The European Care Strategy

The European Care Strategy
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

The European Commission has announced its plans to develop a European Care Strategy. The strategy will strengthen long-term care and early childhood education and care, as envisaged under the European Pillar of Social Rights.

It will help strengthen gender equality and social fairness. The Strategy will highlight the need for high quality, accessible and affordable care services for children and people who need long-term care. The initiative will propose two Council recommendations, on childcare (revision of the Barcelona targets) and on long-term care. The strategy was announced in the letter of intent accompanying the 2021 State of the Union address of Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. It should contribute to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The health crisis caused by the coronavirus brought the work of formal and informal care workers center stage in policy debates related to working conditions, including issues of gender and work-life balance.

Early Childhood Ireland welcomes the announcement by the European Commission to develop a European Care Strategy, and the commitment by the Council of the European Union to ‘promote the accessibility, affordability and quality of childcare and long-term care, including through enhancing support for formal and informal carers.’

Access to, and providing, quality care across the life cycle is part of a strong ‘social Europe’ as envisaged in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and necessary for living up to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Barcelona objectives the European Council adopted in 2002 include targets for childcare (covering 33% of children under 3 and 90% of children under primary school-going age). On average, these have been reached in the EU. However, between the Member States there are significant differences. By revising the Barcelona Targets, the European Commission aims to further ensure upward convergence and align the targets with recent EU initiatives.

There is currently no single definition of ‘care’ or ‘caring’ at the EU level. Care’ refers to a range of services and activities – home and community based social care services, childcare and child protection provision, and care for adults with support needs. Overall, quality of care varies significantly, data is limited, and care provision is underfunded and understaffed. The proposal for a European Care Strategy is an opportunity to secure a shared vision of care across Europe. It is also an opportunity to support existing EU commitments and policy frameworks, including the Social Pillar Action Plan, the European Child Guarantee, the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and the European Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030.

The European Commission’s work programme for 2022 foresees a Communication on a European care strategy, accompanied by the revision of the Barcelona targets and a proposal for a Council Recommendation on long-term care for Q3 of 2022.

Early Childhood Ireland will be monitoring the European Commission’s work and the progress on the delivery of the Council Recommendation on long-term care. If you would like more detail on the subjects discussed here please contact our policy team.

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