The EU Care Strategy is historic, but will Member States live up to the ambition?

Brussels, Belgium – 7 September 2022

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photo from the European Commission

With its EU Care Strategy, launched today, the European Commission sets out a comprehensive set of policies, establishing for the first time its vision on long-term care. Yet, many of these policies still lack concrete measures.

"The EU Care Strategy is overdue and highly welcome’. ‘It acknowledges the need for universal access, high quality, investment and better working conditions for professional carers and support for informal carers. But it now lies in the hands of Member States to break down the segregation between care and the rest of our societies and to guarantee the rights of people in need for care to full inclusion and participation."

AGE Platform Europe had called for the Strategy to be based on the rights to independence and autonomy of all persons, performing a shift from policies based on welfare paternalism, overreliance on informal and residential care. The EU Care Strategy shows that the call has been partially heard, as the proposed list of quality criteria build on respect, person-centredness, continuity of care and focus on outcomes in terms of quality of life. It rightly calls out the lack of choice for many persons in need for care between residential, community-based and home care, the tremendous impact of current care policies on women of all ages and the case for investment and improved working conditions in long-term care. It also unequivocally establishes long-term care services as services of general interest, which have a special status under EU market rules. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of prevention and the role of care to re-establish independence of a person rather than leading her into further care dependency.

Need for national indicators and EU targets on long-term care

In the most important areas however, the Care Strategy stops short of providing clear targets and indicators for long-term care, unlike its ambition in the field of early childcare and education. In most areas, the Commission kicks the ball into the court of Member States, who have to agree on indicators, targets, quality criteria or request specific funding for transforming and developing their long-term care systems. However, it very helpfully lists the numerous EU funds that are available for triggering a transition of long-term care sectors, including the recent work of the World Health Organisation under the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing.

The recognition that the current reliance of the EU’s care systems on informal care, provided mainly by family members, often women over 50, is unsustainable demographically, socially and economically is a strong sign for millions of informal carers. The Commission encourages Member States to support informal carers with income, training and respite care services. Still, the Commission refrained from updating the framework of the Work-Life Balance Directive, providing 4 days of potentially unpaid leave from work for informal carers, by setting out a requirement to develop social protection, including pension credits.

The proposed Council Recommendation requires that Member States nominate national long-term care coordinators and come up with action plans on long-term care within one year of adoption. This governance and monitoring framework is very welcome and a cornerstone to filling the ambition of the Strategy with life. It is now up to Member States, first and foremost the Czech Council Presidency, to swiftly adopt this Recommendation and trigger the transformation of national care systems towards more fairness, human rights and dignity.

On Friday, 9 September, 11-13h, AGE co-organises a first round of reactions by stakeholders to the Care Strategy.

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