It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you today to the conference on "The European Care Strategy: challenges and the way forward". Because of a prior engagement, I cannot be with you in Brussels. I am nonetheless happy to address you in this way, as the topic of care is very important to me and to the EESC.
The care sector has been suffering for many years from a structural crisis. On one hand, it experiences chronic under-investment, and a shortage of workers, skills and structures. On the other hand, we see an increased demand in care. To give an example, according to the estimates of the European Commission, the number of people in long-term care is predicted to rise from about 31 million in 2019 to almost 34 million in 2030 and even 38 million in 2050. The underlying cause is the ageing of population and the demographic change in the European Union.
Another element to take into account is the gender dimension in care: indeed, women represent 90% of the formal care workforce. They are also the majority among informal carers and are often the ones supporting family members in need. That has of course a negative impact on their personal and working life, as well as on the labour market, which would certainly need more women in employment and entrepreneurship.
In addition to these structural factors, in the last two years, we have experienced two major crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
We can all still remember the dramatic situation going on in nursing homes in 2020, and the high number of COVID‑19 deaths amongst residents in long-term care. The pandemic exposed structural and material shortcomings in the health and care system, among which the unsustainable pressure on workers. These weaknesses need to be tackled without further ado. We cannot allow a similar tragedy to happen again. Europe must become more resilient to future crisis.
More recently, the war against Ukraine has not only destroyed the Ukrainian healthcare system, but also increased pressure on the health, care and social systems of the countries who host refugees.
In this complex situation, the Committee dedicates much attention to the topic of care. We have adopted many opinions, most of them of our own-initiative. We have discussed various angles of the care system, namely, a new vision for care for older people, the role of family caregivers and of the healthcare workforce. The EESC is currently working on its opinion on the Commission's proposal for a European Care Strategy, which is planned to be adopted in January.
These opinions will be presented by their rapporteurs in the course of the afternoon, but I would like to share with you a few main ideas. First of all, we need a transformative approach to care, having people, their rights and their needs at its centre. In this context, a European Care Guarantee could ensure that everyone living in the European Union has life-long access to affordable, accessible and quality healthcare and care services. We need more investments, directed to care workers, including informal carers. That includes more training and lifelong learning programmes, to keep pace with the progress in the care field. Family caregivers, represented as I mentioned by a majority of women, should be given have access to quality health and social protection services and psychological support. Member States should also provide high quality services in the local communities, which often work better than placing people in need of care in institutions.
These are only some main ideas, but I am sure you will have the opportunity to discuss them more in detail today. I wish you a fruitful debate and look forward to the recommendations that will emerge from the debate.