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Austria: Generous support for families

Austrian families are supported more generously than elsewhere in Europe – with 2.8% of the country’s GDP compared to the EU average of 2.2% in 2011. According to the latest Eurostat data, the fertility rate is, as in many other European countries too, low at 1.4 children per woman in 2011. The employment rate of women is high (69.9% in 2012) and above the Lisbon target of 60%, but many women work part-time (44.9% in 2012).
Reconciliation of work and family life is a political priority and Austria furthers it by offering financial and non-financial measures. Furthermore, measures towards more youth participation are another focus point of the Austrian family-policy since 2013.

A mix of benefits supports families

Austria has a wide range of financial benefits – which are paid by the Family Equalisation Fund – and non-financial measures. The main financial benefits are family allowance and childcare allowance. Family allowance is not means-tested and is paid only to families with dependent children. Increased benefits are available to families with two and more 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. In 2014, family allowance in Austria was increased by 4%, and will rise again by a further 1.9% on 1 January 2016 and 1 January 2018 respectively.

Childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld) is granted for children born from 1 January 2002. Since 2010 parents have had the choice between two schemes (offering a total of five options) of childcare allowance: flat-rate childcare allowance (four options) that they can claim whether or not they were employed prior to the birth of the child 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 children. According to information provided by the Austrian government, the number of fathers who receive the allowance has increased since the new system was introduced. Payment of full childcare allowance is linked to five medical examinations during pregnancy and five check-ups of the child. These examinations are free of charge.

In addition to financial benefits, Austria also provides an established system of parental leave regulations. Maternity leave starts eight weeks before the expected birth date and lasts for a further eight weeks afterwards (12 weeks in the case of multiple births or a caesarean birth). During this time pregnant workers are compensated at a level corresponding to their average earnings in the three last months before starting their leave. This compensation is funded by the Family Equalisation Fund (70%) and the health insurance fund (30%). 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.

Improve childcare services

According to 2011 Eurostat data, 85% 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 14% in 2011. These figures are below the EU Barcelona Targets and - regarding children under the age of three - also below the EU respective averages of 84% and 30% respectively. It should also be noted that recent national statistics present a much more optimistic picture. According to this data, 25.1% of children under the age of three and 92.8% of children under the age of six are enrolled in formal childcare (including day-care givers).

To improve the reconciliation of work and family life the Austrian government invested €100 million towards the expansion of childcare services from 2008 to 2014. In addition, the regional governments (Länder) spent an extra €115 million on the expansion of childcare, which resulted in more than 38.000 places for children up to the age of six. Between 2014 and 2017, the Austrian government will invest an additional €305 million to both expand its childcare and also improve its quality. The regional governments will contribute approximately another €134 million during the same period. A further €15 million was invested in the development of early language learning. The Austrian government is currently planning to invest another €60 million into early language learning between 2015 and 2017. Since 2009, the federal government spent €70 million annually on pre-school education free of charge for all five-year-olds. In 2010 pre-school education became compulsory.
Since 2009, the costs for qualified childcare are deductible 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.

Government initiatives promote reconciliation

Besides legislative measures there are also a number of societal and awareness-raising measures designed to support mothers and fathers in their jobs.
Known as best practices are the Audit schemes: especially the "Family-friendly Municipality Audit", initiated to support municipalities to further develop their child- and family-friendliness and the ‘Family and Work Audit’ scheme, which was implemented to help companies create a family-friendly environment.

To meet special needs of further different target-groups, the 'University and Family Audit' was introduced in 2011, and the ‘Family and Work Audit’ for healthcare and nursing facilities and the ‘Audit compact’ for small and medium-sized businesses were introduced in 2013.
Another measure in this field is the State Award ‘Most Family-Friendly Enterprise’, which was introduced in 2010 and takes place every second year. Enterprises with innovative efforts to create family-friendly work environments can apply for the Award.
In summer 2014, the Family and Work Management Ltd (Familie & Beruf Management GmbH) set up a central platform for childcare service advertisements during the summer holidays. An App allows the user to search for a suitable offer on their smartphone.
The Charta "Reconciling Work and Family Life" ("Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf"), which was signed in 2012 as a public commitment to the relevance of family-friendly measures in companies and organisations, will now be extended to become the alliance "Companies for Families" ("Unternehmen für Familien"). In celebration of the International Year of the Family 2014, task forces that also address the reconciliation of work and family life were set up.

The body responsible for the implementation of the Audits and the ‘Most Family-Friendly Enterprise’ state award is Family and Work Management Ltd.

The information in the country profile was last updated in September 2014.

Strategies towards Youth-Participation

In 2012 and 2013, new strategies towards children's right to participate were introduced.

Pursuant to the effects-related impact assessment "Jugendcheck" (BGBl. II, No. 245/2011) of 1 January 2013, authorities involved in the drafting of laws are obliged to carry out an impact assessment of possible (positive or negative) effects on children and young people. To this effect, civil servants preparing draft legislation are meant to "step into the shoes" of children and young adults in order to broaden the adult perspective and to ensure that the Constitutional Law on Children's Rights (2011) and the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child are implemented to the full extent with a special focus on securing the future of young adults.

The Austrian Youth Strategy that started in 2012, is an ongoing and dynamic process to develop and empower "youth in all policies". Based on the eight fields of action of the EU Youth Strategy, the Austrian Youth Strategy defines three core scopes: 1. Employment & Education, 2. Participation & Commitment, 3. Quality of Life & Community. For each of these core scopes, three measurable strategic objectives are defined. The development and implementation of measures to achieve the aims is the joint responsibility of all stakeholders – political, in the administration and in civil society.

The active inclusion of young people is considered the guiding principle. On the one hand, it‘s guaranteed indirectly by the continuous involvement of the National Youth Council ("Bundes Jugend Vertretung") and the Federal Open Youth Work and Youth Information Networks ("Bundesnetzwerke der Offenen Jugendarbeit und Jugendinformation"). On the other hand, the Austrian Youth Strategy is based on findings and surveys using methods from the social sciences. Thus, the concerns and needs of young people are being used directly to further develop the Austrian Youth Strategy. In 2014, a new participation model was developed, which enables young people to continuously express their opinions. Therefore, the Austrian Youth Strategy aims for a participation process based on young people. To further initiate self-determination and empowerment processes and to promote the creative potential of young people, the Federal Ministry Family and Youth has implemented the "Your Projects" initiative ("Eure Projekte") to support the execution of project ideas with up to €500.