A new research paper has been published by the European Parliament at the request of its Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). The study, which has been written by Irish researchers, examines the gendered nature of the European Union (EU) care economy, the impact of COVID-19 on care and the care sector and the extent to which gender equality and care have been taken into account in the EU COVID-19 Recovery Plan.
In the study, the concept of care encompasses a range of activities including paid and unpaid, formal and informal work, physical and emotional labour carried out in homes, communities and long-term residential settings, mainly by women. The authors comment that, ‘At a global level, care work is overwhelming carried out by women, often as part of a hidden or underground economy and shaped by historical and persistent gendered inequalities. Care involves both physical and emotional labour and encompasses the paid work of childcare, education and healthcare workers, those employed in institutional long-term care (LTC) settings, informal or unpaid work in the community as well as domestic work in the home. Care is a spectrum of activities that reveals the critical, although largely unrecognised, interdependence and interconnectedness of society.’ They argue that the care economy should be seen as a social investment and have a central place in the funding of the post-crisis EU Recovery Plan. This investment would entail a high level of return through growth in women’s employment and social wellbeing. Accordingly, the core recommendation of the report is that funding for the care economy should account for at least 30% of the expenditure under the EU Recovery Plan for Europe. This would create equal standing with the 37% already allocated to green transformation investments and 30% to digital transition investments.
Several other recommendations are also made by the authors, such as:
- Eurostat should collect disaggregated data on care, the provisions of different types of care and profiling the composition of both formal and informal carers, paid and unpaid care workers in relation to gender, age, nationality, disability and ethnicity in different care settings;
- Data on care should be used in the development of an EU Care Strategy;
- Time use surveys should be centrally managed and produced by Eurostat, that generates estimated values of unpaid work;
- Training and educational qualifications should be linked to the establishment of a career structure for each different cohort of carers, within a system of reciprocal recognition of qualifications at EU and global levels;
- Increased funding should be made available for training and education programmes for care workers in paid care, and also in informal systems of care. Provision of inclusive social protection for formal and informal, paid and unpaid caregivers should be resourced;
- An enhanced system of leave entitlements for parents and carers should also be resourced in a manner that has a significant impact on increased sharing of care responsibilities;
- Protections for migrant workers in home-based and institutional care should be developed and clear lines established for access to residency rights and citizenship.
The report has an important role in highlighting the marginal attention paid to gender equality and the care economy in the new EU Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF). It stresses the vital role that civil society will have in shifting the centre of gravity, at EU and country levels, towards the care economy.