25/10/2004 - Willem Adema, the author of Babies and Bosses - a review of New Zealand’s policies to support parents in their choices of work and childcare options – will outline the OECD’s findings at a news conference at 12:00 noon, Thursday October 28 at the Ministry of Social Development, level 3, Bowen State Building, in Wellington.
New Zealand’s new "Working for families" package helps low and middle-income families with children and increases incentives to work for those on income support. However, the reform does little to lower the tax rates facing the second earner in a couple family, giving them limited incentive to work or search for a job. OECD’s Babies and Bosses says that a stronger Childcare Subsidy programme - linking hours worked with financial support for parents, could address this issue.
Better co-ordinating the operating hours of day-care facilities with parental working hours is a key policy challenge in New Zealand. Current funding restricts financial support of childcare services to 6 hours per day, making it difficult for both parents to work full-time. Also, although commendable in itself, increasing the quality of day-care by having high staff-to-child ratios and requiring all staff to have teaching diplomas (rather than a teacher and one assistant working in tandem) will increase childcare costs, and potentially parental fees. The higher cost could prevent parents, particularly those with low incomes, from using the system and force them to give up their jobs, thereby increasing the risk of child poverty.
Half of all sole parents in New Zealand are jobless, which is high by international comparison, and at 1.2% of GDP, New Zealand spends more than most OECD countries on income support for sole-parent families. For sole parents on Domestic Purposes Benefit, financial incentives to get a job remain weak and should be strengthened. One way would be to lower basic payment rates while increasing employment-conditional payments. Enhanced case-management has recently been introduced to strengthen employment support for sole parents on benefit. It is too early to assess the impact of reform. If it proves unsuccessful, a system of mutual obligations, requiring sole parents to actively seek work, should be enforced.
Young mothers in New Zealand often take advantage of workplace flexibility to reduce their working hours for a few years and then work longer hours as their children get older. The unusually high proportion (40%) of women in New Zealand holding management jobs suggests that women can more easily pursue a career if part-time work for a limited period is accepted as a solution to the work/family balance. The government could help more employers introduce family-friendly measures by encouraging them to participate in workplace assessments that advise enterprises on tailor-made options to suit both bosses and workers.
Based on its review, the OECD’s Babies and Bosses report suggests the following policy recommendations to improve the balance of work and family life in New Zealand:
To obtain a copy of the book, which is under embargo until Thursday 28 October, journalists are invited to contact the Media Relations Division (tel. (33) 1 4524 9700). For further information journalists are invited to contact Willem Adema, Project Manager of the OECD family-friendly policy reviews (Tel. (33) 1 4524 1557) or Mark Pearson (Tel. 33 1 4524 9269).
For further information on family-friendly policies
Babies and Bosses: OECD Recommendations to Help Families Balance Work and Family Life