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France: significant support for women and high monetary benefits

France has long had an extensive policy in favour of families. In particular, it provides a wide range of subsidised childcare services and a generous and varied allowances system, especially for large families. This is the essence of the resources intended to help parents find a better balance between work and family life. This series of measures seems well and truly efficient: France is amongst the European Union member states with the highest fertility and employment rates of women with children.

High fertility and female employment rates

With two children per women in 2011, France has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, together with Ireland. The fertility rate has been increasing slowly but steadily for about twenty years.

The high fertility rate seems to be explained by the fact that parents of young children have good employment prospects and that there is a very old and consistent family policy. According to figures from 2012, female employment as a whole (from 15 to 64 years) rose in 2012 (60 %) and meets the Lisbon target. What is more, this rate is lower than male employment by 8 percent. However, 30.2 % of working women work part-time, compared to only 6.9 % of men. In 2012, the pay gap between men and women (14.8%) was lower than the European average of 16.2 %.

The foundation: substantial monetary benefits

Cash benefits, known as family allowance, constitute a cornerstone of family policy in France. The system is managed by the Family Allowance Fund. Monetary transfers to families represent 2.6 % of GDP. Childcare services represent 1.6 % of GDP. The budget for family support reaches 3.6 % of GDP, if taking tax benefits into consideration. In 2012, the child poverty risk (23.2 %) was below the EU28 average (28.1 %).

Women on maternity leave receive their full salary for 16 weeks (26 weeks if it is their third child and up to 34 weeks for multiple births). Fathers are entitled to 11 consecutive days of paternity leave with no loss of pay.

Parents automatically receive family allowance after the second dependent child under 20 years, the monthly amount of which varies according to the number of dependent children.

After the third child, and if the two previous children are under 21 years, parents are entitled to additional family support amounting to € 167.34, subject to means testing.

Assistance may be paid from the first child, for example: the unique premium of birth (€ 923.08) or adoption (€ 1 846.15); the basic monthly allowance helping parents with expenses related to raising and educating their children for three years (€ 184.62); family support allowance which is paid to raise a child without the help of one or both of its parents (from € 90.40 to € 120.54) and back-to-school allowance subject to means testing to help parents with the cost of schooling for their children from 6 to 18 years (€ 360.47 for 6 to 10 year olds, € 380.36 for 11 to 14 year olds, € 393.54 for 15 to 18 year olds).

In a complementary manner, assistance already paid to the household can be increased with the arrival of children as is the case for housing benefit, which is calculated based on the rent and household income and active solidarity income, and is paid to people older than 25  with little or no resources to live.

Other benefits, also paid from the first child, allow parents to take care of a child under 20 years who is seriously ill, injured or disabled, by partially or occasionally leaving their professional activity in the context of leave for parental presence. This is the case of daily allowance for parental presence and education allowance for a disabled child. These allowances vary greatly according to the make-up and resources of the household as well as to the child's disability.

Between 1994 and 2004, parental leave was gradually extended to all families, regardless of the number of children. A monthly parental allowance (additional free choice activity) can be paid to families if one of the two parents reduces his/her working hours or stops work to care for a child under three years.

Tax concessions for large families

Large families also benefit from significant tax concessions. A specific principle of tax, the "family quotient", especially favours families with at least three children. In the French tax system, the tax unit is not the individual but the household. Each household amounts to a certain number of shares according to marital status and the number of children: a married couple is entitled to two shares, to an additional half-share for the first two children and an additional share per child after the third child. This mechanism gives rise to a significant reduction in taxes, to the extent that the total household income is divided by the number of shares it is made up of and that the taxes are calculated on the basis of this income after adjustment.

A varied range of childcare services

France has developed a comprehensive system of childcare and pre-school services of great quality which helps parents to work. Nurseries welcome infants from two months (or at the end of maternity leave). They are managed by local authorities, businesses or parent associations. The cost for parents is means-tested for almost all nurseries. Parents can equally opt for the services of an authorised childminder who can care for up to four children at his/her home. From two years of age, children can start nursery school, a typically French institution that was established in 1881. Pre-school is free and affects 95 % of children aged between three and six years and 44 % of children under three years. In addition, parents of children under six years can resort to the services of leisure centres or after-school centres before and after the school day, as well as during the school holidays. These services are often subsidised by the Family Allowance Fund

Despite the desired quantitative development undertaken by the state, some parents struggle to find a place for their children at nursery. In addition, childcare solutions for young children vary from area to area, from 9 to 80 out of 100 children under 3 years. Within this context, the French government has undertaken to create, from now until 2017, around 275 000 additional childcare solutions for children under three years (100 000 places in collective care, 100 000 in individual care and care for 75 000 additional children aged from 2 to 3 years at nursery school) and to balance out regional inequalities, by prioritising the provision of financial resources to the poorest areas. Around 16.9 billion euros will be invested in this project under the guidance of the Ministry for the Family.

Finally, to respond to the request for the provision of better information to families on types of childcare, the service portal was set up in May 2009 by the National Family Allowance Fund. This portal provides parents with general information on all types of childcare. It also gives them information on the current situation and concerned jobs, and provides full details of the facilities financed by the National Family Allowance Fund, as well as details of child carers.

Increased attention to parenting support

Today family have different needs that call for a response from public authorities. It is in this sense, and within the framework of modernising public action, that the government launched an assessment of public policy in 2013 regarding the "Governance of early childhood policy and support for parenting". This assessment has been carried out under the responsibility of the Delegate Ministry for the Family that called a Steering Committee bringing together institutional partners (family branch, local communities) and community partners. It has been decided that local schemes will be drawn up for family services that include developing and providing early childhood care and parenting support actions.

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

Childminders – a very popular childcare solution

Parents often use the services of registered childminders, who account for two-thirds of childcare solutions for children under the age of three. Of the 28% of children under the age of three looked after within the institutional system, over 18% are taken care of by childminders at their home or the parents’ home. The 290,600 childminders in France in the second half of 2009 provide 817,100 childcare places for children under the age of six.

Parents who choose this childcare option receive a monthly allowance, the ‘childcare choice supplement’, the level of which varies according to the status and remuneration of the childminder, the child’s age and household income. For example, this allowance totals between €162 and €378 for a household with a child under the age of three. Furthermore, social security contributions are covered in full by the Family Department.
The profession of childminding has come a long way over the years. The number of legally required training hours has doubled and an employment contract with the parents is now mandatory. The registration of childminders is validated every five years and health and safety checks are regularly carried out at the location where the children are looked after. There are nevertheless still problems to overcome – the profession is still not very highly regarded and low-income families are sometimes reluctant to use this childcare option despite the allowances provided and the simplified system of declaration of social security contributions. Furthermore, many childminders will retire over the next few years.