2 Mar, 2022

EU Care Stategy: COFACE Families Europe Recommendations

EU Care Strategy: COFACE Families Europe Recommendations
For a future of care that supports and recognises family carers

A societal shift on the way we envision care is essential to create a sustainable future, which will serve social and economic inclusion of all and boost independent living. The whole of society needs to cater for the diversity of families and support them in the diverse forms of care that they need and have to provide.

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The EU Care Strategy will need to:

  • Recognise the value of the informal work done by families and family carers,
  • Relieve carers providing them with services and the opportunity to have a good work-life balance and appropriate resources through their life,
  • Redistribute care addressing the gender care, pay and pension gaps while fostering the rights of children, persons with disabilities and all those with care and/or support needs.

The COVID-19 crisis has damaged our societies and economies, but also has served as a magnifying lens that put centre stage the role of families as safety net and the shortcomings of our systems that have been ignored for too long. This is the case of the care sectors and systems.  The over reliance on families as natural providers of care has led to under-investment and to an artificial divide between health and care that has long lasting consequences. The EU Care Package announced by President von der Leyen is part of the EU answer to this societal and economical challenge and offers a unique opportunity to shift the narrative of care for the benefits of all families and all their members.

The EU level thinking around the future of care did not start with the announcement of the package. It is important to ensure that the upcoming initiative in autumn 2022 brings together important aspects and builds on existing promises:

  • The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and especially The Child Guarantee, the Child Rights Strategy and the Work-Life Balance Directive balancing the needs of parents and carers (especially mothers) with the reaffirmation that rights start at birth and that all children regardless of their gender, disability or migration status, economic background have a right to quality education and participation;
  • the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the engagement of the EU to boost the independent living agenda and the right to be included in the community ( based on the obligation under article 19 of the UNCRPD) with a Care Package Communication and Recommendations fully inclusive of persons with disabilities and their families, enhancing the development of community and family based solutions fostering inclusion and participation;
  • the Gender Equality Strategy to address the gender care gap in the formal and informal economy, recognising the need to work on debunking the myth and tradition linking care to women as an additional way to close the gaps;
  • the Green Paper on Ageing, strengthening the life cycle approach taking into account the diversity of the ageing debate, including ageing of persons with disabilities and ageing of family carers looking at the risks that accompany these transitions.

All these EU policy and legal initiatives highlight principles that should guide the future of the Care equation by refocusing the debate on human rights, on inclusion in the society, gender equality, non-discrimination, participation, independent living…  Nevertheless, while it is important to have clear references to these different frameworks, it is also crucial to have the Care Package address the missing pieces and connect the dots by putting forward a vision of the social and economic care infrastructure of tomorrow taking a whole-family and whole-society approach.

Whole-family means both that every member of the family is empowered to make their choices and to access sufficient resources, time arrangements and services to live in dignified conditions and fully participate in society; but it also means that no family should be excluded because of their composition, economic resources or the disability status of one of their members. The evolution of care needs and the life-cycle approach should not only be seen as someone stepping in a carer’s role at some point, neither as someone developing care needs at some point in their life, but as a continuum. COFACE defends the systematic inclusion of a two-generation approach, taking into account the needs of the care giver and care receiver in their family context, in order to provide specific and holistic responses, as presented in our Child Compass 2030.

Being a care receiver is a position in which everyone has been in their life and might be again, being a care giver is also something that everyone may become at some point in their life. Care is a continuum and should be addressed in policy as such. Care needs evolve over time and the responses should be adapted as there is a need for real reflection on how we consider and address this continuum of care as a society. The upcoming package will address ECEC and long term care, but what about all the initiatives that surround these areas and are enabling care givers and care receivers to fulfil their role. If we take the example of child care, are the child-minders included in the reflection? Are the parenting support services? Supports and trainings for family carers? Are the programmes that support the transition to independent living of young persons with disabilities considered under long term care? Is the support provided by a personal assistant to deal with the bills care? Are mental health services and helplines care? Without this global vision of all the aspects that care involves, the narrative around the Care Package could miss the mark and create further silo thinking while we need synergies and intersectional thinking in both the Council Recommendations and in the European Commission Communication. The continuum of care must be thought following a multi-generation and life-cycle approach.

Hence under the Care Package the recognition and the support for families in their caring role, filling the gap in service provision, will have to be clearly expressed (see COFACE ECEC Policy Brief and our position on the Family dimension of Long Term Care) but also that the vision presented encompasses the diversity of needs and solutions. This is especially important to apply this life-cycle vision in the overarching narrative on care linking it clearly with the support needs of persons with disabilities and their families through their life. For instance the question of ageing of persons with disabilities and of family carers has not been addressed sufficiently neither in the Green Paper on Ageing nor in the European Strategy of Persons with Disabilities and the Care Package should put forward actions and recommendations to address this. Transition phases in life can expose persons to increased levels of vulnerability. The overall weakness of the social protection systems and overreliance on family carers increases the dependency of persons with disabilities to family support and offers few solutions when looking at the question of ageing independently. But for both groups, the questions of retirement and ageing is crucial, from the economic point of view: gender pension gap from the family carers side who are in the vast majority women is one of the aspects (see our study Who cares? for more details), but also the additional support they may need as they age and are not able to carry on with the same level of support that they were giving to their relative. From the perspective of persons with disabilities, the questions of their retirement conditions is also to consider as well as the extra support needs that can come with age as well as the solutions that should be offered when families carers are no longer available to care for or support them. By putting forward a system that enhances collaboration between the formal care sector and family carers from the start, with adapted responses we can lower the risks of these transitions as community based solutions are put in place, lowering the reliance on family carers and improving the right to choose adapted solutions. Efforts need to be made to ensure a continuum between professional and family care that appropriately supports the training opportunities and social recognition, while recognising the responsibility of the State to put in place the appropriate services system for early childhood education and care and long term care system. COFACE asks for family carers can be found in the European Charter for Family Carers. However in order to understand how to implement these rights at the European level it  is crucial to have an accurate vision of the situation, hence the needs to include in the Communication provision for a EU wide study on family carers.

The whole-society approach means that we need to keep our eyes on the end goal, care like health and many things in our life are not an end in itself, they are means to ensure that every family and their members can be supported to live an independent dignified life and fulfilling life being included in the community. If the reform of care is one of the challenges that we need to address urgently as a society, is because it is a tool for social and economic inclusion (See Towards an Economy which cares paper).

The care sector has been presented as a tool for women empowerment, outsourcing the tasks that were –are- deemed the responsibility of women[1]. While some truth can be found in this statement, it has also been a double edged sword. The formal care sector is nowadays overwhelmingly feminine underpaid and offers precarious working conditions, while domestic care in the family sphere still puts a disproportionate burden on women. The poor attractiveness of the formal care sector is due to low investment in staff training and retention and low wages. Additionally, the image of the care sector as being low qualified, is a downward spiral and an open door for the informal economy which is highly developed in this area. To increase the attractiveness of the formal care sector, the upcoming Care Package needs to work on both the employment conditions and on the measures to attract a gender-balanced work force and break the gendered narrative around care, whether it is in early childhood education and care or in long term care, revalorisation also comes from the realisation that the low valorisation, unfair working conditions and low attractiveness of the sector comes also from the gender aspects and that they are mutually reinforcing. At the household level, the uneven share of care and chores is also a strain on women’s resources, moreover often leading unemployment for mothers as the economically rational choice for the household. Public policies and programme can help shifting the narrative and support an equal redistribution of tasks within the households, notably by providing families with high quality, affordable and community based services, and of course by taking strong action to lower the gender pay gap. The Gender inequalities in care and pay in the  EU  should be addressed in the upcoming Care Package.

Creating a sustainable care sector from birth to old age requires a societal shift and not only a reform of what is currently considered as the care sector. The development of the future community and family based care infrastructures needs to be mainstreamed and linked to other initiatives, such as transport and buildings for example. Similarly to the approach that COFACE presents in its guide S.H.I.F.T. for the meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities and their families, the EU Care Package needs to see beyond the traditional stakeholders in order to trigger a societal transition. Building carer-friendly workplaces, ensuring accessibility from the start and applying the universal design principles in all sectors is very much in line with the idea of independent living, inclusion and participation in the community. Hence to take this whole-society approach, the EU Care package must suggest ideas on how to better integrate these considerations in the future and present policy initiatives. (45 examples of initiatives to boost the transition towards independent living and meaningful inclusion in the community can be found in our recent S.H.I.F.T. in practice report.)

Inclusiveness and human rights compliance must be at the core of the thinking, as they are necessary from an early age. Quality inclusive ECEC is not only a requirement to provide special responses to children and families that have been excluded from the system, but also the building blocks to construct inclusive societies, boost independence and boost the care economy by developing a clear framework of competence and requirement for the sector and the staff.  This also implies recognising the societal and economic value and diversity of the work provided by families as both economic units and natural safety nets which needs to be appropriately supported in order to carry on with this role. The role of the EU is to ensure that this thinking is coherent across the different Member States: family and family solidarity does not stop at a border, but is very much a cross-border issue in line with emerging transnational family realities. It is crucial that the question of care in cross-border families is addressed in the Care Package.

In other words, with the upcoming Care Package, the EU has the possibility to extend further the vision put forward by the European Pillar of Social Rights and presents a Union with a vision for the future of its citizens. This global leadership is needed to rise to the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis has imposed on us and the ones it has brought centre stage. It is high time to present a coherent, sustainable vision based on human rights on how we want to support the members of our societies who need care and/or support and the ones that are already providing this support, formally,  informally and within the family.

For more information, contact Camille Roux croux@coface-eu.org

 

COFACE’s resources

Going Further

[1] According to the data included in the gender equality strategy the 44% of Europeans think that the most important role of a women is to take care of her home and family. 43% think the most important role of a man is to earn money

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