Above all else, good care needs many good people

UM – 10/2022

The European Commission (EC) presented its care strategy back in September of this year. Access to and quality of care is to be significantly improved within the EU countries. The vital key here is attracting more people to work in the care sector. Demographic change is ensuring that more people are living healthier and longer lives and the demand for care services is growing exponentially. In its notice released on September 7, the EC made it clear where it believes the levers should be applied.

The package included, in addition to the EC’s Communication, a proposal for a Council recommendation about revising the Barcelona targets covering early childhood care, education and training as well as a proposal for a Council recommendation covering access to affordable and quality long-term care.

Making childcare easier

This proposal for a Council recommendation about revising the Barcelona targets is intended to work towards eliminating existing deficits in the early childhood care, education and training sectors. The aim is to create the conditions for the best possible work/life balance. The availability of such offers is one of the main factors for ensuring that women participate in the labour market. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), almost eight million women in Europe are unavailable to the labour market due to their care responsibilities. The countries are to expand their childcare provision so that at least 50 per cent of children under the age of three and at least 96 per cent of older children up to school age will be able to find a childcare place by 2030.

More men in care

The Commission specifically aims to improve working conditions in care through its proposal for a Council recommendation covering access to affordable and quality long-term care (SWD (2022) 441 final). Women still provide most of the care and most of it is informal care, i.e. unpaid. The EC's propositions also aim to provide better support for carers and, in particular, to get more men working in the care sector. Social dialogue should be promoted for ensuring decent wages and good working conditions. The highest standards should apply to health protection at work and further training opportunities should open up career prospects.

National action plans are needed

Countries should create national action plans to improve the availability, accessibility and quality of care throughout the EU. They should be submitted to the Commission within twelve months of adopting the recommendation. Member states should include measures for ensuring that people in need of care can receive comprehensive and high-quality care services that are also affordable. This also includes ensuring sustainable care financing alongside an adequate range of care services. EU funds are also available for this, including funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the Regional Development Fund as well as the European Social Fund Plus. But the member states will also have to invest.  

Better overview and sound governance

Long-term care is fragmented in many EU countries, with different responsibilities being found at local, regional and national levels. Transparency about what is happening in care is also being made more difficult by the use of different indicators. Cost-efficient action is thus hardly possible. Therefore member states should ensure sound long-term care governance, among other things by appointing a specific person to be responsible for national coordination.

The Council recommendations for European long-term care strategy are to be adopted by the Council before the end of this year and provide a soft law instrument for member states to respond to the challenges of Europe's ageing societies.