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Extending Opportunities

How Active Social Policy Can Benefit Us All

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Social policy is often disparaged as being a burden on society, but this book shows that well-designed social protection can be an asset that is critical for sustaining social development.  To fulfill its potential, however, social protection now needs to recognise new needs of individuals and families, and new constraints on their functioning.  Successful programmes will require new means to attain their goals, to leverage the initiatives of a broad range of actors, and to involve clients at every stage in the design and delivery of programmes.

In examining these questions, this fact-filled report stresses the importance of shifting the focus of social programmes from insuring individuals against a few, well-defined contingencies towards investing in their capabilities and making use of them to the best of their potential at every stage of the life course.  It also underscores the importance of broadening the roles played by individuals, employers and trade unions, as well as profit and not-for-profit providers of social services.

The book opens with a comprehensive assessment of the situation in OECD countries, comparing levels of poverty, social isolation, and social spending and indicators such as fertility rates, divorce rates, and distribution of household types (single, single parents, couples without children, couples with children).  In Part II of the book, issues relating to families and children are explored, with interesting data provided on gender gaps in employment and earnings, time spent by men and women on child care, maternity and parental leave, and family poverty.  The third part of the book examines poverty among prime-aged persons and includes extensive information on social assistance and disability.  The final part of the book examines social issues faced by older people and includes interesting information on employment of older people, effective ages of retirement in different countries, training of older employees, pensions, and long-term care.

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Giving Children and Parents a Brighter Future

Investing in children has high pay-offs, both for the children themselves and for society in general. Children who grow up in disadvantaged households are more likely to have difficulty in school, to struggle to find jobs, to be unemployed, sick and disabled when adults. They are also more likely to be parents of poor children themselves, threatening an ongoing cycle of deprivation. Yet, for all the talk of investing in the next generation, social expenditure on children and families ¨C leaving aside education ¨C is dwarfed by other types of interventions, in particular towards the elderly. Low levels of social spending have remained possible because the family is still the best means of providing for children¡¯s needs and care ¨C but family structures are changing, and policy needs to change too. Furthermore, existing policies are already failing to prevent higher poverty among children in some countries, lower fertility rates in most of them, and a persistent gap in the division of paid and unpaid work between men and women. Active social policies towards families with children pay greater attention to ensuring adequate investment in the development of children, sharing part of the associated costs more broadly, and allowing parents to better reconcile work and family responsibilities. As current trends unfold, the need for active social policies towards families with children will increase, but so will the pay-off for adopting such policies. These policies hold the promise of helping adults overcome obstacles to have more children while giving mothers the support they need to remain in the labour market if they wish, thereby offsetting some of the anticipated effects of population ageing. They also help give children the best possible start in life, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of self-reliance and lifelong learning that prepares them for the greater demands of the future and averts the threat of a cycle of poverty and disadvantage. Achieving these results requires policies aimed at:

¡ñ Investing in children.

¡ñ Boosting maternal employment.

¡ñ Reconciling work and family responsibilities.

¡ñ Creating a framework that supports parents¡¯ fertility decisions.

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