This working paper critically examines work-life balance policies in six countries included in the rEUsilience project: Belgium, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, highlighting how their policies may envision, shape, and affect decisions and behaviours regarding labour market and care engagements in families. The focus is on care leaves (including parenting leaves and carers’ leave) and flexible working arrangements, and the analysis is guided by two central questions: 1) how inclusive are policies (i.e. to what extent are the rights available to all parents/carers, but also to what extent do the available rights respond to the specific needs of various groups of parents/carers and their situations); and 2) how much flexibility do policies allow families (i.e. to what extent does the policy enable people to make a change, e.g. to increase or decrease working hours).
The analysis shows that the complexity of eligibility criteria, but also the complex mutual relationship of different policy dimensions, such as eligibility criteria and paid leave length, result in the creation of inequalities in the distribution of resources, limiting the opportunities for different groups of parents/carers to engage in care and work. Migrant families, “modern” families, and/or families with weak or atypical connections to the labour market are particularly affected. The mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion can be based on participation in the labour market, the characteristics of that participation, citizenship/residency status, or family structure/situations (e.g. the recognition of same-sex parenting or lone parenthood, the number of children, the presence of serious illness or disability in the family), affecting access to leave and/or (well-)paid leave length. All analysed countries tend to resource childcare to a greater extent than care for adults with severe illness or disability: none of the countries have a separate and coherent system that regulates carers’ leaves and benefits, the rights are mostly available to employees, and, as a rule, the benefits are low. Care leaves typically also provide carers with some flexibility, although this is more the case with parenting leaves than with carers’ leave. This may facilitate parents’ transition from employment to care and vice versa, and flexible working arrangements can also be beneficial here. However, the latter are still at an early stage of development and we lack a full understanding of the effects of such practices on both gender and social inequalities in employment and care, and on the resilience of families in different situations.
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