Austria

   

Social Policies

#15
Key Findings
Austria’s social policies show significant strengths and weaknesses, placing it in the upper-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 15). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The mass influx of refugees in recent years has introduced major stresses into Austria’s policies and politics. Asylum rules have been tightened, and anti-immigrant feeling has risen in recent years, founded on an undeclared alliance between organized labor and the far right. Integration of migrants and refugees is proving difficult both in schools and in broader society.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for generally good coverage and outcomes across the country. Doctors complain of being overworked and underpaid, with many young physicians leaving the country. While preschool services have improved, 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. Recent secondary-school reforms have not performed as hoped, but a new round of reforms appears promising. After heated debate, the government agreed to the Canada-EU trade agreement, and has shown new openness to policies seeking to prevent mass migration through development aid.

Education

#23

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 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. The result is that parents’ social status is reflected in students’ ability to access higher education, more so than in comparable countries. A citizens’ initiative that called on parliament to correct this negative process of selection failed to produce significant reform, at least in the short term. This state of affairs violates the concept of social justice, and at the same time fails to exploit the national population’s talents to the fullest.

The hesitancy to engage in reform results in part from the considerable veto power held by specific groups, including the teachers’ union and the Austrian conservative party. Both appear to be first and foremost interested in defending the special status of high-schools and their teachers, and appear worried that this status will be lost if the two-tier organization of schools is changed.

Recent reforms of teachers’ educational tracks aim at improving the first three years (BA) of teachers’ training to meet higher standards. 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 of different systems, has not delivered better results, e.g. in PISA scores. In 2016-2017, new reforms concerning full-time schooling and improved competencies for school directors are on the way which seem really promising.

A sensitive issue is the integration of children who came to Austria in 2015-2016 as part of the large number of refugees and migrants. In some parts of the country the school system seems overwhelmed particularly by the challenges posed by children who don’t speak German.

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 has become significantly unequal in recent years, with children of parents holding tertiary education degrees and/or having higher incomes enjoying massively better odds of successfully graduating from university.

Citations:
For the effect of parents’ education on childrens’ educational odds see: http://www.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 crisis had less impact in Austria than most other countries. Nevertheless, competition within the rather well-protected system of employment has become significantly tougher. This can be seen in the rise in the country’s unemployment rate, which is now higher than Germany’s unemployment rate.

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 until 2015. 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 future economic growth.

During the period under review, the prospect of gender quotas for management positions in the business sector were debated. Advocates of this idea say it would help bring women into the most attractive and best-paid positions the economy has to offer.

Citations:
IMF, Fiscal Monitor October 2012, Washington D.C.
Poverty rates: http://www.armutskonferenz.at/armut-in-oesterreich/aktuelle-armuts-und-verteilungszahlen.html

Health

#18

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 aspects – 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 cap placed on the maximum number of working hours allowed for doctors in Austrian hospitals has exposed just how difficult conditions in Austrian hospitals can be. Many doctors are overworked and - in comparison to their counterparts in other EU countries - underpaid. Young doctors in particular are leaving the country for jobs in Germany, Switzerland or elsewhere. Other factors driving this brain drain include an excessive bureaucracy and weak practical training for young doctors in Austrian hospitals.

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

Families

#17

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 child care 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 mostly 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 keep 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.

“Family” is still a highly ideological term in Austria. But despite contradicting programmatic positions (conservative insistence on a traditional mother-father-child family, progressive ideas of breaking any kind of gender barrier), the Austrian political system was and still is able to implement compromises which are flexible enough to adapt to new social developments and challenges. State governments and communities have improved the services of pre-school institutions (Kindergarten).

Patchwork families and families based on same-sex partnerships are gradually accepted in Austrian society. Austrian law provides an institutional framework for same-sex partnerships, though they are not identified as marriages, and are not endowed with the same rights as those granted to a heterosexual marriage.

Pensions

#24

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
Within the short term, 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 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, by 2015 pension payments will consume around 47% of net state tax income. In comparison, state expenditures for schools and universities (primary, secondary and tertiary education) amounted to around 18% of net tax income in 2012. 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.

Integration

#24

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 have a more difficult task in qualifying for higher education, and are often stuck in the lowest type of school, called a special school (Sonderschule), undermining their chances for future labor market success. Special support policies for such children have been recently put in place, but it remains to be seen how successful these policies will turn out to be in the short and 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.

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, 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 an European level.

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

Safe Living

#8

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, rising in some areas such as criminal assaults, while falling in others such as break-ins and car thefts. 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.

Citations:
Stats from the interior ministry: http://www.bmi.gv.at/cms/BK/publikationen/krim_statistik/2013/2732014_KrimStat_2013_Broschuere.pdf

Global Inequalities

#16

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.

As an EU member, Austria’s position concerning tariffs and imports is defined by the EU’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 equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries has grown even wider during the period under review. Austrian politics and Austria’s public discourse have reacted to the ongoing volatile economic and fiscal situation by concentrating even more than before 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 the critics, Austria’s standards are the highest and any free trade agreement will result in a decline of quality for the consumers. Nonetheless, after some heated debates within Austria, the government has at last agreed to CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Europe and Canada.

Recent discussions have focused on the humanitarian situation in refugee camps outside of Syrian territory. Austria, as a member of the EU, has pledged increased payments to these camps via the United Nations (UN) and has indeed increased its payments to the UN’s World Food Program. The government has become a little more sensitive to a policy of preventing mass migration by improving the conditions in the poorer areas of the world,.

Citations:
http://www.wfp.org/about/funding/governments/austria?year=2015
Back to Top