“Give people the opportunity to wrap their work around their care duties, not the other way around”

Published on: 24 May 2023

Politics has been haggling about it for years. How to make sure women can become more financially independent? Annette Mosman and journalist Lynn Berger only needed about one hour to come up with the first steps towards a solution. Friction is the bottleneck, flexibility is the keyword: that’s how they concisely summarize their problem analysis and solution. Annette Mosman: “Employers can take many initiatives in this respect.”


The problem seems to be rather cluttered to the government. The Netherlands is ageing, the labor market is confronted with major shortages. But hey, doesn’t 70 percent of the women hold a part-time job? That often makes them financially less independent than men. Not just today, but also in the future: the pension income of men and women shows a gap of 40 percent. So, if women just start working more, two problems can be solved at once.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, says Lynn Berger, author and journalist at De Correspondent. In her most recent book, Ik werk al (ik krijg er alleen niet voor betaald), (I already work, I just don’t get paid for it, ed.) she clearly explains it. Besides their paid jobs, women spend 26 hours per week on average taking care of the children, the household and/or informal care. So, what do you mean ‘work’ more? Moreover, without all that unpaid labor, the economy would collapse. Upon Berger’s request, the Institute for Public Economics calculated the value of this free care. If we were to be paid the minimum wage for household duties, the amount that host parents receive for taking care of the children and a compensation from the Law on Long-Term Care for informal care, all of that already comes down to EUR 215 billion annually. That relates to a quarter of the GDP (gross domestic product). And in the meantime, the call for informal care is noticeably increasing because of the ageing population.

In short: society has to start looking at care duties with a different, more appreciative, view. As Topvrouw van het Jaar 2022 (Top Woman of the Year 2022, ed.), Annette Mosman envisages a leading role for herself. “Employers can offer more flexibility by implementing creative solutions.”


What does it take to not only appreciate care duties more, but to also realize these tasks more easily?

Lynn: “First of all, filial leave has to be expanded for both men and women. And the pension accrual has to continue during that leave. That is partly a matter of legislation, but employers and social partners can obviously also take many initiatives in that respect. Childcare furthermore has to become a basic provision.”

Annette: “Something needs to happen on several fronts. Plenty of policies are implemented by the government, but let’s not wait for all of that to be finalized. Because in reality, it’s all about friction. Combining work and care doesn’t mean you just have to work a day less: flexibility and solidarity are required to also be able to fulfil care duties when holding a full-time contract.”

Lynn: “That requires employers to be aware of the fact that employees are people with care duties, and that they need the time and the energy to fulfil these tasks. And the trust that employees really want to perform their work in the best way possible. You can just agree: This is the work we want you to finish. Give people the opportunity to wrap their paid job around their unpaid work, not the other way around.”

Does this mean offering flexibility is the solution?

Lynn: “That becomes increasingly more important due to the ageing population. Everyone will have to provide informal care at some point. That is currently arranged so miserably in the Netherlands. Employees are given two weeks of filial leave at 70 percent of their salary and six weeks of unpaid leave. That is simply not feasible to many people. It is a task of the government but also of employers to empathize with their employees: How do you combine care and work in such a way that it doesn’t wear you out completely or makes you suffer financially?”

Annette: “Especially when it comes to office work, like at APG, it should be possible to work more flexibly. It is up to the employer to create a safe environment in which an employee feels comfortable enough to enter into a conversation on that topic. Manager and employee have to be able to think of solutions together. ‘We would like you to work an extra day, what do you need to realize that?’ Be creative. Don’t think in terms of fixed office hours. Equalize the wages of men and women. Make it possible to donate leave to a colleague who provides informal care.

Flexibility does not mean that everything is possible. But I am convinced that a great deal is possible.”


Does the introduction of a basis income also help to combine work and care better?

Lynn: “People often think that women can only become financially independent if they take on more paid work. But a basic income would enable both women and men to take care of their children or their parents. And it also solves other problems, as all benefit schemes could be eliminated as well. The question is whether a basic income would cost that much more compared to what we now have in terms of expanding arrangements.”

Annette: “When a basic income is implemented, non-paid work will be more appreciated.”

Lynn: “Exactly. If you are now forced to stop working because you have to provide full-time informal care, you get nothing. But you do fulfill an important role in society. So for that group of people, a basic income, a care income or an informal care pension should be provided. Something that acknowledges: You are working really hard and we believe you shouldn’t live in poverty as a result.”


Annette, being Topvrouw van het Jaar 2022, you are committed to making women more financially independent. What is your plan of action?

Annette: “I will do a number of things involving the theme of financial independence. As a starting point, I collect data and facts and summarize these in a whitepaper. Furthermore, I will organize walks and a round table conversation with experts to come to possible directions towards solutions at several levels. In cooperation with Kandoor and through a social media campaign, I want to raise awareness among women and families about the importance of financial independency and provide information. And finally, I present a manifest on the evening the Topvrouw 2023 is announced, addressed to the Ministries of Social Affairs and Labor and of Health, Welfare and Sports. We have to address this issue together. As an employer, APG can fulfill an exemplary role.”

Lynn: “You should also involve the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. When childcare becomes a free basic provision that is just as accessible and obvious as school, it is an important means to make women financially independent, as it allows them to work more. Children in Finland go to nursery school as of the age of 1 and everyone there believes that to be the most natural thing in the world.”

Annette: “That is a good idea, to only have children go to nursery school as of the age of 1. It would immediately solve the staff shortage in childcare, as it takes one caregiver for every three children when it comes to babies.”

Lynn: “But as of the age of 1, an employee is allowed to care for five children.”

Annette: “This means employers should give parents parental leave that first year.”

Lynn: “And that leave should be equally divided among both partners.”


We have to investigate what is needed and then adapt our society accordingly?

Annette: “Yes, I advocate for a holistic long-term vision. After taking care of young children, you are able to work more and therefore earn more money for a while after which the time has come to provide informal care. In the new pension system, it is possible to withdraw 10 percent of your pension, a lumpsum, in one payment. For example to pay off your mortgage or to travel. From this holistic perspective, you as a society could think about possibilities to also have a financial reserve in other, earlier phases of life. Because you want to provide informal care or because you want to retrain your skills at the age of 50 to start doing another type of job in which you can continue work longer. There are increasingly more people who still work a couple of days once they turn 67. This means we have to look at the life cycle, at reality, with a more holistic view. That is also a way to create flexibility.”


Are you able to combine work and care properly yourselves?

Annette: “When my children were little, I worked four days. Then full-time. It took some compromising, but I managed.”

Lynn: “I also work full-time, but it doesn’t matter when I work. So if a child is sick, it is easier for me to rearrange my hours. My partner takes care of the children as much as I do. But it is a house of cards and I see the same in other families. We don’t want to go back to: ‘Man is working, woman takes care of the children’. However, that system acknowledged the fact that caring for the family takes a lot of time. People nowadays rely on makeshift solutions. Because care is a private matter, it doesn’t count. The only thing that counts, is paid work. That is totally unrealistic. Surely it is also in the interest of society that parents are able to take good care of their children? They are the employers and employees of the future.”


What is the most important insight you gained from one another?

Lynn: “I now understand what role APG can play as a major employer. Writing a manifest, providing direction to ministers, stressing matters and making these explicit...”

Annette: “The insight I gained is that it is actually all about friction. You can start working one or two days less to provide care, but you still feel the responsibility for your work. You want to perform your work properly as well. We have to design society in a more convenient way and we have to do this together: the government, politics, employers and employees.”