On the first UN International Day of Care and Support, EAPN and 16 European organisations call for urgent measures to address underinvestment and staff shortages in long-term care.
The first UN International Day of Care and Support is a welcome initiative that marks a positive development in the recognition of the vital importance of care and of those who provide it in our societies. We hope that the welcome momentum generated by the UN International Day of Care and Support will catalyse and inspire substantive actions across the European Union.
According to the 2022 EURES Report on labour shortages and surpluses, there are critical shortages in health and social care occupations across many, if not all, European countries. Everywhere, organisations have been raising the alarm about the shortage of care services, professional care staff, insufficient support to informal carers, and the dangerous and immediate consequences for the entire society.
At the EU level, the European Care Strategy paves the way for the transformation of the sector and the creation of a person-centred, community-based care and support system. It lays the foundation for a system that will respect the rights and dignity of persons in need of care and support, and their families as well as carers, both professional and informal. This strategy needs to be fully and adequately transposed to address EU Member States’ realities through ambitious national measures to be submitted to the European Commission by June 2024. These must present concrete actions to address qualified professional care staff shortages.
Understaffing and underinvestment
Understaffing and underinvestment in care are nothing new. Underneath remains the issues of ableism and ageism and other discriminations based on gender stereotypes, migration or residence status, and other grounds of discrimination that affect both care receivers and caregivers.
Care is still considered a woman’s duty, with 44% of Europeans thinking that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family. This leads to women absorbing 90% of the paid care staff jobs, which are undervalued, low paid, precarious and with little to no career advancement or development. The scale of the problem has grown incrementally of late, notably due to the COVID-19 and cost-of-living crises. Finding competent, well-trained and stable staff remains a challenge in every country of the region. This has consequences on all persons working in the sector with too many dealing with poor working and occupational health and safety, leading to burnout, stress and anxiety, further deteriorating mental health, third party violence and low staff retention for service providers.
A denial of human rights
On the side of persons who draw on care and support services, the shortages can result in a denial of human rights with sometimes life-threatening consequences and affect the quality of the care and support services provided. The shortages in adequate services and in staff can also amount to a violation of the human rights of persons entitled to care services under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and a denial of their dignity, autonomy and rights to social inclusion and participation.
On the first UN International Day of Care and Support, the undersigned organisations state that there cannot be a healthy care and support system if the rights and dignity of any of the groups that compose it are denied or violated.