Brussels, 3 October 2008
Childcare services in EU countries are failing to respond to the needs of parents, despite some progress, according to a report today by the European Commission. The report finds that most countries have missed the targets for childcare provision – for 90% of children between three and school age and 33% of children under three – that EU leaders set themselves at Barcelona in 2002. The 'Barcelona targets' are an integral part of the EU's strategy for growth and jobs and aim to help young parents – and in particular women – into work. Today's report forms part of a broader package of measures by the Commission to improve work-life balance for Europeans (see IP/08/1450).
"We are far from reaching our targets on childcare facilities and need to step up our efforts! Adequate and accessible childcare is crucial to allow parents to work, to strengthen gender equality and to reinforce social inclusion," said Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "Childcare is also a vital ingredient in facing up to demographic ageing: without proper support services, parents are less likely to have children. The current provision remains inadequate. National governments need to address the challenge and the EU will support their efforts with half a billion euros of EU funding up until 2013 to help develop childcare facilities."
There is a direct link between childcare provision and access for parents to paid employment. Across the EU, more than 6 million women aged 25-49 say they are forced into not working, or can only work part-time, because of their family responsibilities. For more than a quarter of them, lack of childcare facilities – or their cost – is the main problem. Access to good quality, affordable childcare operating at hours to suit parents and children is thus key to facilitating women's access to the labour market.
Allowing parents to work can also help avoid in-work poverty and reduce poverty in single-parent households, which suffer a much higher poverty rate (32%) than that for all households with a child (17%).
Finally, against the background of the current demographic slowdown in Europe, provision of adequate childcare is an incentive to plan a family. Those Member States with the highest birth rates are also those which have done most to facilitate work-life balance for parents and which have a high rate of female employment.
Today's report provides, for the first time, harmonised and comparable data on the use of "formal" systems of childcare services in the Member States. These figures show that the demand for childcare is far from being met in most EU countries, hampering parents (especially women) from working. Although there has been some progress, a lot still needs to be done to achieve satisfactory levels of childcare provision, particularly for children under three.
The situation could be improved both by opening new childcare facilities and by professionalising informal childcare, for example by setting quality standards, improving conditions of employment and remuneration, and staff training. In addition, the more specific needs of parents with atypical working hours or sick children must also be met.
All stakeholders, in particular national and local authorities as well as employers and employees, will need to play an active part in developing the provision of accessible, affordable and quality early childcare services. The Commission has no direct powers in the field of childcare. However, it will support progress towards the Barcelona targets and will in particular:
See also MEMO/08/592
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