“Spain has to start homologating itself with other countries of the European Union and establish a care permit of at least seven days a year per person, which is 100% paid,” said the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, on Thursday. during the presentation of an OECD report on the protection of families in Spain. Her department is negotiating with the rest of the members of the Executive a family law in which they propose to include this permit. “That it allows you to stay at home taking care of your children when they have had a bad night vomiting or have a little fever, that you can ask for the day to take your parents to the doctor or that you can be with your partner when they are sick”, has Belarra said.
This is precisely one of the recommendations made by the OECD in the White paper for a new national framework on family support and protection, a document to which EL PAÍS had access. More than 40 proposals are collected that the minister has defined as “the roadmap” that should guide the steps with the aim of ending “the deficit that Spain has dragged to support families”. Among them, the Government is urged to explore the creation of a universal benefit for dependent children – a measure that has already been implemented by 16 of the 27 countries of the European Union such as Germany, France or Denmark. Belarra has reiterated this Thursday that his approach is that the law, which the Government has promised to approve in 2022, collect a universal child-rearing benefit – last December he had announced that it would be 100 euros per month – and the extension of permits of maternity and paternity up to 24 weeks instead of the current 16.
Belarra has recognized that support for conciliation is one of the great shortcomings. The proposal of Social Rights and Equality is that these care permits, 100% paid, can be used to care for any cohabitant, as well as family members up to the second degree of consanguinity, such as grandparents or grandchildren. The idea is that the planned seven days can be raised to nine in case you have to move to another autonomous community. Currently, the legislation only contemplates for the worker two days of paid leave for reasons such as death or serious illness of relatives up to the second degree, far from the European directive that Spain must transpose and that recommends a leave of five days. The approach is that it does not need to be a serious illness. This means that, if it goes ahead, it could be applied to covid cases.
Children’s organizations and those who fight for conciliation demand the creation of these permits, especially in the wake of the pandemic, when child care has been a real headache for families. The president of the Yo no Renuncio Association, Laura Baena, explains that this is one of the points that they have requested to be included in the family law: “They are fundamental, as we have seen in this pandemic, which has forced us to survive as we could”. This entity warns, however, that the standard is still in its initial phase and the details have to be known.
New definitions of family less “traditional”
In addition to making specific recommendations, the OECD concludes in its analysis that society has advanced at a much faster rate than the legal and economic protection framework for families, which has become outdated. The “traditional” model, formed by a heterosexual couple with children, has diminished and many others have made their way without a harmonized definition of family unit or legislation to protect them all ―today there is only the large family law of the year 2003―. In addition, spending on families is lower in Spain than in neighboring countries, and child poverty rates are higher.
The document, prepared by the OECD and financed by the EU, is part of a request for technical assistance in 2019 from the then Ministry of Health, Consumption and Welfare to the Commission.
Nathalie Berger, Director of Support for the Reforms of the Member States of the European Commission, explains that “the Council has underlined” in its recommendations to Spain the need to “improve support for families”, since it is “one of the lowest” of the Union. Expenditure on family and children stood at 1.3% of GDP in 2019 compared to an average of 2.3% in the Union and 2.2% in the euro zone. 19.3% of children lived below the poverty line in 2018, compared to 12.9% on average for OECD countries. The report confirms that Spain is one of the countries that least reduces family poverty through redistribution systems at the tax or benefit level. Finland or Denmark get much more.
More children of unmarried parents
The OECD believes that a new legal framework is necessary. Although family law has evolved in line with social changes (approval of same-sex marriage, divorce or joint custody), family policy – the combination of benefits, tax exemptions, services and work permits to care dependent minors― has not been subject to “important reforms”. The 2003 law on large families remains the only national legal framework in this area, which is completely insufficient considering that the size of households has been decreasing over the years. In Spain, the number of children per woman has been reduced. In 2018 it was, on average, 1.3, the lowest rate in the EU, where the average was 1.5. And children living in single-parent or reconstituted families have increased, as has the proportion of births to unmarried parents (from 18% in 2000 to 47% in 2018). Although situations of need of certain types of homes are protected, it is done “in a fragmented way”, “with territorial differences”, and there is no global vision of all of them.
The report, which collects examples from surrounding countries, recommends that definitions of the family unit and specific types of family be included. A definition that alludes to the “economic or functional union”, that is, people who live together and share resources, and not to “consanguinity” (individuals who live together by blood, marriage or adoption), as Spain currently does . For example, in Denmark it is understood that there is a family unit when people aged 25 or over have the same residence, a child or another indicator that they are a couple, such as a joint bank account or a mortgage.
In the words of Veerle Miranda, Senior Economist at the OECD’s Department of Employment, Labor and Social Affairs, it is necessary to “offer families continuous support from birth to adulthood, help parents meet their employment goals and families and protect all households from poverty. A “universal mix of services and benefits” could contribute to “equal opportunity and protection for all children”. This is one of the approaches provided by the document: putting the child, and especially the first years of her life, at the center of the policy.
According to the OECD, the economic protection of children of unmarried couples should also be addressed, for example in the event of the death of one of the parents, and improve support for children in the event of divorce or separation and the protection of families. single parents, who have very high poverty rates. He cites the example of France, which in 2020 created a new public service for intermediation in the payment of pensions in the event of separation, so that if the parent defaults, the State automatically responds and the amount is transferred. to the family, while initiating a procedure to recover the amount from the debtor.
Insufficient help for the family
The problem is that family aid is “insufficient” and is “fragmented”. In Spain, the only universal benefit that has existed has been the baby check established by the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, 2,500 euros that were received for each birth between 2007 and 2011. Most of the support for children is articulated through deductions taxes, which vary according to the number of children and their ages, and which do not reach all households since those who do not file their income tax declaration cannot benefit from them.
For poor families there are measures such as the minimum vital income, which has just incorporated the possibility of requesting a child supplement of between 50 and 100 euros. There are also measures at the regional level, with great differences between communities, from the different coverage of the minimum insertion income for vulnerable households to direct services offered to families, such as dining room scholarships, for example. “A common minimum protection must be guaranteed throughout the territory”, without prejudice to the fact that the autonomies later provide improvements, the report states.
Given this situation, José Antonio Noguera, Professor of Sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, highlights that for “the first time a document from an international organization assesses the necessary coexistence of tax benefits per dependent child with direct benefits”. Ricardo Ibarra, from Platform for Children, a network of 74 organizations specializing in children’s rights, also believes it positive that “the OECD proposes tax benefits that reach all families.” And he adds: “Spain has great shortcomings and we must rethink support for all households, for conciliation and parenting, because there is a large deficit that affects the well-being of children, we must begin to propose benefits such as subjective rights, for example in education from 0 to 3 years, or paid parental leave” for the care of children, beyond birth.
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