On 7 September 2022, the EU Commission presented its proposal on a comprehensive European Care Strategy, whose aim it is to improve the situation of care recipients and care workers. The focus lies on guaranteeing access to care services in the entire EU and on improving the working conditions of care workers.
Apart from a Communication on the European Care Strategy, the package of the EU Commission also comprises a proposal for a Council Recommendation on the Revision of the Barcelona Targets on early childhood education and care and a further proposal for a Council Recommendation on access to affordable high-quality long-term care.
The figures included in the presentation are confirming once more the urgency to reform the current care sector. The number of people with potential long-term care requirements in the EU is currently standing at 30.8 million and will, among other due to demographic change, increase to more than 38.1 million people by 2050. But already now, still without taking into account the rising cost of living, EU-wide about a third of households with long-term care needs cannot afford care services. Childcare under the age of three is at 35 % far off the preferred care quota of 50 %. At 27 %, in case of children at risk of poverty, the figure is even higher.
The gender dimension in the care sector is still playing a significant role. Almost 90 % of formal employees in the care sector are women. At the same time, 7.7 million women throughout the EU are, due to informal care of close relatives or friends, prevented from taking up a full or part-time job. Hence, in combination with the poor working conditions in the care sector, women are the people most affected by the current situation in this sector.
The EU Commission is now planning to ensure adequate pay and a better care work and family balance. Apart from that, the choice of long-term care services shall be increased and a quality framework for care services shall be established. In order to counteract the lack of skills and shortage of labour it has been proposed to expand education and training activities. Another proposal is to create legal migration paths to integrate workers from non-EU Member States in the European care sector. With regard to early childhood care, the strategy of the EU Commission provides for a legal claim, which seamlessly ties in with the end of unpaid holidays for family reasons.
Reactions to the initiative of the EU Commission
The S&D Group welcomes the announcement of the care strategy; however, at the same time it demands the creation of binding instruments and efficient public investments. Evelyn Regner, Vice President of the EU Parliament, in particular drew attention to the predominantly poor working conditions in the care sector and gender inequality. ETUC emphasises the necessity of a comprehensive reform of the care sector; however, in particular with regard to the rather general statements by the EU Commission concerning the affordability of care, it sees room for being more specific.
AK has already regularly pointed towards the urgent need for action in the care sector in the past. Hence, the proposal by the EU Commission on a European Care Strategy is to be welcomed. However, a next step must ensure the speedy adoption of the proposed Council recommendations, whereby, apart from an active role by the EU, the implementation of this strategy by the Member States is also necessary to achieve an actual improvement of the conditions for people in need and providers in these areas. Hence, from AK’s point of view, the sustainable funding of public investments in care is imperative to facilitate access to these services and to make these affordable on the one hand and to create better working conditions for the workforce on the other. With regard to home care, AK has been arguing for a long time to implement a European framework directive. Only then, the fundamental rights and obligations of all stakeholders involved, can be sufficiently retained and uniformly regulated throughout the EU.
AK Europa Policy Brief: Towards a gender sensitive and sustainable European Care Strategy
AK Europa Policy Brief: Improving Conditions for Health Professionals and Live-in Care Workers
European Commission: Communication on the European Care Strategy
European Commission: Council Recommendation on the Revision of the Barcelona Targets on early childhood Education and care
European Commission: Council Recommendation on access to affordable high-quality long-term care