The EU's new care strategy is a litmus test for social Europe

The European Commission's proposal for a comprehensive European care strategy that should guarantee to all Europeans the possibility of receiving high quality healthcare and care service throughout their lifetime has been met with approval by the EESC

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has hailed the Commission's proposals for a European Care Strategy as an important step towards achieving an available and affordable care structure in Europe which caters to the needs of care receivers from birth to old age and supports all care providers regardless of their employment status.

In the opinion adopted at its January plenary session, the EESC made several recommendations to the strategy and renewed its proposal to launch a European Care Guarantee. Similar to the EU Youth Guarantee, the instrument would help ensure quality healthcare and care services for everyone living in the EU. It would also address care deficits and promote decent working conditions for both formal and informal carers.

In addition to being available, accessible and affordable, we also maintain that care should be inclusive, sustainable and human rights-based. High-quality care for all is still not a reality for many in Europe and this was one of the push factors behind the strategy, said the rapporteur of the opinion Kinga Joó.

The opinion stressed the need to prioritise the affordability and continuity of care services in response to the current shocks linked to the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and the cost of living crisis. It called for adequate funding for the care sector and for Member States to ensure that jobs in care are attractive and adequately paid and valued.

The approach taken in our opinion shares the concerns raised by civil society actors. It is based on the concept of the very ideal of social Europe. We also highlight the role of Member States, as they are the main pillar in the care strategy. If we do not convince them that they should take ownership of the issues listed and if they are not going to fill the gaps in their national systems, we will not go very far with the strategy, said the co-rapporteur Zoe Tzotze-Lanara.

The opinion delivers the EESC's take on the European Care Strategy and its two proposals, namely the proposal on early childhood education and care (ECEC) and the proposal on long-term care, adopted by the Council in December.

Among the key recommendations set out in the opinion, Ms Joó singled out the importance of supporting families in their fundamental role in care. This means that all care solutions should respect individual choices made by a person or a family whether to receive care in institutional settings, at home or in the community, and that nobody should be forced to choose one form of care because of a lack of alternatives. 

Another key recommendation is achieving gender balance and equality in both formal and informal care sectors through battling of male-female stereotypes. Efforts should be made to encourage more men to join the care workforce and ensure better distribution of care within households.

According to the current figures, 29% of women living in the EU say that they are not working or are working part-time because of caring duties, compared to only 6% of men. This unbalanced distribution of care responsibilities is estimated to cost EUR 242 billion per year.

The EESC stressed the importance of family and informal care and called for swift mapping of the needs and realities of this type of care. These carers, the vast majority of whom are women, should receive comprehensive support, which would include training and skills validation schemes, but also ensure their social rights and their participation in the labour market and in social life.

Welcoming the focus placed by the strategy on better protection of care workers' rights, the EESC also called on the Member States to, among other things, regulate the situation of live-in carers, including migrant and mobile workers. It noted that the strategy should focus on all EU care workers, regardless of their migration and residence status. In the EESC's view, the Commission did not take sufficient account of undocumented workers who are already providing care in Europe.

In the opinion, EESC advocated the promotion of healthy and active ageing and called for the development of a European Strategy for Older Persons.

Arguing that measuring the impact on care receivers and providers will be fundamental for assessing the efficiency of the European care strategy, the EESC called for a mid-term review of the two Council Recommendations which are part of the strategy. The review should be based on the monitoring of the Barcelona targets (which set out the percentage of children to be included in ECEC) and the general objectives of long-term care reforms.