Austria

   

Social Policies

#18
Key Findings
Austria’s social policies show significant strengths and weaknesses, placing it in the upper-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 18). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The influx of refugees in recent years has introduced major stresses into Austria’s policies and politics. Asylum rules have been tightened, and though many refugees have left, xenophobic sentiments remain prominent. Integration of migrants and refugees is proving difficult, with schools in particular failing to produce acceptable outcomes for children who lack German as a first language.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for generally good coverage and outcomes across the country, although the decentralized system is producing federal-state policy tensions. Some regions have introduced new fees for previously free child-care centers. Moreover, insufficient supply combined with the design of family-support policies often leave mothers with child-care duties.

Inequality and social divides have deepened, hampering growth. Despite some improvements in teacher-training standards, school reforms have been blocked on the left and the right. The share of women in Parliament improved following the most recent elections, and the courts have legalized same-sex marriage as of 2019.

Education

#25

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
6
The Austrian educational system still does not perform to its potential. Considering Austria’s economic position, the country should have a significantly higher number of university graduates. The reason for this underperformance is seen by research institutions and experts such as the OECD to lie with the early division of children into multiple educational tracks, which takes place after the fourth grade. Despite the fact that there has been some improvement and partly as a result of the increasing role of the “Fachhochulen” (universities of applied science, polytechnics), the Austrian educational system still is highly socially selective. Parents’ social (and educational) status is reflected in students’ ability to access higher education, more so than in comparable countries. Last year, a citizens’ initiative called on parliament to correct this negative process of selection. However, the initiative failed to drive significant reform, at least in the short term. This state of affairs violates the concept of social justice and time fails to exploit the population’s talents to the fullest.

A particular challenge is the significant number of children of first-generation immigrants who don’t have German as their mother tongue. The Austrian educational system has not fully succeeded in guaranteeing that immigrant children after nine years of schooling are able to read and write German fluently. As for reading and writing, deficits are not only a problem in immigrant communities, it is obvious that the system’s underperformance is not only the result of migration.

The hesitancy to engage in reform results in part from the considerable veto power held by specific groups, including the teachers’ union, the Austrian conservative party (ÖVP) and its new potential coalition partner (the right-wing FPÖ). The teachers’ union appears to be first and foremost interested in defending the special status of high schools and their teachers, and appears worried that this status will be lost if the two-tier organization of schools is changed. The parties on the political right tend to define any structural change that would open up higher education for the children of (culturally, socially, economically) less-privileged families as an agenda of the political left.

Recent reforms of teacher training aim at improving the first three (undergraduate) years of teachers’ training. In the medium term, this will result in better-trained teachers for primary and secondary schools, the “Hauptschulen” in particular. The renaming of the Hauptschulen to “Neue Mittelschulen” (new middle schools), meant to encourage the integration of teachers from different systems, has not delivered on expectations. In 2016 – 2017, new reforms concerning full-time schooling and improved competencies for school directors are being introduced, which appears promising.

The sensitive issue of integrating children who arrived in Austria between 2015 and 2016 has forced the federal government to talk about introducing (widening) the obligation to send children to pre-school education (“Kindergarten”) to prepare them for school.

The Austrian dual system of vocational training, involving simultaneous on-the-job training and classroom education, receives better marks. This system is primarily aimed at individuals who want to take up work at the age of 15, but is accessible up to the age of 18.

Access to the Austrian university system is still highly unequal, with children of parents holding tertiary education degrees and/or having higher incomes enjoying better odds of graduating from university. The introduction of access restrictions for specific careers such as medicine in 2005 has increased the odds of children from high-education backgrounds gaining access to these careers.

Citations:
1) Friesinger et al., Zugangsbeschränkungen und Chancen(un)gleichheit im österreichischen Hochschulsystem, AK (131), Juli 2014
2) Zaussinger et al., Studierenden Sozialerhebung 2015, Band 1, IHS, Mai 2016
3) Unger et al., Evaluierung der Aufnahmeverfahren nach § 14h UG 2002, IHS, März 2015
also see: http://gerechtebildung.jetzt

Social Inclusion

#10

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
7
Austria’s society and economy are rather inclusive, at least for those who are Austrian citizens. The Austrian labor market is nevertheless not as open as it could be. For those who are not fully integrated, especially younger, less-educated persons and foreigners (particularly non-EU citizens), times have become harder. The global and European financial crises affected Austria less than most other countries due to effective counter-cyclical policies. Nevertheless, competition within the rather well-protected system of employment has become significantly tougher – even after unemployment started to decline in 2017, as in most EU member states.

Outside the labor market, unequal outcomes within the education system and the remnants of gender inequality perpetuate some problems of inclusiveness. An additional challenge is the situation of migrants, political asylum-seekers and refugees that poured into the country in high numbers during 2015. Austrian society and the political system are facing a very specific cross-pressure: to integrate the newcomers and to defend the prerogatives of Austrian citizens.

Social divides continue to exist along generational, educational, citizenship, and gender cleavages. Moreover, governments at the national, provincial and municipal levels have shown a decreasing ability to counter these trends, as their policy flexibility has been undermined by debt and low revenues. Income inequality has persistently risen in recent years, with the richest quintile growing always richer and the poorest quintile growing poorer. The income differential between men and women is also widening: Correcting for part-time work, women earn around 13% less than men. The number of people living in poverty has remained stable in 2017. Amongst others, families with three or more children are vulnerable to poverty or material deprivation.

According to recent OECD data, the distribution of wealth in Austria has grown increasingly more unequal in recent years. According to the OECD, efforts for fiscal consolidation after the crisis have contributed to an ever-more unequal distribution of wealth, resulting in a dire outlook for balanced future economic growth.

During the period under review, the prospect of gender quotas for management positions in the business sector was debated. Advocates of the idea argued it would help women access the most attractive and best-paid positions in the economy. One specific aspect of gender inequality that has changed following the October 2017 parliamentary elections, the percentage of women in the National Council has never been as high.

Citations:
Poverty rates: http://www.armutskonferenz.at/armut-in-oesterreich/aktuelle-armuts-und-verteilungszahlen.html

Health

#17

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
7
The Austrian health care system is based on several pillars. Public health insurance covers most persons living legally in Austria, while a competitive private health-insurance industry offers additional benefits. However, major inequalities in health care have arisen, particularly between those able to afford additional private insurance and those who cannot.

The public insurance system differs in some respects – sometimes considerably – between different professional groups. The various public insurance organizations work under the umbrella of the Association of Austrian Social Insurance Institutions (Hauptverband der Sozialversicherungsträger).

A second complexity in the system is produced by the division of responsibilities between the federal and state governments. Public health care insurance is based on federal laws, but the hospitals are funded by the states. This state-level responsibility affects both publicly owned and privately owned hospitals. The ongoing conflict between the policy intentions of the federal government and state governments about the responsibility for health care provision is a permanent topic of Austrian politics and draws attention to the demographic changes’ impact on the health care system.

The complex structure of the Austrian health care system is in part responsible for the rise in costs. However, in recent years, cooperation between the insurance-providers’ federation, the Federal Ministry of Health, and individual states seems to have succeeded in arresting the explosive rise in health care costs.

The development of the health care environment in Austria has echoed overall EU trends. Life expectancy is rising, with the effect that some costs, especially those linked to elderly care, are also going up. This implies ongoing debates but the principle of public health care is still undisputed.

The political conflict rooted in the deconcentration of the system could become more significant. Regional and local interests are not always satisfied with the policies of the federal government, while the federal structure of Austria’s political system makes it necessary to find a broad consensus. Some observers argue that there are too many veto players in the Austrian health care system. This may become even more significant as some state governments are controlled by parties that oppose the new federal coalition government.

Citations:
Report of the Austrian Audit Court dating 12-2015: http://www.rechnungshof.gv.at/berichte/ansicht/detail/medizinische-fakultaet-linz-planung.html

Families

#19

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
7
Both the Austrian government and mainstream public opinion accepts that the model of a traditional nuclear family, defined by stable and clearly divided gender roles, cannot be seen as the reality for all families in the second decade of the 21st century. Access for married women to the labor market is not seriously disputed. Nevertheless, the provision of childcare is still overwhelmingly left to families themselves, which de facto means that primary responsibility is left to mothers. Public child care centers exist, but despite some recent improvements, fail to satisfy demand. Child care facilities for children aged zero to one are often lacking outside the capital Vienna, while facilities for children aged two to five often do not manage to serve working parents’ needs. Thus, the disproportionate burden borne by women within Austrian families is seen as an aspect of de facto gender discrimination. Also, Austrian welfare transfers for mothers are designed in a way that keeps mothers out of the labor market, an outcome that stands in stark contrast to those associated with policies promoting allowances in kind. In numerous cases, legal provisions for the protection of parents, such as job protection for parents switching to part-time work, are not respected by employers.

In some regional states, such as Upper Austria, there has been a backward trend, introducing fees for childcare centers, which had previously been free of charge.

In fall 2017, the Austrian Constitutional Court decided that the institution of marriage (as it is understood in the Austrian legal system) cannot be limited to marriage between a woman and a man. This has been a breakthrough decision similar to developments in other countries. Despite highly emotional debates in the past, the more conservative side of the Austrian public (including the Roman Catholic Church) has accepted this decision without much of protest. Activists from different NGOs have welcomed this decision as an end to the legal discrimination of same-sex partnerships.

“Family” is still a highly ideological term in Austria. But despite contradicting positions (conservative insistence on a traditional mother-father-child family and progressive ideas of deconstructing gender barriers), the Austrian political system remains able to implement compromises which are flexible enough to adapt to new social developments and challenges. “Patch-work” families have become more socially (and politically) accepted.

Citations:
For data on child-care supply in Austrian regional states see Agenda Austria, Das Angebot ganztägiger Kinderbetreuung unterscheidet sich je nach Bundesland deutlich: https://www.agenda-austria.at/grafik-der-woche-kinderbetreuung-und-vollzeitarbeit/

Pensions

#23

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
6
Austria’s pension system is still considered to be reliable and secure. However, the system’s ability to respond to demographic changes is open to question. The population is aging and the birth rate of Austrian-born citizens is declining, yet the logical response – prolonging the period a person has to work before being entitled to a pension – is politically difficult to implement. Austrians still retire early by international comparison; nevertheless, some progress has been made in terms of increasing the effective retirement age in the last years.

Thus, while the pension system itself is still considered stable, more efficient responses to the coming demographic changes must be found. Longer life expectancies have not completely found an equivalent in longer periods of working. This represents a significant burden for future generations, as pension expenditures consume a significant amount of government resources, to the disadvantage of the younger generations. According to recent calculations by the Austrian audit court, pension payments consume almost 50% of net state tax income. In comparison, state expenditures for schools and universities (primary, secondary and tertiary education) are lagging behind. The system therefore largely fails to achieve the objective of intergenerational equity.

The different interests behind the different positions remain the same: Employers and right-of-center parties argue that without a significant increase in the statutory pension age, the outlook for the next generation is dire; labor unions and left-of-center parties argue that individuals who have worked hard for decades should be guaranteed the best-possible quality of life in their later years and without having to work significantly longer. Austria is partially stuck in a situation where the elderly – indirectly, as they constitute the relative majority of voters due to demographics – block significant reforms of the pension system in the country. No government will go against that voting block without significant protests from the youth.

Debates concerning the pension system are cross-cutting and sensitive: the majority of migrant families have a relatively high fertility rate, the inter-generational conflict is linked to an (at least potentially significant) ethnic conflict and public employees in some cases have a different (usually better) pension system. The pension debates also touch on the conflict between employees in the more secure public sectors and employees outside that system.

Integration

#26

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
6
When in the fall of 2015 a comparatively high number of refugees and/or migrants came to Austria, for a brief period society’s response seemed to go into the direction of a “welcoming culture”. Recent reforms pointed in the same direction. But this more liberal approach ended in 2016 when the dominant Austrian attitude became increasingly closed. Despite some remarkable efforts, the Austrian approach to integration continues to be deficient in two key ways. First, there is still too little formal recognition that Austria is a country that has been and will continue to be defined by immigration. Though not a feature of official government policy, the slogan “Austria is not a country of immigration” continues to be invoked by parties such as the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Second, and compared to other EU member states, acquiring citizenship in Austria is still difficult for non-nationals (despite some prominent figures such as opera performers, athletes, and billionaires).

These shortcomings are reflected in education outcomes. Education in urban areas has to deal with the challenge posed by the children of first-generation migrants, in school systems with constrained resources. This means that children from migrant families find it more difficult to qualify for higher education and are often stuck in the lowest types of school. This also heavily nourishes discontent of “native” Austrian parents with children in such schools, where successful educational outcomes are increasingly difficult to realize. Special support policies for such children have recently been put in place, but it remains to be seen how successful these policies will be in the short to medium term.

With respect to the labor market more broadly, the Austrian government is only halfheartedly welcoming employees newly arriving from foreign countries. Its policies (including the “red-white-red card”) are neither well received by economic actors nor are they succeeding in attracting highly skilled professionals. The indirect, undeclared alliance between organized labor (which defends the short-term interests of union-protected laborers, and is usually linked politically to the left) and the far right (which exploits xenophobic resentments, especially in the case of the Freedom Party) creates a political climate that sometimes breaks into open hostility, particularly against migrants coming from Muslim countries. This alliance between right-wing populism and organized labor is still an obstacle to the development of a more distinct integration policy.

While many refugees and migrants who came to Austria in quite significant numbers in 2015/2016 traveled on to countries such as Germany and Sweden, many others remained in Austria to seek asylum. Despite the fact that many asylum-seekers and refugees have left Austria in the meantime, not always voluntarily, the public discourse is still very much influenced by the “refugee wave”. Xenophobic sentiments are used in political campaigns, especially before the 2017 general elections.

The government has responded to the increase of refugees and migrants by introducing more stringent asylum rules. Asylum is to be granted on a temporary basis only and is to be reviewed after certain periods of time. These legislative measures may function as a disincentive to integrating migrants into Austrian society. However, they have also made the body of laws for aliens more complex. Migration in such amounts has also clearly overburdened the Austrian system and society and made action imperative. A solution to the evident intra-European migration imbalances will be possible only on a European level.

Citations:
New legal provisions: https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/VHG/XXV/ME/ME_00166/index.shtml

Safe Living

#9

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Safe Living Conditions
8
Internal security is comparatively well protected in Austria. The crime rate is volatile, slightly rising in some areas such as criminal assaults, while falling in others such as break-ins and car thefts. Especially internet crime is an increasingly significant problem, and the Austrian police forces are seeking to counteract it through the creation of special task forces. The incidence of economic fraud is also rising due to the growing share of transactions over the Internet.

Police-force budgets and personnel counts have risen over time, an indicator that the police are viewed as the appropriate instrument to provide internal security.

The open borders guaranteed by the European Union and the Schengen agreement have made it easier for organized crime to cross borders, leading some to criticize Austria’s EU membership status. And although some parties (e.g., the FPÖ) do so for political purposes, the data shows that, despite recent increases concerning burglaries and car theft, there is no significant increase in crime.

Unfortunately, these facts are not depicted in the way the situation is presented in the Austrian tabloid press, which sometimes suggests (also for political reasons) that Austria has become a very insecure country. Therefore, analysts distinguish between “objective” security, which is – based on data – still rather high in Austria and “subjective” security – how internal security is perceived by society. The existing gap between the two aspects is an invitation for political campaigns arguing for ever more “law and order” policies, irrespective of the objective situation.

Citations:
Stats from the interior ministry: http://bundeskriminalamt.at/501/files/BroschuereSicherheit_2016.pdf

Global Inequalities

#22

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
5
Austria often gives rhetorical support to agendas seeking to improve the global social balance. However, when it comes to actions such as spending public money to improve development in poor countries, Austria is often slow to fulfill its promises.

Austria’s role in the European attempt to control mass migration is overshadowed by the multifaceted phenomenon of migration. To distinguish between political asylum-seekers, war refugees and economic migrants (as would be, according to the legal norms, necessary), the general political tendency is to put all migrants in one basket. Austria’s role in closing the land route to the European Union (“Balkan Route”) has been seen (and promoted) only from the viewpoint of an immediate Austrian national interest – not as an all-European or global matter. The significance of global inequalities as the main reason for mass migration is mentioned usually only as a rhetorical ritual.

As an EU member state, Austria’s position concerning tariffs and imports is defined by the European Union’s position. This body also represents Austria in the World Trade Organization. To prevent certain agricultural products from entering the Austrian market, the Austrian media and political parties (including agricultural interest groups) use environmental rather than specifically trade-focused arguments.

The gap between political rhetoric and political activity with respect to socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries has grown wider during the period under review. Austrian politics and public discourse have reacted to the ongoing volatile economic and fiscal situation by concentrating even more on internal demands. The debate regarding the EU-U.S. negotiations concerning a transatlantic free trade agreement has been dominated by a parochial outlook with little room for global arguments. According to critics, Austria’s standards are among the highest in the world and any free trade agreement would result in a decline in quality for Austrian consumers. Nonetheless, after some heated debates, the government has at last agreed to CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Europe and Canada.

Citations:
http://www.wfp.org/about/funding/governments/austria?year=2017
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