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Extending Opportunities How Active Social Policy Can Benefit Us All: Giving Children and Parents a Brighter Future

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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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Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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