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Portugal: investing in care and flexibility to deal with growing challenges

Portugal has been experiencing a declining trend on fertility, a reduction on families’ average dimension and an ageing population. The latter is associated with increases on average life expectancy and has been further accelerated by recent negative net migrations.

The expansion of social care provision, based on a strong partnership with the third sector, has been one of the main characteristics of the Portuguese social policy. The main approach has been to further increase the capacity of local NGOs to deal with emergent family needs together with a multidimensional perspective. Families with children are positively addressed by a set of benefits.

Access to adequate resources

With regard to labour market participation, the general employment rate of females in Portugal (58.2% in 2013) is slightly below the average EU-28 rate (58.8% in 2013), although there is a continuous decline since the beginning of the crisis (2008). Despite the still quite low proportion of female part-time employment (16.3% in 2013), this percentage has been increasing since 2010 (15.5%) and also with regard to men (11.9% in 2013 compared to 8.2% in 2011).

An important measure in supporting families with children is the increase of unemployment benefits by 10% for couples (including de facto unions) where both parents are unemployed. This measure also applies to single-parent families who are unemployed.

Concerning benefit support for the poorest families with children, Portugal continues to have monetary support in form of a ‘family allowance’ in addition to Social Insertion Income (RSI). The allowance includes an additional amount in the case of children with special needs.

Portugal not only strengthened incentives for shared parental leave through higher replacement rates, but has also introduced social parental leave for families with low resources, extending the ‘solidarity system’ in order to support families with small children.

Portugal has continued to invest not only in the development of childcare services, but also in its adaptation to varying family needs. A significant percentage of crèches are open for more than 11 hours a day in order to provide more flexibility for families to balance work with family and personal life. Moreover, to combat child poverty and exclusion, the network of social canteens and supply of school meals has been considerably increased.

Access to affordable quality services

The investment in pre-school education has been an important feature of Portuguese social policy. The access to childcare has been increased, mainly with regard to full-time services for children under 3 years old. In 2012, 35% of children aged 0 to 3 benefitted from childcare services (1% for less than 30 hours per week and 34% for at least 30 hours per week), whereas in 2005 this figure was around 30% (1% for less than 30 hours per week and 34% for at least 30 hours per week).

Some NGO’s have developed programs to prevent early school drop-outs, especially among populations in situations of social exclusion. On the other hand, in the case of minorities such as the Roma community, school attendance is mandatory for families receiving the RSI.

With regard to supporting children’s health Portugal has a wide range of measures. Family planning counseling, medical assistance to pregnant women and parturients are free. Similarly, there is also free medical care in the National Health System for children up to 12 years, pensioners with low incomes, unemployed, beneficiaries of the RSI, and children with disabilities or chronic illness.

There is also a National System of Early Intervention (SNIPI) service in order to identify and support all children at risk of developmental delays, or changes in functions and structures of the body. The service is free and the access is universal.

Children’s right to participate

In Portugal a set of support measures for the participation of the children/youth in leisure, recreation, sport and cultural activities is available. Financial support is given at national level by the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth (IPDJ) or through municipalities for activities promoted by youth associations which are legal entities, or by informal groups. According to IPDJ, in 2012 there were 1.002 children or youth associations in Portugal with about 800.000 members.

In 2012, the full support of the central state to programs organized by young people amounted to € 6.132.592,73. This amount is increased the amounts allocated by the municipalities. Many projects aiming at the promotion of children’s participation are also developed through partnerships between NGOs, schools and local authorities.

Further outlook

Despite the financial crisis as described above, Portugal has been focusing on integrated measures under 3 pillars of Recommendation for Investing in Children , i.e., access to adequate resources (especially for the poorest citizens), ensuring access to quality services at affordable prices (through NGOs) and the promotion of participation rights of children (in partnership with youth associations, NGOs, schools and municipalities).

With regard to social care, Portugal will continue to invest in decentralization and delegation of responsibilities in partnership with third sector institutions and municipalities. On the other hand, Portugal will increase the support for families with children, particularly for larger families.

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

In light of the crisis, the Portuguese Government launched a three year long Social Emergency Program (PES – Programa de Emergência Social – 2011-2014) with a clear focus on providing additional support for vulnerable families and to mitigate the impact of unemployment, as well as difficulties with keeping up with mortgage commitments.

The ‘PES’ includes important measures, e.g. supporting unemployed with children, housing support, microcredit, volunteering, training, social scholarships, social tariffs for public transportation and energy, increasing the number of places available in crèches and nursing homes, social canteens, among others. The program has been developed in collaboration with social NGOs. It is expected that PES will continue for one more year into 2015.

Another great challenge is the need to increase the birth rate in Portugal. Currently, a wide debate in the Portuguese society on this subject is being promoted and the Government prepared an inter-sectorial set of measures to promote birth rates and to balance work with family and personal life. In this regard, some studies have been developed and experts were consulted on best strategies for promoting this goal.