9 February 2021

Freeing women's energies: how the French model of care works

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Among the many proposals that women's groups and associations, such as those gathered in Half of it, are bringing to the attention of the future government and on the table of the Recovery Plan is also a reform of welfare and services in support of female employment - and consequently of the birth rate. Linda Laura Sabbadini often refers to the so-called French model. Here we see in detail what it consists of

(The following is an equal version of a speech I made at the PD National Directorate in 2014: needless to say, it was completely ignored. Perhaps some data should be updated, but the substance does not change. The structure of the French model is what you will see).


Many of the problems in our country stem from the fact that continue to keep relations and care for others on the margins of public space, confining them to the so-called private sphere.

Today, the need for care has grown exponentially and is in its own right a central economic and political issue. It is a demand that is destined to grow further as the average life span increases, the birth rate decreases and the population ages, and women enter the world of productive work. But the risk is that it will grow in the black economy. In the so-called Mediterranean model (Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy) states delegate a lot to women. In these countries women's employment does not grow and neither does the birth rate. This creates a paralysis of the system. One should think about how much these welfare models contribute to the risk of default in these countries.

The lengthening of average life expectancy, with the associated increase in degenerative diseases and non-self-sufficiency, means that the burden is increasingly being added to by the need to reduce the number of people with disabilities. management of the elderly, In Italy, 54% of grandparents are involved in looking after their grandchildren; in France, 4%. But the family cannot cope alone. In fact 2.6 million families have to rely on domestic help or care, at least half of them in the black economy, and spending on average 30% of the family income: there are people who go into debt to support it. In a work-paper three years ago the Bank of Italy defined our domestic help system as unfair and unsustainable.

Let's see how things go elsewhere. In Germany There is a lot of investment in welfare and family-friendly investments, yet paradoxically the birth rate is not growing. In the French model, which instead pursues the well-being of the individual, the birth rate has jumped. More: in Germany we are even at the inhuman export of poor elderly people and the relocation of care to countries, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, where they are cheaper to run. So directing investments to the family is not doing families any good. The truth is that when investing in the family, women are not freed from the burden of care work, and therefore does not work outside the home, and therefore does not have any more children, whereas investment in the person pays off in a very different way. And in fact the French personal services model has resulted in a birth rate increase of up to 2% and has been described by the EU as a model of excellence to refer to.

This is a real reconceptualisation of the issuewhich made it possible to converting the cost to the state into an economic advantage. In other words, care work becomes an economic asset and not an economic burden. The competence in France is entrusted to the central state: therefore, they have been unified in an single entity the spending centres for social services, with organisational improvements and cost reductions of more than 50 per cent. In Italy, on the other hand, INPS, the Regions and the Municipalities are responsible for this: Title V has greatly fragmented the Italian situation, creating large inequalities between regions and also within regions. Furthermore, in France, the management of health and social services has been unbundled.

The other step was the definition of universal personal rights and equality of services. They have been economically covered by fiscal measures that benefit all actors involved, in a win-win logic. This is in fact a benefit for the State, which, by bringing 70% of undeclared work out into the open, enjoys greater tax and social security revenues; it is a benefit for the market, with the creation of jobs, +500,000 jobs and 2,000 new service companies in three years; it is a benefit for workers, who have greater protection; it is a benefit for citizens, because they are guaranteed essential services.

In the French model, projects to support the person are individual and provided on the basis of his or her actual needs and not 'sprinkled', which leads to a further reduction in costs. Women who do not work outside the home also have protection and contributions to support motherhood as a social value and not as a private luxury. For families there is a tax credit, i.e. a tax reduction within the limits of an annual ceiling of € 12,000 for the couple (€ 13,500 for families with a dependent child, € 15,000 with several children, € 20,000 for dependent persons). Below a fixed income threshold (about € 670 per month) recipients do not contribute to the financing of the care package. For all others, a "ticket modérateur"calculated on the basis of the beneficiary's income + that of the spouse or cohabitee. If the monthly income is between € 670 and € 2,750 the contribution is calculated in a progressive form. When the monthly income is higher than € 2,750 a contribution equal to 90% must be paid.

Tax credit for companies offering employee benefits on profits equal to 25% of the aid paid out (within an annual limit of EUR 500,000). The French model should obviously be adapted to the peculiarities of our production structure, with a prevalence of SMEs. The most significant instrument of this system is the cheque emploi service universel (CESU), nominal cheques that citizens withdraw from authorised credit institutions. Cesu is financed by a variety of actors (companies, mutual or social security funds, social bodies, local authorities). The system is rewarding as it grows, with benefits increasing progressively. Another characteristic of the French system is that it guarantees the maximum freedom of choice for people within a plurality of services offered by the market. This is also very important for us, because flexible and intermittent work makes the demand for services very flexible and varied.

How do French citizens spend their cheque? Either by hiring the worker directly, or by using an accredited agency that will act as the employer, or by using intermediation structures that deal with the selection and administrative management of the worker. Personal services, with more than 2 million employees, are the fastest growing sector of the French economy over the last 15 years. The European Union has estimated that the reorganisation and upgrading of the personal services sector could create 7.5 million new jobs. This sector is also growing strongly in Italy, but the increase in demand and the greater difficulties faced by families are leading to an increase in undeclared work, despite the heavy penalties provided for by law.

Today, 3 billion hours of free care work per year are mainly provided by women in Italian households. Putting some of these hours on the market would be an economic and social advantage for all. Emerging from the black economy also means more guarantees on the quality of services. Personal services geared to needs would also take into account the A very Italian vocation for not admitting family members in need of care, a characteristic that must be taken into account: only 7% of Italians would admit their elderly parent to hospital, and most would like to have appropriate home care. A flexible and personalised offer would meet these wishes.

A careful assessment would be needed on whether it would be appropriate to separate pension and assistance management in INPS, with a redefinition of what is pension and what is assistance. This would allow a precise economic assessment. In any case, the perspective with work vouchers would be that of converting the role of the public actor from a monopolist service provider to a programmer and quality controller of the interventions rendered by a plurality of public and private actors.

Finally, the conditions for the Cesu-type service voucher to work - the cost borne by the family in the regular market must be convenient compared to that of the irregular market - companies and institutions must have a convenience, not only fiscal, to co-finance the voucher to offer reconciliation to their employees; the convenience would be in the greater satisfaction of the worker and therefore greater productivity. Moreover, as the voucher is not part of the salary, it is not subject to social security contributions - Personal service providers (workers, service companies, social cooperatives and third sector entities) must benefit from VAT reductions and social security and tax relief.

Banks and insurance companies can also provide vouchers to their customers as a promotional tool. It is also necessary that tax deductions are admissible, even if modulated, up to high levels of family income, involving with tax reductions the majority of families and not only those with low incomes (in France 3 out of 4 families use the voucher system). Vouchers are non-transferable and can only be used by the holder. If they are not actually used, they are reimbursed to the organisations that bought them, which leads to further savings for the public.

The French project is in progress, and is constantly being adjusted through follow-ups. Among the checks are those concerning the retraining of workers.

Marina Terragni


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