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The domestic and home care sector: answering the structural weakness of EU member states’ care systems

Aude Boisseuil
General Delegate of the European Federation for Family Employment and Home Care (EFFE)

Structuring the domestic and home care sector is the only way to reach the Care strategy targets of quality, affordability and accessibility of care services. 

In its Care strategy, released on 7 September 2022, the European Commission recognises the role of home care and community-based services in the care policy mix and the role of informal carers in responding to the care needs in the European Union. 

The domestic and home care sector – or as the EC calls it, Personal and Household Services (PHS) – provides essential services enabling elderly people to pursue a good and dignified life, in their own homes, and remain actors of their life. PHS help them to carry out activities of daily living (direct care activities), to remain socially active and maintain bonds with their family and community. Furthermore, they also contribute to the instrumental activities of daily life (indirect care activities), allowing the care recipients to have a good living environment in their own homes. The combination of both direct and indirect care work allows people in need of care to be fully comfortable in their own homes, and their place of living is equally considered. In the area of childcare, childminders and childcare workers at home take care of young children’s care needs, be it full-time care from birth to three years old, or be it after-school care for older children. 

Domestic and home care will be key to meeting the care needs in Europe in the coming decades. Usually highly stigmatised and prone to stereotypes, the sector still suffers from a lack of recognition. For this recognition, a real change in mentalities is needed. It deserves revalorisation, and recognition of its high societal, social and economic value. More attractive jobs in the sector will be key to responding to the lack of labour force, which is mainly due to poor working conditions and the retirement of domestic and care workers. The care sector and more specifically the domestic and home care services are also faced with high levels of undeclared work. Indeed, because of high labour costs, and the lack of public investment, it cannot develop to its full potential in the formal labour market.

Households choose not to declare domestic and care workers when the employment prices for undeclared work are significantly more affordable than those on the declared market. However, having professional PHS workers providing home care for people in need of long-term care and support can enable informal carers to better balance their work-life equilibrium and allow women – who often undertake such caring responsibilities – to return to, or enter, the labour market.

Concerning childcare, most parents need diversification of childcare arrangements: both collective and individual childcare should be structured, developed, affordable and implemented to respond to parents’ needs. Nowadays, in many EU countries, parents resort to undeclared work because they do not have access to diversified childcare arrangements, and they need to find solutions fitting with their work-life balance and care needs. Individual childcare arrangements represent a third option between collective childcare and women at home taking care of their children. It’s a complementary tailor-made solution adaptable to parents with night shifts or long, early and late working hours, which are not covered by collective childcare facilities. This is particularly the case for parents working in the medical and healthcare sector themselves. In this context, allowing parents to directly hire childminders or childcare workers of their choice through direct employment can increase women’s participation in the labour market. It would also help create declared jobs with social rights in the sector. In this case, it is necessary to invest in the development and adaptation of the essential skills that are required to ensure quality, especially to meet the challenges of educating very young children at home.

The European Care strategy is the first positive step. Now, member states must implement it in their national action, while considering the domestic and home care sector to reach the objectives of affordability, quality and accessibility of care services in the coming decades. 

At present, PHS stakeholders are insufficiently organised and recognised. This hinders the development of a virtuous approach towards the aim of raising qualifications, training requirements and wages, improving working conditions and health and safety at work, and strengthening sectoral collective bargaining. This will only be possible with the support of member states to promote capacity building of national social partners in the PHS sector.

Photo credits: Phovoir/Shutterstock

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