Social protection statistics - family and children benefits
Data extracted in November 2016
Planned article update: November 2019
In 2013, the EU as a whole spent €315 768 million on family/children benefits, amounting to 2.3% of GDP.
EU expenditure on family/children benefits rose by 33.5 % between 2000 and 2013, despite a decline of more than 7 % in the number of children.
Expenditure on family/children benefits, 2013
Social protection benefits are transfers, in cash or in kind, made to relieve households and individuals of the burden of one or more social risks or needs. This article presents statistics on social protection benefits intended to address the risks and needs associated with family and children. The data are collected annually through the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS).
Family/children expenditure in 2013
In 2013, the EU-28 as a whole spent 315 768 million EUR on family/children benefits, amounting to 2.3% of GDP. The level of spending varied between Member States, ranging from more than 3.5% of GDP in Denmark and Luxembourg to around 1% in the Netherlands (see Figure 1). Similar variations apply in non-EU countries (IS, NO, CH, RS and TR), with the amounts spent ranging from 3.0 % of GDP in Norway to 1.2 % in Serbia.
Expenditure on family/children benefits at EU level amounted to 8.4 % of expenditure on social benefits. The relative significance of family/children benefits varied between Member States, accounting for more than 12 % of total expenditure on social benefits in Luxembourg, Ireland and Hungary, but less than 5 % in Portugal, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands (see Figure 2). Similarly, in non-EU countries the share of family/children benefits ranged from 12.4 % in Norway to 3.2 % in Turkey.
However, the proportion of social benefit expenditure allocated to family/children benefits does not necessarily provide a particularly useful basis for comparison between countries because it is impacted by the amounts spent on all other functions, which are in turn affected by a vast array of economic, demographic and social factors. For example, expenditure on unemployment related benefits is linked to the state of the labour market, while expenditure on old age pensions is linked to the age structure of the population. In the case of family/children benefits, there is liable to be some link with fertility rates and the relative size of the youth population.
A more meaningful comparison of expenditure on family/children benefits may therefore be to consider expenditure per child (i.e. per resident aged under 18). The comparison is made in purchasing power standard (PPS) to eliminate price differentials (see Figure 3).
Expenditure on family/children benefits in 2013 amounted to just over 3 314 PPS per child at EU level, but varied considerably across countries. The amount spent was exceptionally high in the case of Luxembourg (over 11 000 PPS per child) where high amounts are spent on non means-tested family-related benefits. However, this figure is likely to significantly overestimate the true level of expenditure per child as a large portion (over a quarter) of these benefits are provided to non-residents. Elsewhere in the EU, amounts spent in 2013 ranged from more than 6 597 PPS per child in Germany to 924 PPS per child in Romania. Meanwhile, among non-EU countries the figures ranged from 6 328 PPS in Norway to just 211 PPS in Turkey.
In making this comparison, users need to be aware that the figures for some countries may be overstated because the expenditure includes amounts paid out in respect of dependent children aged 18 or over and relatives other than children.
Some methodological issues that need to be taken into account when comparing data on family/children benefits between countries include:
- Supplements: benefits recorded in other functions of social protection may include supplements for dependent children. In principle, such supplements should be split off and reported separately but this is often difficult in practice so the supplements are instead reported along with the main benefit and therefore in the relevant function. For example, a range of periodic cash benefits related to disability, old age, survivors and unemployment may include supplements for dependent children that are not reported in the expenditure of the family/children function. As a result, countries that implement a universally available family/children allowance and do not use supplements may appear to have a higher expenditure than countries which implement a more restricted family/allowance and rely on generous supplements to top up the income of families confronted by other risks/needs.
- Note that supplements related to housing represent an exception in that they are, by convention, always recorded in the housing function of ESSPROS, irrespective of the type of benefit to which they relate. Housing supplements to family/child allowances are therefore not included in the expenditure on family/children benefits.
- Benefits provided through the fiscal system: with the exception of payable tax credits, family/children benefits provided through the fiscal system are not taken into account in the data. For example, non-payable tax credits and higher tax free allowances provided to those with dependants may reduce taxes paid by recipients but are not taken into account in the expenditure recorded by the ESSPROS core system.
Family/children expenditure between 2000 and 2013
EU expenditure on family/children benefits (in constant prices) rose by 33.5 % between 2000 and 2013 (see Figure 4), despite a decline of more than 7 % in the numbers of children (people aged under 18) in the population. The increase in family/children expenditure is slightly above that for all social benefits over the same period (32.0 %). Expenditure on family/children as a share of GDP rose from 2.0 % in 2000 to 2.3 % in 2013.
The increase in expenditure on family/children benefits was underpinned by increases in all Member States for which data are available except the Netherlands. In fact, increases of more than 50 % over the period 2000 to 2013 were observed in eleven Member States– the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
EU expenditure on family/children benefits rose progressively every year between 2000 and 2010, increasing 34.9 % during the period. Indeed, the continued rise remained unabated even when EU level GDP in constant prices declined 4.5 % between 2008 and 2009 as the economic crisis hit. Subsequently, between 2010 and 2013, expenditure on family/children benefits has remained more or less constant as the EU has seen no substantial growth in real GDP.
Composition of family/children expenditure
Distribution by type of benefit
Just under two thirds (64.8 %) of expenditure on family/children benefits at EU level were disbursed in the form of periodic cash benefits, a third (33.0 %) as benefits in kind and just 2.2 % as lump-sum cash benefits (see Figure 5).
Periodic cash benefits constituted the majority of expenditure on family/children benefits in all but five of the EU Member States – Denmark, Spain, Poland, Finland and Sweden – where benefits in kind were more important. Lump-sum benefits accounted for less than 5 % of expenditure on family/children benefits in all but three countries – Greece (25.1 %), Cyprus (24.2 %) and France (7.9 %). In Cyprus, for example, over 90 % of the lump-sum payments relate to financial assistance for families with limited resources whose children are in education.
Among non-EU countries, periodic cash benefits were the main component of expenditure on family/children benefits in Switzerland, Serbia and Turkey, while benefits in kind were most prominent in Iceland and Norway. Serbia was the only case in which lump-sum benefits accounted for more than 5 % of expenditure on family/children benefits (13.2 %).
Distribution by detailed benefit type
Considering expenditure at the level of the detailed benefit classifications provides further insight into the composition of the expenditure on family/children benefits (see Figure 6).
ESSPROS distinguishes four types of periodic cash benefits: (1) Income maintenance benefit in the event of childbirth, (2) Parental leave benefit, (3) Family or child allowance and (4) Other cash benefits. Family or child allowances are by far the most important type, accounting for almost half (48.4 %) of expenditure on family/children benefits, thus explaining why periodic cash benefits are the most important form of disbursement. Indeed, family or child allowances are the most important type of benefit in all but 4 of the 23 countries where periodic cash benefits exceed 50 % of expenditure on family/children benefits.
Similarly, ESSPROS distinguishes four types of benefit in kind: (1) Child day care, (2) Accommodation, (3) Home help and (4) Other benefits in kind. Child day care, which accounts for 17.5 % of expenditure, is the most important type of benefit in kind and the second most important family/children benefit after family or child allowances. Child day care accounts for the largest portion of expenditure on family/children benefits in all five of the EU countries in which benefits in kind were the largest contributor to spending on family/children benefits (Denmark, Spain, Poland, Finland and Sweden). Other benefits in kind are also relatively important, accounting for just under 10 % of expenditure on family/children benefits.
Lastly, lump-sum cash benefits can be broken down into three detailed benefit types (1) Birth grant, (2) Parental leave benefit and (3) Other cash benefits. None of these are particularly significant in terms of expenditure on family/children benefits as they all account for less than 2 % of expenditure.
Distribution by application of means-testing
At EU level just under a quarter of the expenditure on family/children benefits is associated with means-tested benefits but there is considerable variation between Member States (see Figure 7). There are no means-tested benefits in Estonia, Luxembourg or Sweden, while in Portugal just over three quarters (76.3 %) of family/children expenditure is means-tested. There is even wider variation among non-EU countries, with 88.9 % of family/children benefits subject to means-testing in Turkey compared to just 3.7 % in Norway.
Composition of family/children expenditure between 2000 and 2013
Distribution by type of benefit
At EU level, expenditure on family/children benefits at market prices increased for all forms of disbursement over the 2000-2013 period (see Figure 8). However, when measured in constant prices, expenditure rose for periodic cash benefits (21.0 %) and benefits in kind (72.8 %), but declined slightly for lump-sum cash benefits (-2.8 %).
This meant that the contribution of benefits in kind rose over the period (from 25.5 % to 33.0 %) while the contribution of periodic cash benefits and lump-sum cash benefits declined (from 71.5 % to 64.8 % and from 3.0 % to 2.2 % respectively). In fact, the increased expenditure on benefits in kind accounted for 55 % of the rise in family/children benefits between 2000 and 2013.
Note that expenditure on lump-sum cash benefits did not follow the overall trend, with clear rises and falls over the period. This is because the amounts concerned are relatively small and significant changes at EU level can arise in response to changes in benefits in particular Member States. For example, the rise between 2003 and 2004 and the subsequent fall in 2006 are primarily driven by changes in expenditure in France – first an increase in expenditure on birth grants and other lump-sum benefits followed by a decline in expenditure on other lump-sum benefits. Similarly, the rise between 2006 and 2009 and subsequent fall between 2009 and 2011 are primarily driven by changes in expenditure on birth grants in Spain.
Distribution by detailed benefit type
Expenditure at EU level increased between 2000 and 2013 for all detailed types of family/children benefits except for lump-sum parental leave (-79.0 %), home help (-63.6 %) and other lump-sum benefits (-9.0 %). In the case of the former it is important to note that periodic parental leave benefits increased by 15 % over the same period, more than compensating for the decline in expenditure on the lump-sum counterpart (see Table 1). This is probably linked to the promotion of family-friendly policies and the general trend to allow longer periods of parental leave, which may be more effectively supported through periodic rather than lump-sum payments.
The overall increase in expenditure on family/children benefits between 2000 and 2013 was primarily driven by increases in family/child allowance, child day care, accommodation and other benefits in kind with family/child allowance and child day care making the largest contributions.
The rise in expenditure on child day care is not unexpected since European employment policy has strongly emphasised the importance of affordable childcare in allowing both parents to work (if they want to) while raising children. Indeed, expenditure on child day care grew in all countries for which data are available except the Czech Republic, Denmark and the United Kingdom. In Denmark, expenditure rose in absolute terms at market prices but declined slightly when expressed in constant prices.
Distribution by application of means-testing
Between 2000 and 2013, EU level expenditure on non means-tested family/children benefits rose by 42.8 %, while expenditure on means-tested benefits increased by 9.8 % (see Figure 9). Consequently, the contribution of non means-tested benefits to total expenditure in the function rose from 71.8 % to 76.8 %, while that of means-tested benefits fell from 28.2 % to 23.2 %.
However, this long-term trend hides the fact that since 2011, there have been modest increases in means-tested benefits and similar declines for non means-tested benefits. This potentially reflects the introduction of policies tightening conditionality on family/children benefits in order to reduce government spending in response to the sovereign debt crisis.
Source data for tables and graphs
Data sources and availability
All data presented in this article are from the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS), specifically the core system. These data are collected from national statistical institutes and/or ministries of social affairs in each country and are generally compiled from administrative sources.
Regulation 0458/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council provides the legal basis for the collection of this data and a series of Commission Regulations provide further specifications for the implementation of this Regulation.
The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth sets targets to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion and to increase employment of the population aged 20–64 to 75 %.
The organisation and financing of social protection systems is the responsibility of each of the EU Member States. Nevertheless, the European Commission provides support to help reach these targets through flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, including the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion and the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs. Furthermore the European Commission provides guidance to EU Member States to modernise their welfare systems through the Social Investment Package.
- Social protection statistics
- Social protection statistics - background
- Social protection statistics - financing
- Social protection statistics
- Social protection statistics - net expenditure on benefits
- Social protection statistics - pension expenditure and pension beneficiaries
- Social protection statistics - social benefits
- Social protection, see:
- Social protection expenditure (spr_expend)
- Social protection receipts (spr_receipts)
- Pensions beneficiaries (spr_pension)
- Net social protection benefits (spr_net_ben)
- News release on social protection released on 21 December 2016: 28.7 % of EU GDP spent on social protection
- Statistics in focus 14/2012 - In 2009, a 6.5 % rise in per capita social protection expenditure matched a 6.1 % drop in EU GDP
- European social statistics - Social protection expenditure and receipts — Data 1997-2005
- European system of integrated social protection statistics — ESSPROS
- Social protection methodology
- Social protection (ESMS metadata file — spr_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 458/2007 of 25 April 2007 on the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS).
- Regulation (EC No 110/2011 8 February 2011 implementing Regulation (EC) No 458/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS) as regards the appropriate formats for the transmission of data, the results to be transmitted and the criteria for measuring quality for the ESSPROS module on net social protection benefits text with EEA relevance.
- Regulation (EC) No 263/2011 of 17 March 2011 concerning the launch of full data collection for the ESSPROS module on net social protection benefits.
- Generally, education related expenditure is outside the scope ESSPROS. However, benefits provided exclusively to indigent families after a means-test may be included in the family/children function on the basis that the objective is to redistribute income in favour of people with insufficient resources rather than to provide free access to education.
- Generally, “home help” can include assistance to support relatives other than children. However, “home help” reported in the family/children function is limited to support for “children”. “Home help” targeting old people and disabled is reported under “assistance in carrying out daily tasks” in the Old age and Disability functions.