Portuguese parents — who mostly work full time, have long working hours and often hold temporary jobs — find it difficult to combine work and family responsibilities. Despite significant public investment and a range of measures to support families, current levels of care provision for young children and low financial support for families have been identified as key problems. The proportion of children at risk of poverty is still above the EU average (20.5%) at 22.4% in 2010. Recently, the government has implemented a Social Emergency Programme to help the most vulnerable families.Portuguese parents – who mostly work full time, have long working hours and often hold temporary jobs – find it difficult to combine work and family responsibilities. Despite significant public investment and a range of measures to support families, current levels of care provision for young children and low financial support for families have been identified as key problems. The rate of children at risk of poverty is among the EU’s highest at 22.9%. Recently, the government has implemented a Social Emergency Programme to help most vulnerable families.
According to a 2008 Eurobarometer survey , reconciliation of work and family life is considered more of a challenge in Portugal than elsewhere in the EU: 72% of Portuguese respondents found it ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ difficult to combine the two. As shown in a 2009 Eurobarometer , when presented with a list of measures that could improve their work- life balance, 36% of Portuguese respondents said it should be compulsory for companies to adopt measures that help their employees to achieve a better reconciliation between work and family life and 31% chose the improvement of childcare or other dependents facilities. Almost two out of three Portuguese women work (the employment rate of women aged 15 to 64 was 60.4% in 2011 above the EU average of 58.5%), and the vast majority do so fulltime. The majority of both men and women work long hours — 71.1% of the male workers and 61.3% of female workers have an average working week of over 40 hours. Moreover, in 2011, 70.8% of mothers with children under six years old were employed, which is well above the overall female employment rate of 60.4% (women aged 15 to 64). Part-time work seems not widely used by mothers as a work-life balance option: in 2011 only 16.3% of all working women worked part time compared to an EU average of 32.1%. In addition, although parents are entitled to work part time for up to two years until the child reaches 12 years of age, after the parental leave, very few parents choose to do so. In the 2009 Eurobarometer report mentioned above, only 21% of Portuguese parents chose more flexible working hours as their favourite option to improve their work-life balance.
The high level of full-time female employment implies a greater need for full-time daycare. According to national data, in 2011 Portugal provided childcare facilities to 39.5% of children under three (37% of children under three received formal childcare in 2010 according to Eurostat data, well above EU average of 28%) and to 85.7% of children between three and school age (79% of children between three and minimum compulsory school age received formal childcare in 2010 according to Eurostat data). Although the latter comparable figure from 2010 is still below the Barcelona target and the EU average of 84%, the former shows that there has been improvement in early childcare during the past ten years and in 2000, the childcare coverage rate for children under three was 19.8%. The majority of children in both age groups are enrolled full time and most facilities, especially those for children under three, operate at full capacity.
In its National Inclusion Plan 2008–2010, the government aimed to double the number of childcare facilities open for more than 11 hours per day. Currently, on average, childcare services for children under three are opened for 11 and a half hour per day (see the discussion of the Social Emergency Programme below for measures aimed at increasing the number of vacancies).
Parents can choose between parental leave of 120 calendar days remunerated at 100% of reference income or 150 calendar days with 80% of reference income. For health reasons, the first 42 days after birth are reserved for the mother. During the first 30 days after birth the father must take ten compulsory working days of paternity leave paid at 100% of reference income (five days need to be taken right after the birth) and afterwards he can take a further ten optional working days of leave concurrently with the mother. After the 42 days used exclusively by the mother, parents can share the remaining days and there is a bonus of 30 days if each parent uses at least 30 consecutive days or two periods of 15 days of leave. In this case, the total duration of the initial parental leave will be 150 calendar days at 100% of reference income or 180 calendar days at 83% of reference income. In 2011, 71% of fathers used the ten compulsory days of paternity leave and 61% of fathers used the further ten optional days and 24% had shared the initial parental leave of 120 or 150 days with the mother.
There is an additional right to non-transferable parental leave of three months for each parent. This is paid at only 25% of reference income, but it is considered as full earnings for the purpose of pension calculation. The unpaid parental leave can last up to two years until the child reaches 12 years of age.
From 2008, parents who earn less than 80% of IAS (Social Support Reference amount: €419.22 per month) have been entitled to the parental social subsidy. They can choose between parental leave of 120 days paid at 80% of the IAS or 150 days paid at 64%. If parents decide to share the leave the total duration is 150 days paid at 80% of the IAS. This scheme also entitles grandparents to a grandchild leave if their own child was under 16 at the time of the birth of their grandchild and shares the same household.
Portugal spends a comparatively low share of GDP on family benefits: 1.5% versus the EU average of 2.3% in 2009. The financial benefits are targeted at supporting low-income families with dependent children, with increased benefits available for a positive differentiation towards single parents and large families.
The system of family benefits was considerably changed between 2007 and 2012, focusing cash support yet further on children and young people living in low-income, single-parent and large families. The maximum available monthly benefits (€140.76 per child below the age of 12 months) are paid to families with a reference income below 50% of the IAS (€419.22 in 2012). Families receiving a reference income 1.5 times the level of the IAS are not entitled to receive family benefits. However, at 22.4% in 2010, the child poverty rate remained above the EU average of 20.5% in 2010.
In September 2011, Portugal’s government unveiled a four-year ‘Social Emergency Programme’ aimed at minimising the impact of the economic adjustments on the country’s most vulnerable families. The programme will cost €400 million the first year and will run through 2014.
It targets five main areas of action including boosting subsidies by 10% for unemployed couples with children and providing housing at rents below market prices in conjunction with banks which have repossessed properties. The new measures also include broadening the services of soup kitchens to ensure two daily meals for those in need with an increase of 62 to 445 providers by July 2012, by increasing the free distribution of basic goods, and increasing the response of the national emergency hotline to include the ‘new contingencies’ of poverty and social exclusion. In addition, up to 700,000 vulnerable households will have discounts on their energy bills to compensate for the increase in VAT. A comprehensive set of social supports aimed at helping vulnerable families to cope with the severity of the crisis has been adopted and includes support for acquiring school books, discounts on transportation, social studentships for tertiary education, among other measures.
In addition, the plan provides for an increase in the number of users of current childcare and elderly homes services. It is estimated that up to 20,000 additional childcare places will be created and up to 10,000 new places in elderly homes.
The information in the country profile was last updated in November 2012.
Since the 1980s, Portugal has promoted gender equality in the labour market and in caring for children. This policy has achieved considerable results — the female employment rate is above the EU average and markedly higher than elsewhere in southern Europe. The gender pay gap is among the lowest in the EU (12.8% in 2010).
However, progress is still to be made as the uneven distribution of household and caring responsibilities still puts extra strain on women. At three hours a week, the difference in formal working hours is comparatively small between women and men. However, employed men allocate 17 hours less per week to household and family work than do women. According to the Second European Quality of Life Survey, the father’s role in parental care remains limited, although the gender gap is lower in caring for and educating children (seven hours) than in cooking and doing housework (ten hours).
Some organisations such as the OECD recommend further positive action measures by the government and social partners to encourage men to participate in family and care work. One of the concrete recommendations is to offer more flexible childcare services. It has also been suggested that financial support could be provided to enterprises that participate in a ‘Work and Family Audit’ and are supportive of their employees’ family obligations.