The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) calls on the EU and Member States to implement more concrete measures to support the health, housing and financial needs of the growing number people taking on long-term caregiving responsibilities of a family member.
The EU and Member States need to implement measures to improve the lives of those who provide long-term care for relatives with disabilities or with chronic or degenerative diseases, the EESC said in the own-initiative opinion The role of family members caring for people with disabilities and older persons, adopted at its October plenary.
The opinion's rapporteur, Pietro Vittorio Barbieri, said all measures should be taken jointly by policy-makers, employers (through social dialogue), and family caregivers and their representative organisations.
The first step is recognising the value of their work and giving them a say on the assistance they provide, he said.
The second step is ensuring housing services and support to prevent isolation, marginalisation, and physical and mental overload. Clearly, if countries can guarantee certain services will be provided, it will take some of the load off family members.
Such measures include providing family caregivers with adequate health services, including preventive healthcare, along with training on how to look after their own health. Housing support and home services (in line with health and nursing needs) and psychological support for the caregiver and the family unit are also needed.
Financial support needed
The EESC also calls for Member States to consider alternative forms of remuneration, including financial aid, for those family carers who risk impoverishment when they are forced to give up paid employment or reduce their working hours.
Employers should also be encouraged to provide flexible working arrangements and fringe benefits beyond the minimum required under national rules for employees who provide ongoing care for relatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has probably worsened the situation for many family caregivers, but not enough up-to-date information is available on the scale of the issue, hampering efforts to address it.
The EESC calls on Eurostat to update a 2018 survey of work and family life, and for Member States to establish a common definition of caregiving. In parallel, Member State policies should provide quality long-term assistance services for people with disabilities, enabling them to live independently.
Overall, this issue is of growing concern and will require more awareness. The EESC is calling for the establishment of a European Day to recognise family caregivers and encourage public policy support.