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Austria: Generous support for families

Austria's financial benefits for families are among the most generous in Europe, accounting for 3.1% of the country's GDP compared to the EU average of 2.3% in 2009. According to latest Eurostat data, the fertility rate is, like in many European countries, low at 1.4 children per woman in 2011. The employment rate of women is high, but many women work part-time. Reconciliation of work and family life is a policy priority and Austria is currently facilitating it by offering financial and non-financial measures.
The main goals of the Austrian family policy are to allow parents to use their preferred mode of providing care for their children (i.e. themselves, by a family member, a childminder, in a kindergarten etc.), to support the re-entry of parents into the labour market, to create a family-friendly workplace environment, to promote and fund good quality childcare facilities, and to help fathers who want to be more involved in family life.

Improving childcare provision

According to 2010 Eurostat data, 84% of Austrian children aged between three and compulsory school age were enrolled in formal childcare. The enrolment rate for children under the age of three was 9%. These figures are far below the EU Barcelona Targets and the EU respective averages of 84% and 28%. It should also be noted that the national statistics present a more optimistic picture.
About half of the enrolled children receiving formal childcare between three and six years of age, and more than one third of children under three, were cared for on a part-time basis (i.e. for less than 30 hours per week) – despite the fact that 4,305 out of 4,595 pre-school facilities and 1,208 out of 1,267 crèches offer all day care. Public authorities manage approximately 60% of childcare places, the rest being provided by non-governmental organisations, religious institutions, companies or individual childminders (i.e. nannys).
These figures are correlated with the fact that 44% of employed women worked part-time in 2011 – one of the highest figures in the EU and a significant increase over the last decade, up from 27% in 1996. At 66.5% in 2011, the employment rate of women is above the Lisbon target of 60%. However, the rate is more than 10 percentage points lower than the employment rate for men.
To reflect the increasing female employment rate, from 2008 to 2010 the Austrian government invested €45 million towards the expansion of childcare services. In addition, the regional governments (Länder) recently spent an extra €60 million on the expansion of childcare. 24,573 places for children up to the age of six were created and 520 new childminders were qualified as a result of this measure. A further €15 million was invested in the development of early language learning. From 2009, the federal government spent annually €70 million on pre-school education free of charge for all five-year-olds. In 2010 pre-school education became compulsory.
In 2011 the coalition partners decided on seven work packages and agreed to continue the expansion of childcare facilities - especially for children aged up to three years - via a mix of in-kind and monetary spending. The goal is to create 5,000 additional childcare places annually. To this end, the government is investing a total amount of €55 million from 2011 to 2014. The regional governments (Länder) are also investing €55 million.
Since 2009 the costs for qualified childcare are deductable from the calculation basis for income tax up to the amount of €2,300 per year and per child up to the age of ten years.

Many options for parents

Maternity leave starts eight weeks before the expected birth date and lasts for a further eight weeks afterwards. This rises to 12 weeks in the case of multiple births or a caesarean. During this time pregnant workers are compensated from health insurance funds at a level corresponding to their average earnings in the three last months before claiming the leave. Parental leave, during which time the parent is protected from termination of the employment contract, can be claimed until the day the child turns two. Parts of this leave can be left to be taken later, but without special protection against dismissal and notice.
The previous system of parental leave payment (Karenzgeld) was replaced in 2002 by a childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld). Since January 2010 parents have had the choice between two schemes (offering a total of five options): flat-rate childcare allowance (four options) that they can claim whether they were employed prior to the birth of the child or not and an income-related childcare allowance. The latter is designed to give parents who earn more the opportunity to withdraw from the labour market for a limited period of time to look after their child. According to Austrian government information, since the implementation of the new system the number of fathers who receive the allowance has increased.
Parents may earn additionally while on childcare allowance. The maximum amount accepted depends on the chosen scheme.
‘Kinderbetreuungsgeld’can be claimed only for the youngest child in a family. In the case of multiple births, parents in the flat-rate scheme receive a supplement of 50% of the chosen flat-rate option for every additional child. Failure to attend ten medical checks — by both mother and the child — results in a reduction of the allowance. The medical checks are free of charge.

Generous family allowance

Family allowance, known as ‘Familienbeihilfe’ is not means-tested and depends solely on the age of the child, rising from €105.40 per month and per child during the first three years of life to €152.70 per month for eligible youths aged over 19.
Increased benefits are available to families with two (additional €12.80), three (€47.80), four (€97.80) or more (extra €50 per child) children. Special support is available for severely disabled children and for families with three or more children whose taxable annual income does not exceed €55.000.
Family support measures are managed by the Family Burden Equalisation Fund. In addition to childcare and family allowances, the Fund finances other measures including free use of public transport for schoolchildren, apprentices and trainees, provision of school books to pupils, support for families by temporary monetary transfers and family counselling.

The information in the country profile was last updated in November 2012.

Government initiatives towards a better reconciliation of Family and Work

Establishing  better reconciliation of family and work is a top priority for Austrian family policy. A number of legislative measures have been taken within the past years: crediting of child-rearing periods as pensionable years, allowing more flexible leave until a child starts school and the right to part-time work for parents, which was introduced in 2004.
The Ministry for Economy, Family and Youth also subsidises a number of societal and awareness-raising measures designed to support mothers and fathers in their jobs.
These include the ‘Family and Work Audit’ scheme which was introduced to help companies create a family-friendly environment. Within the scheme, an auditor identifies company needs through discussions with management and employees, leading to the establishment of a company plan, with goals to be achieved in a set period. At the end of the period, an external auditor assesses achievements. Companies taking part may receive subsidies for part of the costs.
In 2011 the ‘University and Family Audit’ was introduced to meet the special needs of University staff and students concerning a family-friendly human resource management.
Another measure in this field is the State Award ‘Most Family-Friendly Enterprise’, which was introduced in 2010. Enterprises with innovative efforts to create family-friendly work environments can apply for the Award. The State Award takes place every second year.
In 2012 the ‘berufundfamilie-Index’ - a scientifically sound instrument for measuring family consciousness in enterprises - was developed (www.berufundfamilie-Index.at). In the same year, the Charta ‘reconciling family and work’ was completed as a public commitment to the relevance of family-friendly measures in companies and organisations (www.bmwfj.gv.at).
The body responsible for the implementation of the Audits and the ‘Most Family-Friendly Enterprise’ state award is Family and Work Management Ltd.