Lessons from Abroad: Human Services in Three Countries
Carpenter-Nwanyanwu, Ben, Policy & Practice
As our nation faces tough economic times, the strain on health and human service systems continues to grow. Like the United States, there are a number of countries experiencing the same problem. However, there are some countries that continue to maintain a good balance for delivering and paying for services while we're in a global recession.
The economy plays a major role in how health and human service agencies function and operate. As demand continues to increase and supply dwindles, many health and human service leaders are left with the tough decision to determine if quality and quantity of care can together be easily achieved at this time.
Exploring alternative methods for financing and delivering services from our global partners are steps that domestic health and human service leaders and policymakers can implement prior to developing reforms to help improve policies and services for those in need. It is possible to examine the unique approaches that foreign governments have adopted to improve their nation's economy and overall well-being for children and families. For example two progressive nations, France and Australia, are similarly industrialized and comparable to the United States in many ways.
Before examining systems and governance abroad, it is important to note first that this comes with some limitations, particularly since they are distinctly different than those in the United States. However, because France and Australia have similar systems, we can take a retrospective look at how these countries are financing and delivering quality services to mass populations while facing a global recession. For instance, despite these harsh economic times, France's health and human services are viewed as one of the world's premiere service systems; however, this is done at a greater cost to taxpayers. Australia uses an income tax structure similar to the United States, yet the country offers more services and benefits that are slightly different for those living in poverty. Given the state of the global economy, the emphasis on human services is rather contentious, prompting many people to question how these countries continue to thrive. So, let's take a look into what France and Australia have done in the past and are currently doing today.
THE FRENCH MODEL HIGH-QUALITY AND HIGH-QUANTITY SERVICES, AT A HIGH COST
France has a unique system. Rooted in the German framework for health and human services, France regards services for the poor as a top priority. (1) France now spends more than 30 percent of its total gross domestic product (GDP) on social welfare services. (2) The French model prioritizes human capital as the means by which the country will continue to advance. The French Allocations Familiales provide a stipend to "every French citizen or foreign national residing in France, having one or several dependent children residing in France." (3) Currently, this program provides an average of [euro]399 ($502 USD) per month for a family with one dependent child. (4) France's program is also subject to increases based on various special programs such as back to school payments, moving allowances, and housing allowances. (5) Furthermore, there are additional means-tested benefits available that potentially include school allowances and vouchers helping low-income families reduce the cost of vacation camps.
Many young, middle-class French women have addressed economic pressures by postponing child bearing until their late 20s, leading to a relatively low Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for the country. In the early 2000s, France's TFR was 1.8 (significantly lower than the population replacement figure of 2.1). (6) Some countries have adopted the notion that low TRFs place significant strain on nations because decreasing populations mean a decrease in labor supply and taxable population. Witnessing the implications of low TFRs in many of their neighboring counties prompted France to take measures to bring their TFR to a higher leve1. …