The EESC firmly believes that a care model for dependent older people with long-term care needs should be mainstreamed into EU policymaking, given that the proportion of the population aged over 80 is expected to more than double by 2050. The pandemic revealed failures and shortcomings in this area, which must be addressed fast. The Commission's initiative to establish a new European Care Strategy is a step in this direction, but consultative institutions and European civil society organisations representing older people have to have a say.
In its own-initiative opinion Towards a New Care Model for the Elderly: learning from the COVID‑19 pandemic, adopted at the January plenary session, the EESC took a closer look at the various models of long-term care for people over the age of 65 who have lost their autonomy or are dependent on institutional care homes. It also assessed the impact of COVID‑19 on these facilities.
Miguel Ángel Cabra De Luna, the rapporteur for the opinion stressed:
Care for all older people must be a cornerstone of EU policies, linked to compliance with the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.
The EESC urged the European Commission and the Member States to act now to develop principles for care for older people within the European Pillar for Social Rights Action Plan (EPSR). In addition, the Committee proposed setting up a European Observatory for care for older people, which would make it possible to collect sufficient statistical data, compare good practices between different state models, identify structural weaknesses in national systems, provide technical support to facilitate the adoption of EU political guidelines and help implement the EPSR.
The forthcoming European Care Strategy proposed by the Commission to deliver care for older people should meet three key criteria: access for all, irrespective of income or assets; quality care; and sufficient funding for health and social care systems. It is essential that this new initiative take account of the views of European civil society organisations representing older people, such as the AGE Platform Europe and its various members.
It is also important that Member States establish or update existing laws on supporting and protecting older people's autonomy, in accordance with Article 12 of the Convention on the Dignity and Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the 27 Member States and the EU.
Against this backdrop, the EESC opinion called for a European Year of Older Persons, as recognition of the fundamental rights of older people and an expression of their contributions to society, as laid down in Article 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Effect of the pandemic and lessons learned
During the pandemic, the rights and needs of older people were only partially taken into account, resulting in the tragic death toll of which we are all aware. This situation has brought to light the conceptual, structural and functional shortcomings in care models for older people, whether care is provided through care homes, home care services, family or professionals carers. It has also revealed that there is not enough high‑quality long-term care to cater for all older people, and that it is difficult to access.
In a broader context, this situation helped to further highlight the fact that population ageing is a key strategic challenge for the EU and its Member States. To approach it successfully, it is crucial to set up a framework for a care model for older people, especially those who are dependent or losing their autonomy.
The care requirements of older people need to be at the heart of EU policies. The figures set out in the 2021 Long-term care report drafted by the Commission and the Social Protection Committee show that in 30 years' time there will be 130.1 million people over the age of 65 - 41% more than the current figure.
Thus, the time to act is now. As the European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen, stressed in her State of the Union speech:
If the pandemic taught us one thing, it is that time is precious. And caring for someone you love is the most precious time of all.