Responding to the European Commission proposal for a European care strategy presented in September 2022, the European Committee of the Regions today outlined its proposals to step up European efforts to address the dramatic situation in early childhood education and long-term care.
Evidence indicates that care is in crisis throughout the European Union due to underfunding, staff shortages and an overreliance on EU mobile and migrant care workers, underinvestment in the training and qualifications of care workers and unfair working conditions.
Against this background, PES Group member Heinrich Dorner, the Committee's rapporteur for the European care strategy and regional minister in the Austrian Burgenland, called for "a joint strategy shared by all EU local and regional authorities responsible for health, care and education, and Member States, as well as the EU institutions, to make care more accessible, affordable and of better quality. The strategy should help close the territorial gaps in availability of and access to long-term care, in particular in rural and depopulating areas". He also stressed that "the creation of affordable, more accessible, available and high-quality care services is an important step towards ensuring women's participation in the labour market and thus gender equality".
Adopting Mr Dorner's opinion, the European Committee of the Regions' plenary endorsed the following five proposals:
1. Increase funding dedicated to care, in particular under the European Union's Recovery and Resilience Facility, under which only 12 national plans include reforms and investments in the area of early childhood education and care, totalling the modest sum of EUR 7.9 billion.
2. The working conditions, prestige and pay of workers in the early childhood education and care sector must be significantly improved in order to ensure that care is as good as possible and provided by qualified staff. There is also the need for a strategy on the future demand for skilled workers in the EU, particularly with a view to reducing brain drain, and laying down uniform conditions for the work of care workers and domestic workers from third countries.
3. The European Commission should present a framework directive on long-term, formal and informal care that would lay down fundamental principles and provide evidence-based criteria for accessible and integrated quality long-term care and support services across the EU.
4. A European care strategy should involve setting targets and indicators similar to the Barcelona targets for child policies. The collection of data at local and regional level is needed to provide a basis for targeted support for regions.
5. The Commission should urgently make a proposal to establish a social taxonomy, which would provide potential investors and enterprises with clear guidance as to what can be understood as "social investment". The absence of a social taxonomy currently impedes possible private investments into healthcare and social services.
Commenting after the adoption of the opinion, PES Group president Christophe Rouillon stated:
"Care and the conditions of care work are essential concerns for so many citizens that my group will ensure that increasing the European Union's efforts in this field becomes one of the top priorities of the Party of European Socialists' programme for the 2024 European elections".
Image by Aditya Romansa via Unsplash