The European Commission has presented a European Care Strategy to increase access to high-quality and affordable care services in member states, while improving working conditions and work-life balance for carers.
Published on 7 September, the strategy is accompanied by two proposals for European Council recommendations on long-term care and early childhood education and care; and recognises co-ops as major partners for public authorities in the provision of long-term care.
The Commission points out that 90% of the formal care workforce is made up of women, and 7.7 million women are shut out of employment because of care responsibilities. Its ideas to remedy this include revising the ‘the Barcelona Targets’ on early childhood education and care, set in 2002 to enhance women’s labour market participation.
Nicolas Schmit, commissioner for jobs and social rights, said: “The European Care Strategy is about putting people first. The EU recognises the value of care work, which must be reflected in better working conditions and pay. People in need of long-term care must be guaranteed access to affordable services of good quality so they can live a dignified life. I hope that this strategy will result in care – both professional and informal – being given the respect and investment it deserves.”
The European confederation of industrial and service cooperatives (Cecop) welcomed the adoption of the strategy and the related policy initiatives.
It notes that the strategy acknowledges the contribution of co-operatives as “important partners for public authorities in the provision of long-term care” and the fact that “social economy actors bring an added-value to the provision of high-quality care services due to their person-centred approach and the reinvestment of profits into their mission and local communities.”
Cecop also welcomed the acknowledgment that policy and legal frameworks should create the right environment for the social economy to optimise its contribution to care services, and the recommendation that member states include quality criteria in public procurement.
“The systematic use of socially responsible public procurement could boost the potential of social economy to contribute to high-quality standards in care and to provide fair working conditions,” the strategy states. Cecop argues this provision will help co-operatives as organisations that prioritise quality over profit in employment conditions and care provision.
In recognising the importance of accessible digital transition and technological innovation, the strategy mentions CGM, the main Italian consortium of social co-operatives, as a best practice in increasing access to long-term care via digitalisation. The consortium provides care services via digital platforms.
Cecop president Giuseppe Guerini said: “In many cases, co-operatives have created services where there were none, made investments and promoted social solidarity, at a time when no one was talking about social impact investments. They have created a new model of enterprises (social co-operatives) and hundreds of thousands of jobs. This is why we believe it is important that in the implementation of the European Care Strategy the key role of social economy organisations and first of all social and health co-operatives is recognised.”
To achieve further progress, Cecop recommends the Commission and EU member states consider:
- prioritising long-term investment and sustainable funding for care providers that respects the co-operative model and ensuring that co-operatives are eligible for all relevant EU and national funding
- more favourable state aid rules and a higher de minimis threshold for the care sector
- an effective shift towards a more integrated public-private partnership model, based on a joint analysis of community needs and long-term planning of services by care providers, authorities and other stakeholders
- EU financial instruments for digital, technological and social innovation in the care sector are essential but policy attention to that field should be increased, in particular on the side of the member states
- stepping up investments in care infrastructure
- promoting and supporting community-based care model among the member sates
Cecop says it expects to engage in further dialogue with the Commission and its members in the member states on implementation of the care strategy package, and is committed to sharing expertise from its network.
The Commission’s proposals for Council Recommendations will be discussed by member states with a view to adoption by the European Council.