As Europe's population is ageing, the need for care services is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. In an opinion drafted by Heinrich Dorner (AT/PES), Member of the State Government of Burgenland, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) calls on the European Commission to support cities and regions in addressing care worker shortages and highlights that family members – most often women – carrying out informal care work need adequate social rights and protection.
The number of Europeans aged 65 or more is expected to rise from 87 million to over 150 million by 2070. It is estimated that over 30 million Europeans will be in need of long-term care in 2050. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health and care services have been overstretched and restrictions on cross-border mobility have led to short-term staff shortages. Regions and cities are calling on the European Commission to guarantee directly accessible financial instruments to empower them to effectively address current and future care worker shortages.
At the same time, the CoR points out that care services can create new jobs, help invigorate the economy and keep the population in rural areas: according to the European Commission, the health and social care sector can provide up to eight million job openings over the next ten years.
"I am convinced that if we join forces at all levels of government, learn from best practices and act together, then we will be able to find a sustainable solution to worker shortages in the care sector, while helping to improve care provision standards and working conditions of care workers", rapporteur Heinrich Dorner said.
The opinion, which was adopted at the plenary session on Thursday, notes that migration of care workers has resulted in staff shortages particularly in less developed regions. It highlights the importance of improving working conditions in the care sector to make caring professions more attractive, also for men in order to address the very significant gender gap, by ensuring both good work-life balance and adequate remuneration.
The CoR is looking forward to the European Commission's initiative on long-term care planned for 2022 to keep pace with the latest developments in long-term care provision and related skills requirements, and with a view to facilitating carer mobility. It suggests adopting a common occupational definition of carers at European level and improving data collection and analysis. Particular attention should be paid to the precarious working conditions of "live-in" care workers in the EU, who are mostly women and often migrants from third countries, some of whom working irregularly.
Finally, the opinion calls on the Member States to ensure the social protection of relatives acting as carers, including both means of subsistence and sickness, accident and pension coverage without attaching these benefits to an unemployment status, and to provide family carers professional support and respite facilities (short-term care).
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