New working paper “Inclusiveness and Flexibility of Care Policies”


This working paper critically examines how care policies, with a specific focus on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and Long-Term Care (LTC), affect family resilience in the six countries covered by the rEUsilience study: Belgium, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. This policy case study aims to shed light on the extent to which the design of ECEC and LTC policies addresses the diverse care-related risks that families encounter throughout their lives, enabling inclusiveness and flexibility.

The findings show that the primary aspect affecting inclusiveness is limited universalism. In the case of ECEC while some countries have integrated the right to care as a legal entitlement, it does not always translate into a comprehensive and inclusive care provision system. Of the six countries in our analysis, Sweden stands out as the only one that ensures universality through a wide range of public care services for children starting from their first birthday, whereas other countries have employed strategies like lowering the entry age for pre-primary schooling to increase ECEC coverage. For children aged two or younger, the supply of care services is more limited, regionally varied, targeted, and costly. It is in this context that prioritisation elements come into play. Children with special needs, large families, and single-parent households are typically granted priority access to childcare services in most countries, with varying regional considerations affecting other criteria. When ECEC is seen as supporting work/family balance priority is usually given to dual earner households. In contrast, if it is integrated with other anti-poverty mechanisms access criteria are more likely to include social-based situations such as being recipient of social benefits or unemployed. Our analysis identifies stricter access conditions in LTC due to public provision constrains combined with a rising demand, which often include means-testing, residency requirements, employment status, or assessed dependency levels, and they vary significantly across countries. However, access criteria are not the only factor determining inclusiveness. The report also highlights cross-national variations in terms of childcare affordability for single-parent households, even when they are granted priority access. Additionally, means-testing in LTC services affects both affordability and accessibility.

Regarding flexibility, the report underscores the importance of exploring how various policy domains addressing similar risks interact. For instance, Sweden’s generous parental leave schemes allow for a delayed start in public childcare provision, as families have the resources and time to care for their children during their first year. Another aspect of flexibility concerns whether comprehensive public provision permits families to choose the type of service that best suits their needs and circumstances. There are significant differences in the diversity of childcare services offered, with Belgium, Sweden, and the United Kingdom presenting a more varied selection. However, Sweden manages to maintain universality even with a diversified supply, whereas the United Kingdom relies more on informal and private services. Spain exhibits a high degree of rigidity in both ECEC and LTC. While Belgium, Poland, and Sweden extend their LTC coverage to additional measures, Croatia and Spain do not contemplate such complements.  

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