Value creation potential in care

LB – 06/2022

Care work is predominantly performed by women – not only within the EU. This applies both to paid care workers within the social security systems and to unpaid care work, e.g. in families and households, where women look after the offspring or the older generation.

Precarious effects mainly affect women

The number of paid carers within the EU is estimated at around 12 million. They tend to be in the lower third of the wage distribution; moreover, they often work part-time and have a fixed-term contract. Also the access to social security may be restricted, especially for home care workers. Within the EU, the political and legal framework conditions for care services differ from one Member State to another.

Even though the gender gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, it is still large. An estimated 92 per cent of adult women in the EU perform unpaid care work on a daily basis, compared to 68 per cent of men. This disparity has an impact on the women's participation in working life: They are less likely to be employed, more likely to work part-time, and more likely to pursue occupations with low financial rewards and poorer promotion prospects than men. Thus, the unbalanced distribution of care work leads to the economic disadvantage of women. In addition, there are other effects of nursing care activities, for example on the health status. Disadvantage increases over the lifespan. The alternative of paid care services is not always used. Apart from high costs, the reasons are probably also the availability and quality of care services.

Measures by the European Commission

The need for care workers - paid or unpaid - has increased in recent years, for example due to higher life expectancy. At the same time, an increasingly severe staff shortage became apparent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, attention to care work has increased once again. As a result, the European Commission - in addition to previous measures, for example in the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights 2017 - has launched the so-called Recovery and Resilience Facility as part of a comprehensive crisis management plan. A total of approximately EUR 58 billion have been made available for this purpose throughout the EU, which can be used for investments in the care sector, among other things. In addition, the European Commission has set 2022, the Year of Care and promised further support for the care sector with its proposal for a European Care Strategy.

Proposals of the European Parliament

The ambitions of the European Parliament in a resolution on the "Strategy for Gender Equality 2020-2025" go beyond this. They are aimed at the redistribution of care responsibilities between the sexes and, at the same time, the higher social and economical valuation of care and the modernisation of the care sector. Within the framework of the so-called "nursing care deal", a number of measures have been proposed, e.g. concerning the qualification, wages and work organisation of care workers, but also the support of reform projects, infrastructure, quality guidelines or monitoring and control mechanisms. In addition, the recognition and support of unpaid carers and their working conditions are explicitly considered.

European added value

The proposals of the European Parliament postulate a European Added Value such as the promotion of a higher gross domestic product and the upward convergence of the Member States. These can result, for example, from better utilisation of the labour market potential of women, more jobs in the care sector or curbing undeclared work in care. A recent publication of the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has calculated concrete figures on the basis of various assumptions. For example, reducing the childcare gap by 10-20 per cent could generate at least EUR 29 billion across the EU. A prerequisite for this would first be investment. In this context, the EPRS refers to a Study on long-term care from Austria, according to which each euro invested is associated with a domestic added value of 1.7 euros as well as a further 0.7 euros in taxes and social security contributions.