Eurofound is the EU Agency for the improvement of living and working conditions. It has published a new report on employment and working conditions in the long-term care (LTC) workforce: on 14th December 2020. EASPD has provided a summary of the issues and discussion found in the report.
The key findings:
· Around 6.3 million people work in the LTC sector in the EU – up by one third in just one decade – while 44 million people provide frequent informal LTC to relatives or friends.
· The proportion of workers aged 50 years or older is higher than in other sectors and is increasing faster: from 28% in 2009 to 38% in 2019.
· Working conditions in the sector are characterised by physical challenges such as lifting people and working with potentially infectious materials – the risks being high in the industry as the workforce is older.
· Exposure to adverse social behaviour at work means there is a high risk of developing mental health problems, thereby accentuating gender differences as the workforce is predominantly female.
· Better staffing levels and more training, with public funding leveraged to set standards for care work, can all contribute to improving working conditions, addressing staff shortages, and ensuring access to high-quality long-term care
The report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on the LTC sector and the lingering effect of being well equipped to cope. Furthermore, the COVID‐19 crisis has shown that LTC workers must be better prepared to work safely in potentially infectious environments. The physical demands of LTC and the risk of infection from illnesses such as influenza/COVID‐19 tend to affect older workers, who are overrepresented in LTC, more severely. The report notes that it is hard to predict the impact of the crisis on workforce dynamics, with more people looking for jobs and more workers moving from LTC to healthcare or other sectors and fewer signing up to work in close‐contact professions.
EASPD and Eurofund agree that the home and community‐based care services are vital in enabling people who need LTC to stay in the community, following the deinstitutionalisation process. Furthermore, the COVID‐19 crisis may have accelerated the move away from large‐scale residential LTC. However, the care user’s home as the work environment is hard to regulate and control in future settings.
The data presented shows that the EU’s LTC workforce has grown by 1/3 over the past decade and continues to grow further, despite several countries are experiencing staff shortages. With many family members or friends playing the critical role of an informal LTC that is often recognised in several countries in the EU, there have been notable changes to this LTC area. This report highlights many EU‐level data gaps on LTC workforce‐related issues, as stated above.
The report found that several characteristics of the LTC workforce; that nature of LTC worker is often categorised as part‐time work or self-employment, being associated with poor working conditions, such as exposure to specific physical risks, including the frequent lifting of people and having to deal with infectious material, with insufficient training. The LTC sector consists of many low‐paid professions (cited as one of many reasons for staff shortages). Furthermore, the LTC workforce is mostly female; thus, it is an important sector to push for gender equality.
In conclusion, the LTC workforce is key in delivering LTC and improving the quality of life and employment prospects of older people and people with disabilities, enabling them to enjoy their rights (EPSR, UN CRPD). The report argues that policy action is needed to improve working conditions in LTC among EU countries and to improve access to high‐quality LTC.