The sources of French family policy

03/06/2010

Ceci est la version anglaise de l’article de Gilles Séraphin, paru dans la revue SociologieS Imaginer un avenir collectif, défendre des valeurs et s’adapter aux évolutions sociales et politiques : la politique familiale française.


Gilles Séraphin is a sociologist and Deputy Director of Research, Studies and Policy Action with the Union nationale des associations familiales (UNAF). The analysis and opinions expressed here are strictly personal and those of the author.

Abstract : Drawing on his experience as editor-in-chief of Recherches Familiales, a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal on family issues, and director of research, studies and policy actions with UNAF, the official advocate and advisory body to the authorities on family concerns, Gilles Séraphin outlines how French family policy has been shaped, illustrated by detailed examples. A historical narrative examines and probes various principles, values and forms of provision, like pronatalism , mainstreaming, the single entity approach, universality, solidarity, equality, freedom and free choice, subsidiarity, law and order, responsibility, institution, moral values and identity, and representation of families as an intermediary agency.

Few European countries have an overt family policy agenda. Some, haunted by the memory of World War Two totalitarian governments (Nazism, fascism, etc.), have no such concept and do not pursue a pro-family policy. France stands almost apart here : since the Liberation, it has openly engaged with a “family policy”, pursuing public policies developed in agreement with and clearly geared toward families, represented by a legal entity, the departmental unions of family associations (UDAF) and the national union of family associations (UNAF), and mostly funded by the "Family" branch of social security, the family allowances fund (FCA)the national family allowances fund (CNAF) and the agricultural social mutual insurance system (MSA).

Current family policy has developed incrementally since World War Two on values and principles that are still at work despite being reviewed, revamped and amplified, both in the 1980s, a period of “sweeping change” and in the 2000s, a time of doubt and questioning.

Today, a handful of big fundamental principles which may have been criticized some decades ago, have come back onto the agenda as the focus of a growing consensus among the main players.

This paper takes a historical study focused on the periods in which specific issues came onto the policy agenda as the basis for an attempt to clarify the different meanings attached to the term “family policy”, identify the issues and give insights into the different policies (separating the goals, values, principles, forms of provision and players, [1] etc.)

The foundations of French family policy

A pronatalist policy ?

“Family policy” is routinely equated with a “pronatalist policy”. The two cannot be distinguished taken together, however, but only by re-contextualizing what “family policy” stands for in different eras and countries.

The pronatalist approach was indeed a central pillar of family policy in late 19th century France. Fears of a future war, and concerns to ensure economic and political might, especially as a colonial power, prompted the main political thinkers and decision makers to believe that large families were necessary. The idea was therefore to provide appropriate family policy support to maximise family sizes. The Order of 3 March 1945 creating UNAF and UDAF contains a preamble which spells out the aim of “leading to the development of [...] a family unit that will be the government’s strongest mainstay in the bold drive for renewed population growth that it has resolved to engage”.

A few French political organizations are now trying to take ownership of this pronatalist approach. The arguments are not now military but political and especially economic. The idea is that having more children will preserve the balance of generations [2] to ensure proper funding for care needs, salvage PAYG pensions, and train a young and active workforce to secure tomorrow’s growth. The proponents of such a policy prefer the term “demographic” to emphasize that the ultimate aim is a “balance of generations” rather than rising birth rates at any cost, although no-one clearly states at exactly what point such a political balance would be deemed to be reached.

It is to be noted that the French family policy still retains some pronatalist underpinnings that mostly date back to the postwar period : in practice, the amount of family allowances, for example, rises sharply after the third child. Also, aid to families is chiefly targeted on young children, decreases with age and ceases entirely when their upkeep has in fact become most costly.

However, French family organisations make a cautious use of this pronatalist body of arguments. On the one hand, they do not want to confine family policy - which is cross-cutting and unitary as we shall see later - to this single pronatalist aim ; on the other hand, they find it hard not to press this argument in the political and economic debate, both because it hits home (many commentators and politicians consider that France’s high fertility rate, close to 2 children per woman, is chiefly due to the robust family policy pursued over several decades, and because there is good reason for it (e.g., PAYG pensions could in the first instance only be preserved by having a higher birth rate and/or a large immigrant labour force).

Thereby, governments and especially the institution that defends the moral and material interests of and speaks for families - UNAF - has since the late 1960s been calling for a much broader definition of family policy. The aim of family policy is not for families to have as many children as possible, but as many as they want, when they want, and the support needed to live what is considered to be a decent life.

While a pronatalist family policy has elicited strong misgivings in various European countries to the point where no distinction is made between “family policy” and “pronatalist policy”, increasing the birth rate in its member countries is rising rapidly up the EU’s agenda. Various EU documents [3] mention support or even encouragement for family policy, but generally based on the assumption that family policy and pronatalist (or “demographic”) policy are one and the same. The three objectives of this so-called “demographic” policy are all economic : delivering growth by boosting consumption today and a young workforce tomorrow ; achieving sustainable pension and health systems ; addressing the rising cost of care needs. Family policy is seen in wider terms than a recovery in the birth rate on only two counts - where the aim is to support families firstly through paying for care needs (help for carers), then in education and training, including occupational training (developing “human capital”). Both these “extensions”, of course, are also economically-oriented. So, while family policy may not be a Union competence as such, the EU is increasingly driven by economic constraints to take hold of and act in that policy sphere.

A mainstreamed policy

Gradually, since 1945, most French family associations having been demanding a family policy that is mainstreamed across a wide range of other policy spheres. It must be borne in mind that for these organizations - and this is a view widely shared across the political spectrum - family policy embraces all public policies that are applicable to the welfare of and/or whose effective implementation depend on the family unit. Family policy may be to do with benefits or childcare, it is true, but it also relates to housing, health, education, transport (e.g., with the “large family” travelcard), area planning and development, the take-up of new information and communication technologies, etc..

A unitary policy

“French” family policy is also characteristically conceived in unitary terms, construed in two ways.

Firstly, the family is a unit. It is not just the sum of its individual parts united by the accident of birth, it is an entity in and of itself. Family policy does not deal with the individual or sums of individuals, but with the whole family unit or the individual as an integral part of that family framework.

So, considering a new family status like step-parent, for example, means looking not only at the relationship at a time “t” between a child and its step-parent, but the consequences of creating that status now and in the future on all the family relationships (with both parents, siblings, the step-parents’ children, etc.). A new status creates not just relationships between two persons, but new connections between all statuses within the family. Another illustration of this “unitary” aspect : child benefit is paid to a family or, more precisely to an individual with a recipient number who receives it for and in the name of dependent children. It is the family comprised of a set of dependent children rather than the individuals that make it up, which creates the entitlement. A final example : for tax purposes, the family is made up of a reference person (or couple) and dependent(s), and comprises a single tax unit to which are attached dependents representing the same number of tax subunits. This conception of “family” rights is not readily understood in other (mainly Anglo-Saxon tradition and Scandinavian) European countries which pursue policies geared to individuals (children, lone women, etc..) rather than the family unit.

Changing family structures mean that this unitary conception of the family is causing increasing problems in our benefits system. In the aftermath of World War Two, the family was equated with that group of individuals consisting of one or two parents with one or more dependent children. Admittedly, different political and particularly religious outlooks meant there was no universal consensus among family organizations on recognition of the type of union. For Catholic organizations, for example, the only valid union was that acknowledged (better still, “consecrated”) by marriage. For all organisations, however, French family policy was based on the original nuclear family of “parents in a union, possibly with dependent children”. Today, however, unions form, break down and reform, and the family policy sphere is witnessing the emergence of “shared residence” arrangements and “blended families”. These circumstances may not be easily accommodated by France’s benefits systems in particular, however. Which parent receives the family allowance in cases of shared residence, for example ? How are a child’s family’s means-tested benefit entitlements calculated where the child is attached to two households ? The problems still remain unresolved on this latter point in fact : if the tax unit can be divided, so can the family allowance, but it is impossible as things stand to calculate the amount of means-tested benefit entitlement for a child attached to two different households. A partial solution which would solve the problem of the child’s order in the family would be a universal fixed amount : each child, irrespective of order in each of its parents’ households would have a non-means-tested entitlement to a fixed benefit (Damon, 2007) [4]. This would be supplemented by applying a coefficient to this fixed amount : a universal fixed amount would be granted (split in two if the parents have agreed to split the benefit entitlement), to which would be applied a multiplier of the sum of the coefficients corresponding to the benefits under family policies, which would be means-tested among other things (e.g., factoring in housing conditions, lone parenthood, lack of income, disability, etc.).

But there is also a time dimension to this unitary approach : family policy is a unitary policy because it considers all individuals in the family in a family relationship, regardless of their position and age. It is true that French family policy has so far been strongly focused on children, especially early childhood. The challenge today is to create a unitary family policy that focuses on other members of the family, in particular the elderly. Two new areas of public policy are emerging. Firstly, family organizations are increasingly engaging with intergenerational policies : the provision of early childhood care or out-of-school care facilities in care homes, intergenerational housing operations (construction of social housing comprising a large apartment with a “granny annexe”, student digs in an elderly person’s home, etc.), the “Reading Matters” campaign jointly organized with the Ligue de l’enseignement (getting pensioners to read tales and stories aloud in schools). But they are increasingly concerned with those in need of care, and moving towards “help for carers” policies.

This takes resources, which may also mean increasing the overall budget. But new technical issues arise : while it is simple (less so today, as we have just seen) to calculate family benefits or family entitlements which are linked to a specific child of the family, there is still no mechanism in family policy for doing that calculation or granting that entitlement in respect of a specific elderly dependent. For example, all employees have an entitlement to family support leave [5] by the fact of their employed status. But an employee with two relatives with care needs does not get a double leave entitlement. Conversely, a parent with a large number of children can theoretically get a much higher level of support. Unlike policy on care needs (e.g., personal care allowance) where the entitlement is attached to the status of the elderly or disabled dependent person, the rights derive from the employment status of the adult carer. This system creates inequalities. Again, to get a unitary family policy that goes beyond the parent/child (under 21) relation to include the adult child/parent relationship requires a complete overhaul of the system. The only other option would be to put the entire benefit budget - including spending on assistance to carers - into the as-yet incomplete dependency policy (5th risk) which grants entitlements attached to the dependent person, and allocate only a portion of spending on structures that support families (e.g., information) to the family branch. Whatever choice is made, our current family policy provision cannot easily be extended to dependents, especially where the policy relates to the system of individual rights and benefits.

Many observers argue that this temporal unity of family policy implementation can be better accommodated by treating adolescents and young adults as dependent on their parents. Some researchers advocate a bold policy of “social investment” targeted on young people through, for example, granting a “training entitlement” to all young people (universal right to paid training), payment of a substantial lump sum on reaching adulthood, leaving the young person discretion as to how to invest it (education, training, business creation, travel, etc.) ( Damon, 2006), or paying a universal allowance from the age of 18 or 20 to 25. These options are more to do with social policy in that all young people without exception who were not living with their family would receive such benefits, ensuring them of greater autonomy. Another solution as part of a unitary family policy would be to raise the age limit for payment of family allowances, and when calculating different benefits, to include children who are not yet living independently but with parental assistance. Many of these proposals were discussed in the Committee on Youth chaired by Martin Hirsch and some may be taken up by the government [6].

This example of “social investment” policy illustrates another underpinning that falls within the broader temporal unitary framework of French family policy : it is a policy of prevention and investment. Massive investment in children and young people today is the way to ensure a balanced budget and growth in the future. Investing heavily in a policy that encompasses the whole family unit is also a way to prevent risks, including those of a more individual nature. A preventive strategy in the field of health, for example, is partly delivered through the family since that is where preventive or even risk behaviour is learned, and that is also where health risks are developed and treated (e.g., risks associated with certain types of consumption, or related to unhealthy living environments - the nature and range of which are gradually becoming clear, etc.). It is in this preventive and educational approach that family organizations have progressively engaged with all preventive and educational policies for environmental protection and sustainable development.

A universal policy

The vast majority of family organizations and UNAF believe that family policy must be universal, i.e., for all families living in a given territory. This principle of universality applies equally to benefits, allowances, access to services and the law.

Different governments and policy makers (the best known instances being the means-testing of family allowances for nearly 10 months under the Jospin government [7], a proposal subsequently taken up in the Attali Report [8] and the initial work of the RGPP [9]) call into question the universality, if not of family policy, at least of benefits [10] and especially family allowances [11]. The reasoning is simple : benefits for high income families are pointless since benefits account for a nominal share of their budget, whereas the savings made by not granting them could be used to grant higher benefits to low income families.

By contrast, a wide range of arguments can be mustered to defend universal entitlements in family policy [12].

First, social security in France - and especially the “family” and “health” branches - is based on the horizontal solidarity principle that each contributes according to their means and draws benefits according to their needs (ill-health for sickness insurance, children for family benefits, etc.). Vertical solidarity, whose main instruments are welfare benefits and especially income tax, aims at reducing inequalities and redistributing wealth [13]. To throw the principle of universality into question would risk the entire social security system forfeiting legitimacy, being undermined and collapsing. Basically, the consensus that each contributes according to his means in the certainty of receiving assistance appropriate to the “risk” is incurred is thrown into question if those who pay the most, especially the middle classes, no longer have the certainty of receiving assistance when needed, however minimal in relation to their income. Are the savings made in practice worth the risk of upsetting such a political and social consensus dating back over sixty years ?

Secondly, universality works, including by helping to roll back inequalities and poverty. According to Antoine Math (2003), based on a comparison of different European countries, “targeting acts mainly to curtail spending and [...] is counter-productive in the fight against poverty.” Building social housing does not solve housing problems (although it may go a long way towards it) ; childcare available to all without distinction is one of the best guarantees of equality in marriage (participation in home life, careers for women), reducing the perpetuation of social inequalities, and supporting the poorest households - lone-parent families and large families (Esping-Andersen, 2008). Julien Damon (2008) sums up these findings : “The thing to remember throughout the debate on social targeting is that the poor benefit most from the universal benefits system. In France, family allowances halve the child poverty rate, while minimum income benefits - which are by nature targeted - cut it by only a few points extra. The conclusion is that the most effective models must be those with a broad universal basis supplemented by targeted benefits. The models that work least well are those in which targeted benefits replace the basic universal mechanisms. In this model, there is the problem of defining legitimate targets and the issue of financing a system that benefits only a part of the population whose size varies with the income cap applied”. This is why the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) is concerned about non-universal family policies directed at target groups like children experiencing poverty or lone parents. It demands “integrated, multidimensional approaches that support families’ efforts to offer children a better environment,” calling for “universal family allowances supported by targeted measures and tools to make work pay with a decent wage that is sufficient to raise a family,” and possibly a “universal before-and-after-school childcare service [14].

Third, means-tested benefits are subject to threshold effects, especially for those with uncertain, highly fluctuating incomes, and the risk of mis-targeting, especially as some potential claimants could be put off applying by the complex paperwork. Added to this are the increased risk of fraud, very high management costs, especially in increasingly changing family, economic and work circumstances.

Fourthly, a universal family policy neither discriminates against nor “stigmatizes” the beneficiaries, whereas a targeted policy creates or is based on sub-groups that have to be named, with the risk of being pigeonholed and labelled.

A universal family policy that provides services accessible to all also ensures social diversity.

Finally, Julien Damon (2008) advances another technical argument. Only universal family benefits are currently able to address new developments in family structures. As we have seen, means-tested allowances cannot at present be split to accommodate multiple households (shared residence).

However, this idea of a universal allowance in preference to allowances more targeted on the neediest households is now difficult to put across in a French society with widening inequalities, an unfair distribution of resources, unacceptable poverty and chronic deficits in the social security system (even if the “family” branch is generally in surplus). The glimmerings of a solution are to be seen : there may be a need to press the argument that universality applies to the unitary family policy focused on accessibility of services (every family should have access to all services : childcare provision, leisure centres, childhood and youth contracts, etc.) in equal if not greater measure than to cash benefits, especially as these forms of collective provision if not specific to particular types of job or particular communities, ensure social diversity.

Another avenue for exploration is to join up the principle of the two complementary solidarities, so that horizontal solidarity really compensates for the costs of having children (with sharply uprated universal family allowances) [15] while vertical solidarity ensures a better redistribution of income even if that means discarding the “family” element from it [16]. This would then mean scrapping the income splitting or dependents’ tax relief provisions (a capped, graduated tax deduction that rises with the amount of the tax household’s tax liability) or merging personal income tax (PIT) and the CSG universal social contribution (with the family branch then being part-financed from taxation, etc.).

The 1970s and 1980s : All change

Work-life balance

Since the 1970s, and especially the 1980s, France has made an increasingly considered commitment to reconciling work and family lives. In the face of vociferous calls to strengthen the “parental wage” (the single wage allowance) so that - mainly - the mother could stay at home and raise children, family policy shapers instead sought to reconcile the family and work times of both parents. Working on the basis that mothers have no desire to choose between the two lives, and that if “forced” to do so they overwhelmingly chose, at least initially, to work, government, prompted and supported by some family organizations and UNAF, pushed a policy of work-life balance by investing heavily in such things as childcare provision and nursery school from the age of three. This ultimately proved the right choice in terms of economic growth and especially fertility (or at least, since it is hard to establish a positive automatic causality, it had no adverse effects on the birth rate). So, while the single wage allowance and supplement were scrapped in 1978, a low-income family childcare allowance was created (1972), a family supplement for families with more than three children, one under the age of three (1978), the home care allowance (1987), family support to pay for a registered child-minder (1991). The allowances and support for the creation of provision were to develop steadily. Greater involvement by fathers was also encouraged with the introduction of paternity leave in 2002. In 2006, by tightening-up the entitlement criteria for the old parental childraising allowance, the new young children’s early days benefit (PAJE) also strengthens the link between family and work life. This choice has proved successful in the medium-term, including in terms of fertility, since France in 2008 combined a high and above European average female employment rate (80% of women aged 25 to 49) with the highest fertility rates in Europe (more than two children per woman).

Today, some family organizations are calling for a return to the “parental wage” in the name of free choice for homemaker parents (see below). Neither successive governments, nor the majority of voluntary organizations - UNAF to the fore - are actively campaigning for this. Instead, they are working to create provision that will enable work-life balance by increasing fathers’ involvement in child-raising and -care [17].

This equality is still at present the big issue of childcare policy or family policy where much remains to be done. The aim today therefore is to make it easier to return to work after parental leave and to make this leave more attractive (increasing the level of benefit or creating an annuity equal to a percentage of final salary, as in Germany for example, with an annuity of more than two-thirds of final salary for one year) for both parents (with the father forced or encouraged to take part of the compulsory leave) [18]. Some consider a three year parental leave as an "inactivity trap", as it would remove from the labor market its beneficiaries, 95% of which are women, experiencing difficulties to return to work. Family organizations like UNAF support the introduction of such provision, but to supplement rather than replace existing provision. They are opposed to scrapping the three-year parental leave.

UNAF sums up the unanimous opinion of all family movements in its press release dated February 11, 2010, the day of submitting the report of the High Council for the Family (HCF) for a possible reform of parental leave.

First, note that the UNAF HCF breaks down misconceptions concerning parental leave. In six months, the work of HCF have succeeded in striking down the main criticisms against parental leave : the parental leave is a great success for families ; it is voluntary choice for most families (60% Parents say they have chosen to voluntarily stop working to care for their child under the ALCC), with an excellent return to employment rate (81% of parents of two children who stop working to take a parental leave return to work afterwards), and therefore is not an "inactivity trap" ; the social composition of the beneficiaries is diversified, and one third of them work part time.

UNAF stated that to take leave to raise children should remain a choice. It endorsed the recommendations of HCF to increase the number and diversity of childcare facilities (while preserving their quality), and improve the reconciliation between family and professional life. It said these measures would help parents who stopped working because of the lack of childcare facilities or suitable working conditions to make a real choice. Moreover, it argues, the work of the HCF shows that any imposed reduction of the duration of parental leave carries major risks : an explosion of the demand for child care, while the supply is far from sufficient, and grows slowly despite all efforts, an increase of the number of unemployed job seekers ; lower incomes for tens of thousands of families. UNAF finally adds that such a regression would also have consequences on the overall trust families place in the family policy, and would be fraught with risks for the birth rate.

Therefore, the HCF report reinforces the UNAF demands to maintain the three year duration for parental leave. To improve the system, UNAF supports the HCF proposal to offer a choice between a parental leave of three years and a shorter, better paid leave after the birth of the second child. Moreover, UNAF supports the allocation of two additional months, which could be taken by fathers. These proposals will thus broaden the range of choices available to families. UNAF then encourages the authorities to continue their efforts to expand child care services and encourage employers to better take into account the situation of parents. It concludes with a final statement : "Families must have a real choice".

Equality ? What equality ?

Family policy advocates have more or less consistently pushed an equality agenda since the 1970s. But the government policies devised and implemented in the name of equality have differed widely and sometimes clashed, depending on the definition of “family” and the method and assessment criteria used.

One example : arguing from the broad definition of family (a family is any form of union which claims to be a family), and the equal rights criterion, same-sex couples claim all the rights that opposite-sex couples “enjoy”, chiefly the right to marry. Likewise arguing the “biological” impossibility of having children without some form of medical assistance, such couples sometimes demand access to all the new medically assisted reproduction techniques.

Another example : The fact that social inequalities develop from early childhood, particularly through childcare provision which has an educational role and ensures that both members of the couple can hold down good jobs, has prompted sociologists and educators, political parties and family organizations to call for these inequalities to be put right through a real policy that will from the outset create equal opportunities through the introduction of a public childcare service or enforceable right to childcare. This universal provision would ideally give every child access to quality child care provision, a working life for each parent, a dual income that reduces the risk of poverty ... (Esping-Andersen, 2007, 2008).

A third example : equality is also the argument used by a growing number of parents, mostly fathers, to claim that shared residence should be the general rule, and the courts would make a sole resident parent/staying access order only in certain exceptional circumstances and on the basis of a reasoned opinion.

Fourth example : citing equal treatment between individuals and couples with children and childless individuals and couples, family organizations are calling for fair compensation for the cost of dependants through appropriate services and structures - or alternatively family tax (an additional half tax unit for lone parents that have raised at least one child [19]) or pension entitlements (an insurance period supplement for women who have raised children, old-age pension for homemaker parents, pension supplement for insured persons who have raised three children, etc.) - to offset the time and money spent during the childraising period which could have been invested for example in accumulating savings or in a career. Because such compensation is a right that must benefit all individuals and couples with children, it must be universal and cannot be tied to other variables like income or assets in particular.

Fifth example : Conversely, the fight against inequalities is used by many politicians on both right and left to call for means-testing of family allowances, arguing that giving the same amount to affluent families widens the gaps and reduces budget funds that could be better spent on the poorest families.

As we see with this final example of benefits, therefore, the principle of equality played up in the 1970s can be used to justify opposing family policies. It all depends on where you are coming from ...

From freedom to freedom of choice

The principle of freedom has also been regularly used since the 1980s to justify what are again fundamentally different family policies.

For example, all family organizations and political parties are today demanding free choice of childcare. Public policies must not dictate a particular form of childcare, especially one outside the home and community. While this principle of free choice, elevated virtually into an article of faith at the 2003 Conference on the Family which marked the creation of the PAJE, is now a matter of general consensus, in particular within the HCF, as we saw in the previous part, it also throws into relief the contradictions at the heart of family policy.

Firstly, it is less about proclaiming or even turning freedom of choice into a right than creating the conditions for making a genuinely informed choice. So, any public policy based on it would have to make provision that gave everyone the physical opportunity to exercise a considered choice. Where childcare is concerned, for example, a policy of free choice must be accompanied by good quality information and large-scale investment in the various types of childcare provision (nurseries, childminders, etc.) nationwide with parental leave that is attractive to all parents regardless of employment status, marital status, etc. In short, freedom is only acquired in a legal and structural environment that must be constantly kept up.

Then there is the budgetary constraint. The essence of public policy is to guide choices in line with other political imperatives (e.g., gender equality, etc.), but also and especially by what can be done to pay for them. Developing provision in which an informed choice can be made may impose an unconscionable cost on the community, and the choices made by some may be very costly for everyone else ...

More importantly, to consider the family as an institution, as all family organizations do for example (see below), means arguing that some things should not be left to individual free choice. If the family is an institution, you do not choose your relatives, nor your parents or children, just as you do not choose the rights and duties you have towards them. In the same way, naming is governed by specific rules (eased in 2006 to allow a limited choice for the first child between the father’s, mother’s or a double-barrelled surname) ; freedom of choice was again limited here, being left virtually to the given name(s) only. For most family organizations, therefore, free choice in practice cannot be an inviolable absolute principle, but one that can be availed of in a specific, clearly defined and studied context.

Solidarity redux

Solidarity is an abiding issue of family policy, a recurrent moral theme based on the family as the first or “natural” setting for solidarity. It has been an abiding tenet of family policy for over a century that the costs of having children must be compensated for, because children are the future of the nation and will take care of dependents. So, the point of family allowances is not to reduce income inequalities, for example, but to offset the cost of a child ; parents who have raised children will in certain circumstances qualify for quarterly pension contribution supplements (to compensate for career time “spent” on raising children) or an actual pension supplement (to compensate for the added cost of children, corresponding to money that could not be saved for retirement). All these rights are currently under discussion.

Solidarity has now returned as an issue in the debates on the link between private/family and public solidarity. France has developed provision, especially in the family policy sphere, based on a transference of solidarity. Guardianship of adults, for example, falls first to the family (family solidarity). If no family member can act as guardian (inability or court decision) - i.e., family solidarity cannot operate - the duty is transferred to the State which appoints an individual or voluntary organisation as guardian. So, public solidarity comes into play only at the point where family solidarity fails. “Worse,” until recently, before the reform of 5 March 2007, once public solidarity did come into play, it was absolute and exclusive : a family member - including very close relatives - who wished to act as guardian could no longer do so, had no say in decisions, and was not even informed. And while the reform of 5 March 2007 now allows a little more family involvement and hints at family guardians being informed, it is half-hearted progress. The general consensus among family policy commentators is that private solidarity works better when supported by public solidarity. The issue of helping family carers has made a forceful entry into the public debate in this respect, firstly at European level [20], then in the carers support coalition Collectif inter associatif de l’aide aux aidants familiaux (CIAAF), and finally in the debates and decisions in the wake of the 2006 Conference on the Family on intergenerational solidarity [21] based on UNAF’s proposals [22].

From benefit policy to provision policy

Surveys are periodically flourished [23] in support of demands for a family policy that is less benefit-oriented and more focused on financing community provision or policies. The current government seems to share this thinking [24]. However, these polls are questionable, since they canvass the general public and not just families who receive those benefits, chiefly families with dependent children ; furthermore such an attack on benefits does not stand up to scientific analysis which takes into account the problem of compensating the cost of dependent children, declining purchasing power and especially our current benefit system’s considerable effectiveness in tackling poverty. Family organizations in France are cautious about such surveys, therefore.

However, the fact that over 90% of family branch spending goes on benefits arguably makes it a legitimate question, especially if community-based investment could do more to offset the cost of dependants and falling purchasing power, as well as tackling poverty, by reducing the costs borne by families.

Collective spending on general and provision policies has the added advantage of being non “stigmatizing” if access to those policies and that provision is universal, as families claiming a particular benefit are not labelled in this form of “assistance”, and ensures a measure of social diversity if the provision is accessible to all and not based on fundamental inequalities (e.g., a contract or facility limited to children from a certain neighbourhood) [25].

Also, collective investment in provision could be a “lifeboat” for the universality principle of family policies which has been under increasing attack by successive governments both left and right.

So, any small portion of family branch and state spending that was allocated to collective provision would also have to result in a reduction of non-discretionary expenditure for all families in order to fight against poverty but also and especially to offset the costs of dependant children and protect purchasing power.

The 2000s : The big questions

Decentralization and Europe : what forms of subsidiarity ?

At what level should a family policy be pursued ? Even up to a quarter of a century ago, the answer was simple. The big areas of family policy, including a mainstreamed and unitary policy, were pursued at national level, chiefly by the State in partnership with UNAF and to some extent - on the technical aspects of benefits, childcare provision and administrative legislation - with the National Family Allowances Fund (CNAF).

Today, that family policy is “decentralizing” in two directions : locally, as departmental, municipal, and to a lesser extent, regional authorities gain more powers ; and supranationally, with the admittedly as yet tentative but increasingly marked emergence of Europe (the EU and European Court of Human Rights).

Child welfare policy, for example, has now largely become a department responsibility, while the parent counselling and support networks (REAAP) are run by departmental local agencies (DDASS, CAF, UDAF, etc.). All recent legislation on or involving families systematically expands the powers and responsibilities of the departments [26].

Taking family policy as a mainstreamed policy, the EU is seen to be extensively involved (Recherches Familiales, 2008). Decisions on consumer law, health, public transport, road safety, etc., whether taken through regulations, guidelines or programmes, directly impact families’ lives. An expansion of the Union’s competences, or a new sphere of action (although not a competence strictly so-called) therefore results in the EU de facto taking charge of a dimension of family policy. Concerns about the demographic situation have also led EU institutions - especially the European Economic and Social Committee and the Commission - increasingly to look into ways of helping each member state to develop the best possible family policy. The European Council of 8 and 9 March 2007 resulted in the European Alliance for Families being set up chiefly as a forum for the exchange of expertise and experiences among member countries. In 2009, the Commission created and funded a "Familiy Platform" that brings together researchers and a few non profit organization to draw scenarios for family-friendly public policies. Also relevant to the European setting is the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings members of the Council of Europe must comply with. These strongly influence national laws, because compliance may require legislative reforms.

All family organizations seem to endorse the subsidiarity principle : while remaining cautious about and holding a variety of views on decentralization, they do not want to see Europe heavily involved in family policy, believing that it is for the member state to fund and manage.

The subsidiarity principle, indeed, has its limitations. Being unitary and mainstreamed, decisions on family policy taken at one level affect the implementation of policies at other levels. For example, France’s Crime Prevention Act melds predominantly state-run justice administration policies with preventive and policing policies increasingly pursued at department level. Conversely, a childcare or infant school reform policy will have immediate knock-on effects on all areas of employment policy.

Decentralization also raises the problem of managing the family policies concerned. For example, the current government wanted to introduce an enforceable right to childcare. But against who would it be enforceable ? Who would have to make the necessary provision - department, municipality, local authorities, the CAF ? The enforceable right would take many very different forms according to who was to administer it.

Families, law and order and responsibility

In the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, family policy was essentially hygiene-focused. The social worker’s visit to pry into private family matters like the cleanliness of refrigerators, beds or toilets has been sufficiently taken issue with not to be further rehearsed here. However, except in the limited context of health education and early childhood (mother and child welfare inspections), these hygiene considerations are no longer part of family policy nor called for by any stakeholder. For example, social welfare benefit controls have changed somewhat in meaning over the decades : while the social supervisor of the 1960s was inspecting health and safety conditions, the welfare officer of the 2000s educates parents in how to manage the household budget.

Family policy also had a law and order focus. Up to the late 20th century, this aim was dwindling in the scope of family policy. In recent years, however, new government policies have returned it to centre stage. Working on the assumption that a child’s misbehaviour (truancy, crime, etc.) originates in failed parenting (loss of authority, lack of education, abdication of responsibility), a series of measures imbued family policy with a new approach - less to help families in their educational role than to police or punish them. This is behind the periodical proposals to cut family allowances where children truanted or offended (the actual measure taken is controlled granting of benefits), or to set up a Board of Rights and Duties of Families in each municipality under the authority of the Mayor to centralise information on “problem” families and consider the steps to be taken.

The various trade unions and professional organizations concerned (judiciary, social workers, etc.) and all family organizations took a strong stand against this new spin on family policy. And while the new approach received a strong government steer through the Crime Prevention Act (2007) [27] in particular, it seems to have received little endorsement from local politicians, including those in the political majority, as less than a score of such boards have been set up in France since the law came onto the statute books.

The issue of responsibility - of families, and parents even more so - again became a hot topic of public debate. It can take several forms.

Firstly, as mentioned, parents may be accused of having abdicated responsibility for raising their children properly. Family policy would therefore attempt to coerce them into fulfilling their role better (Jésu, 2006). Making parents responsible would be an exogenous process of taking account of their own responsibilities especially after an official call to order - or conviction. This is the point of the parental responsibility contract created by the Equal Opportunities Act (2006) to be entered into with the leader of the departmental council by parents whose children are truanting or disruptive at school or have “other problems related to a lack of parental authority”. Refusal or failure to comply with the proposed measures for families may result in prosecution, suspension or controlled granting of family benefits. Furthermore, the Crime Prevention Act (2007) created a Board for the Rights and Duties of Families, chaired by dhe Mayor.

But responsibility is also a big issue in another context, - that of policies for assistance, support and guidance of parents. The most telling example is that of the parent counselling and support networks (REAAP) set up as a result of the 1998 Conference on the Family, aimed at networking parents to enable them to exchange experiences and thinking. They may come to the realisation that they are lacking in parental authority, not from outside censure by a judge or social worker, but as the result of discussions with their peers - other parents. A greater assumption of responsibility is also why family organizations want family mediation to be developed more widely as a means of making individuals aware of how their own rights tie in with their responsibilities towards each family member and their responsibilities. A final example is offered by the use of information and communication technologies and media. Because prohibition has clearly not worked, most family organizations, including UNAF, now support a co-regulation policy aimed at getting government, industry players, civil society and researchers to lay down common rules. They are also running campaigns to educate parents in the use of new technologies and media, either alone or when supervising their child. In all three examples, parents are not made responsible by administrative order or the criminal law, but by their own realization of their responsibilities towards their children, their partners, the family unit and society.

Foundations re-examined and re-claimed

The family as an institution

One central issue that arises in policy debates on the family is the meaning attached to it in the life of the nation.

Some schools of thought see the family only as an assemblage of individuals thrown together by elements of chance. The family is therefore the term for people who maintain relationships of affinity and use a vocabulary of kinship to describe the degree of these relationships. Family policy must therefore not interfere with these emotional and mutually-supportive relationships but rather promote that individual free choice to develop a basic unit of fellowship within the polity.

For others, however - and for the vast majority of family organizations - the family is an institution. The family is not just the sum of a few individuals who, by accident of genetics and birth are linked by ties of “blood” and household, but an entity that gives meaning to these ties. The family is more than just the sum of autonomous individuals, it is an intermediary third entity that helps to categorise and materialise the connection between its members. One is and becomes an autonomous individual in various institutions that provide the intellectual framework for that autonomy, which provide benchmarks on - and sometimes against - which identity is developed. The family as an entity thereby has a role and place in society. That entity cannot be considered as in the strictly private sphere (Comaille et al., 1998), but de facto acquires a public dimension. This gives government legitimacy to develop family policies, not to say a means of achieving a joined-up approach - a family policy.

A policy of moral values and identity

One big issue for family policy in the years ahead is the definition of who this policy is intended for - i.e., the family. What constitutes a “family” is not defined in the French Civil Code. However, the Social Welfare and Families Code does lay down the requirements for membership of a family association counted among the UDAF “staff members”. The 1975 Act extends the scope from married couples with children to single-parent families and families whose parents are not united by marriage. As Irène Théry puts it, in everyday life and in law alike, the basis of the family today is no longer marriage, nor even union, but the fact of children (Théry 2001).

However, UNAF, most family organisations in France plus those linked together in the Confederation of Family Organizations in the European Union (COFACE), have always sidestepped the issue of the definition of family for fear of provoking disunion.

For some, a family is composed of people who live together and define their relationship in a family framework. For others, that framework must be officially brought into being, and marriage or filial relation (and, by way of replacement, family authority) are the foundation of the family. Of these, finally, some believe that this socially-instituted framework must be consecrated by a religious ceremony, chiefly a religious marriage.

The debates in France focus on a subsidiary issue in terms of family policy (rather than in terms of equal rights) : same-sex couples. The only issue specific to these couples is authorization to marry. Otherwise, all other issues relating to children in particular, are not specific to such couples : what to do about a new spouse affects all blended families, the need for two parents and joint parenting concerns all single-parent families ; access to new reproductive techniques (surrogate mothers, for example) for all couples who can not reproduce the “natural” way, etc.. Where children are concerned, the only specific issue that might concern just those children “born” in a same sex union (not having one parent with a new same-sex partner) is the controversial issue of the psychological need to have different sex parents to be raised in a dual-gender world that would ensure balance.

Arguably, it is on this definition of the family, and on the question "what makes a family ?" that the debate, laying out all the issues, should primarily take place on three cross-cutting themes : Who is a “parent” ? (the one who proclaims his/her motherhood/fatherhood to society, the one who raises the child, the one who contributes the genetic material, the one who carried the child) ? What would creating an official status of “third (i.e., step-) parent” mean ? On what issues should we promote individual choice ? [28]

But the government and political parties are not really asking these questions in these terms. Harried by the media for soundbites on what may be marginal but dramatic events, family organizations struggle to bring out the fundamental cross-cutting issues in which they are well-versed, especially when their association’s object is based on closely-connected matters (e.g., adoptive families organisations).

More broadly, whatever the culture or society, what does “being a parent” mean ? What is a father, a mother ? Specifically, what does being the “father of” or “mother of” mean ? What does “being parents”, i.e., a parental couple, mean ? So the real question, regularly glossed over, is ultimately : what makes a family ? (Recherches Familiales, 2007 ; Séraphin 2009) : Is it the fact of living together and forging domestic ties (parenting) ? Being socially-instituted at birth or during one’s life through customary and/or legal ties (kinship) ? Being genetically derived from an identified ovum and spermatozoon (biological origin) ?

Basically, it could in the first instance be said that biological origin is the deciding fact. But then, which biology ? That of the semen ? The ovum ? The womb that carried the child ? If so, should the child’s parentage be changed if a hitherto unknown biological origin is discovered ?

Then there are the ties of raising and upbringing ; it can be argued that the parent is the one who provides board and lodging, and meets the varied range of the child’s needs.

Or finally, the parent could be the person who is deemed to be the parent, i.e., the one who first assumed that status and acknowledged the child in law, claiming “this child is mine.” So, depending on which method is considered or preferred, the child’s parent may not always be the same. Note that the socially-instituted parental relationship, which largely predominates [29] in France [30] today and is generally espoused by family organizations, does not preclude a child finding out about their origins, which can be done, and is even encouraged in some cases, without calling their parentage into question. This would require a complete legal “uncoupling” of biological parentage and kinship, such that no legal relationship would subsist between the progenitor of a child and that child (e.g., no more genetic paternity testing).

The second issue in France is that of step-parent or “third parent” status. The most common demands - and those that have led the current government to try and legislate on the matter [31] - argue that it is not about making it easier to assign parental authority for specific acts within a given framework, but creating a new status within the corpus of what is usually called “family law” that would include a uniform set of rights and duties for the “step-parent”, because everyday situations are often complex (Blöss, 1996). For example, how does one go about ensuring rights for the “social parent” who has raised and educated a child if the legal parent dies, especially if that parent is a lone parent ? A series of things that I have grouped thematically seem to militate against the creation of such a legal status, however.

The legal definition of that status in general family law : Who could be considered a “third parent” ? Just the married spouse of one parent ? A grandparent, uncle, aunt ? A “trusted” family member or close relative (the equivalent of a sort of legally recognized “godfather” or “godmother”) ? What type of child would be concerned by such a status ? Just under-age children, or adult children also (an option also demanded for inheritance purposes, etc.) ? By whom is it requested and granted ? One parent ? Both ? The family court judge ? The child itself ? Is one a “step-parent” or “step-child” for life ? Can the status also be “repudiated” ? When ? By whom ? Do the rights and duties towards the child create reciprocal obligations ? Finally, would prohibited relationships be attached to that status (e.g., incest) ?

The purport of that status combined with parental statuses : Looking at the many reforms aimed at improving coordination and balance between the roles, rights and duties of both parents, the addition of a “step-parent” status would exacerbate the task not only in terms of legislative reform but also and above all, procedures. Also, might not creating such a status category undermine the status of the parent, not only in terms of rights and duties, but also symbolically in the way each one claims and assumes their parental status ? Does it not fly in the face of reason to call for the institutionalization of ties by a status that is effectively akin to filial relation while at the same time prospectively undermining parental ties by creating a potentially “rival” intermediate status ? To take a topical issue, how do we get fathers to properly fulfil their role as fathers if they feel that the law officially sanctions the role of “parent” being granted to other persons who are often already seen as “rivals” ?

The general issue, therefore, would be not just to spell out the prohibitions, rights and duties attached to each status but also to specify what links would be established without discrimination between each parent and between each “step-parent”, and between each child and each “step-child”.

Arguably, creating a new legal status may ultimately not be such a good idea as it seems, unless the government manages to create with it not a new legal kinship status but a measure that aims to better accommodate a social status, that has practical meaning in daily life and makes it easier - even if only through cutting red tape - to share parental authority in a specific legal framework. It should also make it easier to take a prior assignment of authority into account where a court has to rule on the guardianship of a maternal, paternal or double orphan even if only to preserve the domestic, emotional and educational ties that have been created (guardianship, visitation rights, etc.).

The third cross-cutting issue relates to the principle of availability. Institutionalization, especially when reflected in legal instruments, is essentially based on a handful of principles (prohibition, rights, obligations), of which unavailability is one. Basically, as things stand, filial relation is a legal institution and unavailable to the individual : they do not choose their kinship, be it in the ascending or descending lines, except in very strictly circumscribed cases. If reforms are undertaken on quasi-parental status, for example, will all these statuses be enduring and available ? Will a parent or child be able to choose their “step-parent” or “step-child” ? Is the choice final ? Which choice prevails when it is not or ceases to be commonly endorsed ? The question also arises in terms of the survival of rights and duties, names, estates, etc.. If the statuses and associated family obligations are available, the risk is not only that the measure will be rendered inconsistent, but also that the very strength of the filial relation - the fact that it is an institution - will be undermined.

The family or its representatives as an intermediary agency

Formal representation of families is a policy measure unique to France. Simply to say for example that UDAF and UNAF are statutory 1901 Act associations (1945 Ordinance, 1975 Act) shows its uniqueness. It is the community-based sector entrenched in the state apparatus of the Republic (Chauvière, 2000 , Minonzio et al., 2006).

UNAF is composed of seven national multi-issue family organisations [32], nineteen single-issue organisations and forty-four associated organisations, each of which links together local voluntary organizations, totalling nearly 8 000 organizations in all.

UNAF and UDAF have four statutory duties to uphold the moral and material interests of all families living in French territory :

-  To give opinions to the authorities and put forward measures of concern to families ;

-  To be the official representatives of all families living on French territory in all national or local political bodies that affect them ;

-  To bring proceedings (in the civil courts) to defend the interests of families without having to prove prior consent ;

-  To develop and manage services of family interest.

Through its regular meetings with government (e.g., in the first half of 2008, UNAF had meetings on average once a week with either the President of the Republic or a minister or MPs at a National Assembly or Senate hearing) ; through representation on close to 200 national and as many or more departmental bodies (e.g., UNAF has 10 seats on the economic, social and environmental council, and sits on social security bodies, the national ethical council, the national board of education, etc..) ; through its network of UDAFs employing nearly 7,000 staff (80 in UNAF) delivering services to families, the "family Institution" (with a capital "I", meaning "UNAF, UDAFs and URAF") has a significant influence on French politics. It is a critical partner of government, expressing its opinion, sometimes objecting, but usually looking for points of consensus and compromise because it is directly involved in implementing decisions.

It is a real intermediary agency that provides another voice for the citizenship of individuals who live in families. Demands and opinions common to families, some the product of compromises, emerge from the simple fact of living day by day in a common situation : being a family, or having responsibility for a family. This policy-shaping body, both as a critic of and partner to government, has for over sixty years developed a fairly substantial and coherent family policy provision that is now recognized in most European countries.

This type of institution shows that democracy takes shape and develops not only through the ballot box, through the election of an individual by other individuals, ensuring that regional bodies are set up with originally well-defined powers. Democracy is sustained by what officially entrenched intermediary agencies say and do.

It is sometimes said that this “family body” is a lobby. This shows that the pressure exercised by it often has an effect. But it is more than that, because it is also involved in implementing the policy decisions taken, but never less than a staunch adherent of legitimate authority (unreservedly implementing the decisions of the legislature and public authorities). Draft laws, sometimes opposed tooth and nail, will subsequently be accepted and diligently implemented once the legislature’s decision has been made. This joint involvement in action and the “legitimist” political approach enable this institution to be much more than a mere pressure group.

The challenge for the family institution today can be summed up in one word : “openness”. The aim is to ensure even greater diversity in its membership. Can it foster the creation of new family organizations representing the views or policies of faiths not represented today (e.g., a Jewish or Muslim family organisation alongside Catholic or Protestant ones) ? Will it be able to accommodate organizations that are claiming new types of families or entities that they themselves call “families” (e.g., families with step-parents, families with two same-sex adults, etc..) even if that means pressing for changes in the legislation if the law does not permit them ? How will it press the agenda for all families living on French territory, including the families of undocumented immigrants in accordance with the Charter of the Family which claims that all individuals have the right to family life, when the 1975 Act stipulates that the "family Institution" is to further the interests of all families - French and foreign, admittedly - but that are living legally on French territory ? How will it include in community and especially family life those families that live on the margins of society, in dire poverty, that rarely join voluntary groups, including family organizations, though they are the ones probably most in need of being engaged with in their specific circumstances to be better represented and spoken up for [33] ?

Conclusion

Family policy and the family are seen to be invariably central to wider policy issues. Family policy is at the heart of blueprints for society and reflects both the moral and social values focused on and the agenda of governance techniques. Studying a government’s family policy, for example, gives insights into the perception and understanding of the family held by those in power, but also, more generally, the image and meaning of the ordinary citizen, community togetherness and society (Comaille et al., 1998).

Family policy has with varying success developed over the decades on the balanced structuring of claimed values, accepted principles, shared goals and changes in family structures, lifestyles and needs. The challenge now, especially in the European context, is for all stakeholders to preserve, re-examine and enhance this balanced structuring that has guaranteed success in the past and is doing so again today.

Acronyms

AAH : Allocation adulte handicapé

APA : Allocation personnalisé d’autonomie

CAF : Caisse d’allocations familiales

CNAF : Caisse nationale d’allocations familiales

CSG : Contribution sociale généralisée

COFACE : Confédération des organisations familiales de l’Union européenne

DDASS : Direction départementale des affaires sanitaires et sociales

EAPN : Réseau européen de lutte contre la pauvreté

HCF : Haut conseil à la famille

IRPP : Impôt sur le revenu des personnes physiques

PAJE : Prestation d’accueil du jeune enfant

PMI : Protection maternelle et infantile

REAAP : Réseau d’écoute, d’appui et d’accompagnement des parents

RGPP : Révision générale des politiques publiques

RMI : Revenu minimum d’insertion

UDAF : Union départementale des associations familiales

UNAF : Union nationale des associations familiales

URAF : Union régionale des associations familiales

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[1The most recent comprehensive reviews are by Messu, 1992 ; Chauvière et al., 2000 ; Comailles et al., 2002 ; Les Cahiers français, 2004 ; Damon, 2006.

[2Despite being one of the better-off countries in Europe in this respect, France’s 65-and-over population is set to account for 48 to 54% of the 20-to-64 age group in 2050, doubling from its 2005 level (25%).

[3The Declaration of the European Council of 8 and 9 March 2007 invited Member States to establish a European Alliance for Families. The Presidency Conclusion’s state (paragraph 20) : “Demographic change confronts Member States with a complex set of interrelated challenges. The establishment of an “Alliance for Families” will serve as a platform for the exchange of views and knowledge on family-friendly policies as well as of good practices between Member States. Member States will continue to further develop policies which promote equal opportunities between men and women, as well as the role of young people, including their transition from school to working life, older people and low-skilled people as active participants in the economy and the labour market, aiming at using their full potential to contribute to the economic and social development of our societies”. European Economic and Social Committee exploratory opinion entitled The family and demographic change (Buffetaut, 2007) ; report on the demographic challenge to the European Parliament (F. Castex, 2007).

[4For a criticism of this scheme, see Steck, 2007. Since this fixed amount solution would be counter-productive in tackling the poverty that is much more prevalent among large families, Julien Damon suggests a compensatory benefit for poor families, possibly through revamping the family supplement currently paid from the third child onwards.

[5Measures to help family carers were announced at the Conference on the Family held on 3 July 2006. They included the creation of a 3-month family support leave renewable within a year. It was introduced by the Act of 21 December 2006 and the implementing order of 18 April 2007 as unpaid time off to care for a dependent person with a guarantee of reinstatement in the same or a similar job with no loss of pension rights during the career break period.

[6Consultative Committee on Youth Policy, Reconnaître la valeur de la jeunesse (Valuing Young People) Green Paper, Summary of Committee proposals, July 2009, http://www.lagenerationactive.fr/proposition/2714

[7From March to December 1998.

[8Report of the Committee on Releasing French Growth, chaired by Jacques Attali, Decision No. 268, p. 200 http://lesrapports.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/BRP/084000041/0000.pdf.

[9See General Public Policy Review (RGPP), Part I. CMPP Decisions of 4 April 2008, www.minefi.gouv.fr/directions_services/sircom/rapport_rgpp080404.pdf

[10A growing number of benefits in France are means-tested, especially in the 1970s : housing benefit (1948), social housing benefit (1971), the supplementary single wage and housewife allowance (1972), back-to-school allowance (1974), lone parent allowance (1976), family supplement (1978), etc. However, taking only family benefits in the strict sense, excluding housing allowances and social allowances (income supplement, disability benefit, etc.), the share of means-tested benefits has remained unchanged since the 1970s at between 25 and 30%.

[11Which do not fully qualify as universal : One child families (with only one child, or where only the last child is within the age limit for entitlement) still cannot qualify for allowance.

[12On “targeting” as opposed to “universality” see : Informations sociales : le ciblage en question (2003).

[13It is to be noted that some authors consider that the family quotient system in the income tax calculation procedure form parts of the horizontal solidarity principle, as it allows tax households with children to pay lower taxes.

[14Press release, 17 October 2007.

[15The issue of solidarity has come back onto the agenda in a wider sense than benefits. The general consensus among family policy stakeholders is that private solidarity works better if supported by public solidarity. The issue of helping family carers has made a forceful entry into the public debate in this respect, firstly at European level through the discussions within COFACE Handicap, then in the carers support coalition Collectif inter associatif de l’aide aux aidants familiaux (CIAAF), and finally in the debates and decisions in the wake of the 2006 Conference on the Family on intergenerational solidarity based on UNAF’s proposals.

[16Tax incentives in France have little impact on fertility (Problèmes économiques, 2005).

[17Danish researcher Gosta Esping-Andersen (2008) argues that this is economically a good move : women’s labour force participation, achieved through sound reconciliation of family and work times through appropriate childcare provision is a guarantee of economic growth and reduced family poverty.

[18On which, see the discussions at the 2005 Conference on the Family chaired by Hubert Brin, on demographic challenges and supporting families’ desired fertility, especially Michèle Tabarot’s recommendations to that effect in his report on expanding childcare provision submitted to the Prime Minister in July 2008. These recommendations were taken up by the President of the Republic in his speech at the Elysee Palace on 13 February 2009.

[19This lone parent tax benefit was reformed in early 2009. From 2010, claimants will have to prove that they raised one child alone for at least five years to qualify.

[20In particular in the Confederation of Family Organizations in the European Union (COFACE), http://www.coface-eu.org/fr/basic435.html

[22Proposal of 13 March 2006, http://www.unaf.fr/spip.php?article3308

[23Not least CREDOC’s annual survey “Aspirations des français” (what French people want)

[24Address by Nadine Morano, Secretary of State in charge of the family, to the UDAF Presidents’ Day in Evreux, 26 April 2008.

[25Given that access to facilities is not universal at present : some nurseries for example give priority to children with two working parents.

[26Equal Opportunities Act (2006), Prevention of Crime Act (2007), Welfare of Children Act (2007), Guardianship of Adults (Reform) Act (2007), etc. ...

[27Loi No. 2007-297 du 5 mars 2007 relative à la prévention de la délinquance (Crime Prevention Act)
http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000615568&dateTexte =

[28These issues are addressed in Séraphin, 2010.

[29Given that biology itself is the basis for the institution of parenthood : the mother and the woman who gives birth (this is not, therefore, a genetic but a biological dimension), other than in the exceptional case of adoption which is equated to the mother having given birth and the father is deemed within marriage to be the only sexual “partner” of the birth mother ...

[30Albeit an immigration bill proposing to make genetic testing the standard procedure for establishing the parentage of foreign nationals applying for family reunification ran directly counter to this custom and the spirit of French law (Leneveu, 2007 ).

[31The bill has undergone considerable amendment.. In June 2009, the word “status” no longer appears, only the “right” of step-parents is referred to.

[32Associations familiales protestantes, Confédération nationale des associations familiales catholiques, Confédération nationale des associations familiales laïques, Confédération syndicale des familles, Famille de France, Familles rurales, Union des familles laïques

[33The services developed by UDAF (adult protection, benefit supervision, housing assistance, budgeting assistance, literacy skills services, help for foreign families, etc.) give the family institution a good grasp of the situation of these families. This makes the service a tool that helps to provide more complete and diversified representation.

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