NEW YORK, 19 July 2019 – Businesses and governments urgently need to invest in families to reduce poverty and lay the foundation for children’s healthy development and adults’ success at work, UNICEF said today in a new policy brief outlining the latest evidence and new recommendations on family-friendly policies.
Family-Friendly Policies: Redesigning the Workplace of the Future notes that policies such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks, child benefits, and affordable, accessible and quality childcare are not yet available for the majority of parents worldwide.
“There is no other time more critical to children’s lives than their earliest years,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Which is why we need a transformative shift in how businesses and governments invest in policies and practices that not only support healthy brain development, but also strengthen the bond between parents and their children – and reap huge economic and social benefits in return.”
The policy brief draws on evidence on the health, educational and economic benefits of family-friendly policies and makes the following four recommendations:
- Paid parental leave: At least six months of paid leave for all parents combined, of which 18 weeks of paid leave should be reserved for mothers. Governments and businesses should strive for up to 12 months of combined paid leave.
Nearly two-thirds of working men and women globally work in the informal sector, affecting their rights to parental leave and support.
In low-and-middle income countries, a one-month increase in paid maternity leave has been found to reduce infant mortality rates by 13 per cent. In high-income countries, each additional week of paid parental leave is associated with a more than 4 per cent lower chance of single mothers living in poverty. Paid parental leave of six months also helps promote exclusive breastfeeding.
Paid parental leave also helps to contribute to lower staff turnover rates, lower recruitment and training costs, and retention of experienced employees. For countries that have had these policies in place for the past several decades, increases in female employment have boosted gross domestic product per capita growth by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent.
- Breastfeeding support: Regular lactation breaks during working hours to accommodate breastfeeding or the expression of breastmilk, and a supportive breastfeeding environment including adequate facilities enable mothers to continue exclusive or complementary breastfeeding after returning to work.
The latest available data shows only 40 per cent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed as recommended. The workplace represents a substantial barrier to breastfeeding, with around 16 per cent of workplaces without any statutory requirements to support it.
Breastfeeding contributes to lower rates of acute infant and chronic child illness as well as improved cognitive and educational outcomes. Maternal health benefits include lower rates of postnatal depression, improved physical health and a reduction in the lifetime risk of breast cancer. Optimal breastfeeding practices produce societal benefits through an estimated $35 to $1 return on investment.
- Universal childcare: Universal access to affordable, quality childcare from the end of parental leave until a child’s entry into the first grade of school, including before- and after-care for young children and pre-primary programmes.
Children who receive quality and nurturing early childcare are healthier, learn better and stay in school longer, and have higher earnings as adults. Childcare provisions – which are critical for women’s empowerment – enable parents to meet their work obligations and aspirations as well as be parents at home.
- Child benefits: Expand coverage of cash benefits for all children, starting with the youngest children and working toward universal coverage. Child benefits should be part of all countries’ social protection system for young children.
A recent analysis indicated that only 1 in 3 households globally receive child/family cash benefits, varying from 88 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, to 28 per cent in Asia and the Pacific and 16 per cent in Africa. Meaning that the majority of children in the poorest countries, living in the poorest households, do not yet benefit from cash benefits to support their development.
“The gains of family-friendly policies far outweigh the cost of implementation: improved health outcomes, reductions in poverty, increased business productivity, and economic growth,” said Fore. “Investing in our families is smart social policy, but it’s smart economic policy as well.”
Notes to Editors:
This policy brief is being launched at a summit of business leaders, policy-makers, civil society and UN agencies today at the United Nations in New York.