Government family policy plans become clearer

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In autumn 2002, the French government announced a number of measures in the area of family policy, including a new child benefit scheme, tax benefits for employing domestic help, and the withdrawal of family benefits from the families of 'delinquent' children. Trade unions have given a mixed response to the initiatives.

France's conservative government has taken or announced a number of measures of relevance to family and childcare policy in recent months.

A framework law of 9 September 2002, aimed at setting out guidelines and planning for reform of the judicial system, has provided for the withdrawal of child benefit from families in which one or more of the children are in a youth detention centre (centres fermé) for 'delinquent' minors.

The government has postponed the annual Conference on the Family (Conférence sur la famille) until spring 2003. This conference provides an opportunity for the government to bring together elected politicians, the social partners and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the area of family issues (FR0107169F). With a view to preparing for the 1993 conference, three working groups including representatives of the social partners will be set up by October 2002. The first will work on 'the single infant care allowance', a measure promised by Jacques Chirac during his successful presidential election. This allowance, also referred to as the 'free choice benefit', is to be universal and payable to all families from the birth of the first child. It is supposed to replace existing child benefits. The second group will study how the array of services to families could be more effectively organised. The third group, whose creation was announced by the junior minister for the family at a meeting with the chair of the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) employers' confederation, will look at 'family policy in businesses', and is to put forward proposals on issues such as the improvement of the management of parental leave and encouraging companies to take initiatives to accommodate employees with children.

Under the forthcoming budget and social security funding bills for 2003, the government has also unveiled other steps in this area:

  • the annual ceiling for tax rebates for employing domestic helpers is to be raised from EUR 6,830 to EUR 10,000 (the tax reduction is equivalent to half the expense incurred up to the limit of this ceiling). This especially affects families employing someone in their home to take care of children or old people;
  • the maximum child-related tax rebate will be raised; and
  • the age limit for children in respect of whom child benefit is paid is to be raised to 21 for families with three children. Consequently, 190,000 families whose eldest child is 20 will receive an extra EUR 70 per month.

Trade unions gave a mixed reaction to the government's measures:

  • the French Christian Workers' Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC) has welcomed the tax and social measures. It feels, however, that the existing surplus in the family benefits fund would allow the government to go further, and is asking for a 10% increase in the amount of family benefits;
  • the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff-General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC) is very keen on reducing the tax pressures on families in the middle income bracket. It agrees with raising the ceiling for child-related tax reductions and is asking for an increase in universal benefits;
  • for the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the tax-cutting measure for employing a domestic helper further benefits the richest section of the population and is of no use to poorer families;
  • the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) argues that the domestic help measure benefiting the wealthiest is unfair, and that it means funding the form of childcare that is already the most expensive and most highly subsidised by society. It also maintains that other measures are more urgently required, such as an increase in the number of crèches and services for parents working unusual hours. Moreover, CGT disapproves of the decision to withdraw child benefit from parents with one or more children in youth detention centres; and
  • the General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) also feels that the withdrawal child benefit from parents with children in youth detention centres may have an effect opposite to the intended one, as it holds the parents responsible for the child's offence, penalises them, then ultimately takes responsibility for dealing with the issue out of their hands. It is also unhappy that the social partners and members of child benefit fund management boards were not consulted. Moreover, CGT-FO has challenged the use of budgetary surpluses to assist the most privileged social groups.

The National Child Benefits Union (Union nationale des allocations familiales, UNAF), which represents NGOs working in the area of family issues, says that the tax measures announced will benefit only a limited number of families, and it is asking for an increase in child benefit and housing benefit.

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