On 15 November 2022, Alzheimer Europe held an online session of its popular Alzheimer's Association Academy series, focused on the topic of ‘Long Term Care and the European Care Strategy’. The event featured presentations from four speakers and was attended by 34 national member association representatives from 18 different countries, as well as industry representatives. In his presentation, Ragnar Horn (European Commission), gave an overview of the recently launched European Care Strategy and the process underpinning its development. He outlined why a European Care Strategy is currently needed, highlighting the unequal gendered distribution of care responsibilities, the current unmet needs of older adults, and the predicted rise in caring needs over the next 30 years. He also noted the staff shortages in the care sector and potential for high job creation. Ragnar then gave a breakdown of the care strategy; its main focus will be on improving care services, by enhancing their availability, availability, affordability, and accessibility. Regarding EU-planned actions, Ragnar mentioned that the Care Package involves a proposal for a Council Recommendation on the revision of the Barcelona targets for childcare (increase in the coverage rate) as well as a Proposal for a Council Recommendation on access to affordable high-quality long-term care. Ragnar then discussed the topic of public investment in care and highlighted that there are strong disparities between member states’ spending. Countries should keep in mind that investment in care is an investment that pays off. Regarding monitoring and implementation of the Strategy, Member States will be asked to have a long-term care coordinator that submits national action plans with subsequent progress reports. The Care Strategy will also include a dedicated framework of indicators that will be used to monitor countries’ progress. Lastly, Ragnar explained that the European Commission will support Member States through EU funding, mutual learning, and better data, and report to the Council on progress within 5 years.
In the following presentation, Maureen Piggot from the European Disability Forum (EDF), presented the implications of the European Care Strategy for persons living with disabilities and for the wider society. She discussed the strengths of the Strategy, such as its recognition of the importance of long-term care, and its focus on accessibility, affordability, working conditions, and care in the community. EDF also welcomes that the Strategy emphasises the need for improving the working conditions of the care sector as well as the training, skills and status of care workers. Maureen then talked about could be improved in the current plan for the Strategy. First, she explained that disability was included under the broad concept of accessibility, but that the latter does not cover all that is required to ensure that the long-term care needs of people with disabilities are met. It is not only about providing access to long-term care to people with disabilities but also about recognising the importance of providing high-quality services immediately to those in need. She also noted that there is a danger in using the word ‘care’ as an all-embracing term, as this masks the variety of services that an individual with a disability might need throughout their life. In addition, there should also be a specific mention of children with disabilities within the monitoring of access to services. Other weaknesses that were noted include the Strategy’s lack of binding measures and its insufficient emphasis on using care to promote autonomy for people with disabilities. Maureen underlined that since the economy of care is currently highly fragmented, it is often very difficult for a family of a person with a disability to find out what is available and how to obtain the funding to get access to different types of services. Maureen explained that self-advocacy should also be part of the care received by people with disabilities; some people need more support than others to articulate what care services they need. The framework for the implementation of the Strategy includes a focus on mutual learning which is positive, according to the EDF, as there is a range of experiences to be shared within EU member states. Nonetheless, Maureen explained that it would be useful to find themes within these mutual learnings that are most relevant to people with disabilities. As a final point, Maureen referred to EDF’s plea for investment in care at an earlier stage: the right amount of in public intervention at the right time is key to preventing crises for people with disabilities.
The next speaker was Claire Champeix from Eurocarers who began her presentation by providing some background information about carers. She then moved on to outlining Eurocarer’s opinion on the European Care Strategy: Eurocarers sees the Strategy as a major step forward to recognising informal carers and the impact that caregiving can have on informal carers. Nonetheless, Eurocarers would have liked for the Care Strategy to adopt a more right-based approach rather than solely focusing on the availability of carers in the labour market. This would have helped to add emphasis on carers who are not of working age, including young children and older carers. She also noted that the implementation of the strategy will be key to its success. It is important that there be an investment in all EU funding opportunities to ensure implementation at the national level. And she highlighted that transnational funding opportunities should also be explored. According to Claire, it is also important for these programmes to involve all those who are concerned, and to improve the governance of long-term care. She closed her presentation by referring to Eurocarers’ recently launched an open letter calling EU national Ministers for employment, health and social affairs to adopt the Council recommendation on long-term care. This letter will be disseminated to Eurocarers’ national member associations who will then send them to their national governments and invited other national organisations to do the same.
The final speaker was Lilith Alink from the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) who provided her take on the European Care Strategy, from a service provider’s perspective. According to EASPD, the human rights angle in the Strategy is currently lacking and more emphasis should be placed on the topic of deinstitutionalisation. She then talked about the importance of defining high-quality care and measuring it appropriately. She noted that the principle of quality is present throughout the Care Strategy, namely with the mention of appropriate quality assurance mechanisms within the Council Recommendation on Long-Term Care. On the other hand, there is currently no plan to develop indicators to assess how long-term care can achieve quality long-term care. She also discussed digitalisation, and its relevance to the context of care as it can help people who have support needs. She welcomed the planned actions on boosting digital skills and the funds announced under the upcoming Horizon Europe partnership for the knowledge hub on digital solutions in health and care provision. EASPD also welcomes the actions aimed at tackling staff shortages, as there is a pressing need to make the care job sector more attractive. As a final point, Lilith mentioned that in order to have a tangible impact, the EU Care Strategy must help Member States address the funding gap around care across the EU. The EASPD, therefore, welcomes the different funding opportunities mentioned in the Strategy, such as Erasmus, EU4Health, ESF+, and the Technical Support Instrument. After some questions from the audience, Owen closed the session and stated that Alzheimer Europe looks forward to working with partners at the national level to make sure this strategy becomes a reality.
The next Academy session is scheduled to take place online, on 12 December 2022.