The employment rate of Bulgarian women is around the EU average, but the corresponding rate for men falls well below; and women work long hours too. To support mothers, Bulgaria has a maternity leave scheme which is generous in terms of time as well as money. There is also a special scheme entitling grandparents to parental leave. However, current spending on family policies generally is low compared to the EU average. Fertility rates are low too: the government is responding through a comprehensive National Demographic Strategy for the period 2006 to 2020, which aims to address the demographic drop in the country and the demographic change which Europe is facing. In 2010 a new initiative aimed at families and children was launched offering a wide range of family-related services.
Bulgaria’s fertility rate was 1.5 children per woman in 2011. In the same year, the female employment rate was similar to the EU average (58.5%) at 56.2%, whereas the male employment rate was lower than EU average (70.1%) at 60.9%. Women work more hours per week than the EU average (41.1 hours per week as against the average of 33.9 hours per week): this is only one hour less than Bulgarian men. In 2010, the gender pay gap in Bulgaria was reported at 15.7%. Employment rates for mothers, where the child is younger than six, are below average (51.2%, as against 58.9% in the EU) in 2011.
Maternity leave in Bulgaria is generous at 410 calendar days for each child, of which 45 must be taken before the child’s expected birth date. For each day of maternity leave, the employee is paid 90% of her average daily wage, provided that the woman has worked for 12 months prior to taking maternity leave and has insurance.
As of the beginning of 2009, new legislative changes concerning paternity leave entered into force, aimed at encouraging the active participation and presence of the father around a child’s birth and in the child’s first year. Fathers are now entitled to a 15-day period of leave on the birth of a child. Fathers areal so permitted to use the remaining portion of the 410-day maternity leave when the child is between six and twelve months of age.
Parental leave is also available until the child turns two and may be taken by the mother, the father or by one of the grandparents. Parental leave payments are equal to the minimum salary (240 leva in 2009: approximately €123 per month) until each of the first, second and third children has reached the age of two and, each following child, six months. This measure aims to encourage having more than one child, in order to maintain the population.
Spending on financial benefits for families and children in Bulgaria is slightly lower than the EU average (2.27% of GDP), at 1.99% of GDP in 2009. Nevertheless, the level of children at risk of poverty in Bulgaria is 48.2%.
According to a Eurobarometer survey , when Bulgarians were presented with a list of policy measures that could improve the life of families, they tended to prefer increased cash benefits and tax advantages over other measures.
There are several types of family benefits, mainly financial, as part of family support policy in Bulgaria. Benefits are granted in accordance with specific criteria, and include:
In addition, there are benefits provided to full-time student mothers and parents of twins, as well as public transport allowances. In order to encourage families to have more than one child, in 2009 there was a 200% increase of the single allowance for the birth of a second child to 600 leva (approximately. €307).
From the beginning of July 2012 there is also financial support available to low-income families with children in the first year of primary education, or to families, regardless of income, where there is one living parent or a permanently disabled child This one-off payment is intended to cover part of student expenses at state or municipal educational institutions and can take the form of financial aid and/or social investments.
There are also family allowances for children in the form of payments covering, for example, nursery fees, school meals, the purchase of text books and other school supplies. In addition, to prevent children dropping out of school, child allowances are conditional on the child regularly attending school.
A national programme called ‘Social Investments in Children’ was introduced in 2005 and implemented through the Family Allowances Act in seven pilot local authorities in Bulgaria. Under this programme monthly child allowances are transformed into social investments in children through the payment of nursery fees, food from the school canteen, clothes, shoes, text books and stationery, and food products.
There are also new initiatives to encourage family-friendly workplaces. Employers can be reimbursed for the cost of opening up and maintaining positions for mothers of children of up to 6 years of age. This reimbursement can provide financial resources to cover costs for pay, annual leave, sick leave, and health and social insurance contributions.
In 2010, a government initiative called the ‘Social Inclusion Project’ introduced new ways of encouraging the social inclusion of children and families at risk. Local authorities were provided with financial support to set up new types of family and children services addressing child development and strengthening the family environment. Until September 2012, 68 local authorities were provided with grants to establish these services, aimed at children up to the age of seven and their parents. Typical services include the provision of information and support, counselling, parental skills training programmes, health consultations, as well as preparation for school programmes and individual learning support for children with disabilities.
The information in the country profile was last updated in October 2012.
The ‘In Support of Motherhood’ programme enables mothers to use the services of unemployed people for childcare at their homes in order to go back to work before their paid maternity leave runs out (when the child turns two).
The programme is backed up by the ‘Family Centres for Children’ Project, in which unemployed nurses, nursery and primary school teachers, and women with social work experience run family centres for children aged one to five in their homes. The salaries and social security contributions of the carers are paid by the state while local authorities help the family centres with equipment and organise one meal a day.
‘Back to Work’ is an initiative to train unemployed people to be carers for children under three. Priority is given to people from the healthcare, education and social work sectors.