Care is a pan-European challenge, regardless of the division of competences between the European Union and the Member States.

UM – 10/2021

At the beginning of this year, the European Commission published its Green Paper on Ageing and launched a broad social debate on the challenges and opportunities of ageing as part of a consultation process. This process is expected to result in a comprehensive care strategy next year. It is also necessary.

Europe is getting older

All societies in Europe are ageing. And as life expectancy increases, so does the number of those who suffer from limitations and require care. An estimated 38.1 million people in need of care will live in the European Union (EU) in 2050. In 2019, it was still about 30 million.

Personnel bottlenecks are programmed

More people in need of care will meet fewer people who can care for them. 90 percent of carers are female, and a third of them are already over 65 years old. The problem is exacerbated as women, who today often provide informal care, enter the labour markets. Therefore, most Member States anticipate worsening staff shortages

It is both a blessing and a curse

The demands on personnel are increasing as a matter of course. Care is becoming increasingly complex and requires more knowledge, also in digital and technical terms. This makes the profession more attractive, but at the same time it is more difficult to find suitably qualified staff. However, a June 2021 report by the Social Protection Committee (SPC) and the Directorate General for Labour and Social Affairs (DG EMPL) (see here) makes clear that the problem is more complex. According to the authors, targeted, systematic efforts must be made to meet these challenges.

Women dominate healthcare ...

Not only do women perform the lion's share of caring work, they also accept personal disadvantages in return: part-time work, lower incomes, low pension entitlements. This is because care is often provided informally – at home or far from home and often in a legally grey area. The share of informal care is high and usually higher than Member States' expenditure on care. It is estimated to account for 2.4 to 2.7 per cent of the gross domestic product of the EU as a whole.

Healthcare is also a social challenge

In addition, older women are significantly more likely to be dependent on care than men (33 percent to 19 percent). Conversely, they are less able to afford the care they need. Carers and persons in need of care are mostly female, and under the given conditions this is a social problem.

Professional care is too expensive for many

In addition, there is simply a lack of care services. The large share of informal care goes hand in hand with a considerable variation in the number of inpatient care beds across the EU. Professional outpatient care structures do not exist in some countries. If they exist, the care is often too expensive for those who need it. Across the EU, more than a third of households in need of care report lack of affordability. And even in wealthy countries with well-developed social security systems, the solidarity-based promise of long-term care benefits does not as a rule include full care.

Data is scarce

The long-term care report provides highlights. However, reliable and comparable data is needed. This forms the basis for all political action. Therefore, a first and important task of the announced care strategy will be to improve the data and information basis. There is room for improvement here.