (2000)

USA

yes

yes

1

68 (2000)
Italics=Data not provided by national informants. Figures obtained from other sources.

1 All social assistance beneficiaries, are in principle required to be looking for work and to be ready to take up employment; however, in the case of single parents, especially those with young children, this requirement is probably not always enforced very strongly.

2 Work test requirement for Ontario; employment figure for Canada. No work test for lone mothers until 1995 and toughened to apply to mothers with children under 6 in 1996. NB: employment figure for 1996.

3 RMI recipients have to sign a contract that very often consists in an engagement to participate to actions in order to enhance one's employability or to reintegrate the labour market, but it may instead refer to engagement related to social rights, to medical visits, to the search for a housing, to the search for a place in child care, etc.

4 Social Assistance scheme: RMI, in test phase and not yet implemented nation wide.

5 Social caseworkers’ discretions are the most important aspects in the Japanese social assistance system. It is highly unlikely that those in working age can receive benefit, if not impossible in law. Officers (social case workers) visit all those receiving benefits on a regular basis, and suggest (help or order) them to work.

6 Work test introduced for lone mothers in 1996. NB. Employment figure for 1997.

7 Those with a youngest child under 6 having an interview to discuss current and future barriers to work and those with a youngest child between 6-14 having a mandatory work test for part time work and those with youngest child 14+ having a full time work test. The work test was due to be abolished in 2001 but was not passed due to an error. It is expected to be abolished in 2002.

8 For those who are beneficiaries of the Guaranteed Minimum Income (RMG), there is an integration programme. This programme is composed by different actions related to education, housing, health, training etc.); these actions, and the integration programme as a whole result form an agreement between the social services and the beneficiaries. Those recipients of the Guaranteed Minimum Income who do not accomplish what was established in the integration programme lose the right to the economic benefit paid by RMG.

9 Madrid region (activity rates). In Spain, the social assistance eligibility varies between regions. We have used Madrid as the reference. According to the current regulatory frame of Madrid’ IMI a lone parent, in order to receive social assistance, has to commit oneself to develop the integration activities established by the Centre for Social Services. However, the required reintegration activities are a condition very ambiguously defined by the law and scarcely applied in the daily practice.

One must take care in relating the operation of a work test to employment rates for three reasons. First, the implementation of a work test is merely one of many factors influencing the lone mother employment rate including financial incentives (see above), labour demand, availability of childcare etc. Also, it is impossible to know whether women on maternity or parental leave are included (or excluded) from the rates used for each country in this study. On the one hand, including them may overestimate the employment rates if the mother is not intending to return to work after the leave period is finished but excluding them may underestimate the proportion of women in employment, especially if they are expecting to return to work after the leave period. Second, in our study some of the employment figures are relatively old and sufficient time has not passed since the implementation of a work test in order for a measurable effect to have taken place. For example, in Canada (Ontario) the 'work test' was toughened to apply to mothers with children under six in 1996, more or less simultaneously with the collection of the census data. So, if there were a cause and effect, it would have had time to have any impact. Likewise, in the Netherlands, a work test did not come into operation for lone parents until 1996 and the employment figures are for 1997.


Of the 22 countries in our study, seven do not operate a work test for lone mothers with dependent children, of which three (Australia7, New Zealand and the UK8) have one of the five lowest lone mother employment rates. Certain countries have different interpretations about how much they should force lone mothers to actively seek work. For example, in Spain, France and Portugal, whilst they do not have a work test per se, they do have insertion measures which must be fulfilled in order to receive social assistance. These may or may not be directly related to training or labour market insertion. In our study Portugal also has the highest lone mother employment rate (88 per cent).
In other countries, a work test may be stipulated by law but not put into practice. Belgium and Japan operate a work test but whether this is actually applied to lone parents varies. In Belgium, this requirement is probably not always enforced very strongly for single parents, especially those with young children. On the contrary, in Japan, there is no special treatment for lone parents and a strict work test operates for those of working age. Social work officers play a large part in its implementation by visiting individual recipients and suggest them to work where appropriate. The differing emphasis on the importance of a work test in these two countries (a tendency towards leniency in Belgium and relative severity in Japan) could perhaps explain the comparatively low proportion of lone mothers in employment in Belgium (60 per cent) and the high proportion in employment (83 per cent) in Japan.
Of the 13 remaining countries that do operate a work test for lone parents, the majority only apply the test when the youngest child reaches a certain age. In Canada and the Netherlands the work test is not applied to lone mothers whose youngest child is below statutory school age, whilst in Israel and Luxembourg the work test is not applied until the youngest child has been in school for two years. In Germany and Austria the work test is not operated until a childcare place is guaranteed for the youngest child - age three in both countries. In Germany the work test for lone mothers is very moderate and aims at part-time work rather than full-time. Italy enforces a work test for lone mothers whose youngest child is eligible to attend a state school nursery (age three) but a place for the child is not guaranteed. In Finland, Norway and the USA, the operation of a work test is dependent upon the age of the youngest child but the age does not relate to the statutory school age or childcare arrangements. In Finland, parents with children aged one to three can select the child home allowance option. This makes it financially possible for one of the parents to stay at home with the children, during which there is no work test. In Norway, lone parents are expected to work when the child is three. In the USA, TANF imposes work tests on all parents, the majority of whom are single mothers. In the USA lone mothers are expected to work for their benefits when their child reaches three months of age, though there is considerable state variation up to a maximum of one year. The work test is applied only if childcare is available.
Two countries (Denmark and Sweden) operate a work test regardless of the age of the youngest child. However, in Denmark the work test is only applied if childcare is available.
Of those who do not already have a work test, only Ireland and the UK do not currently have plans to introduce one. Moreover, some countries already with work tests for lone mothers intend to increase their severity (Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel). Whilst Spain, France and Portugal have insertion measures, they do not have work test per se and no plans are currently in place to implement one. France does plan, however, to extend its 100 per cent earnings disregard up to six months for all social assistance schemes, including API (the French social assistance scheme for lone mothers), presumably to encourage work re-insertion. Likewise, Australia will allow people on income support to keep more of their income support payment while working through the introduction of a working credit.
New Zealand stands alone in its social assistance policy: in 2001, it abolished its work test for partners and abolished its work test for lone mothers on the Domestic Purposes and Widow Benefits (DPB) in 2002. This gives lone mothers more flexibility to move into work. The age of the youngest child in a family no longer determines the requirement to work and the number of hours required of a beneficiary. Instead each beneficiary will be required to plan for their future with a case manager. The changes are designed to recognise family responsibilities and individual circumstances. Whilst Denmark, is also expected to relax its activation policy for certain groups, this is not likely to affect (single) mothers.



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