The European Care Strategy aims to provide better access to long-term care and better working conditions for carers.
Europe's ageing population means there is a growing need for long-term care workers to help support elderly people and those who require assistance for everyday activities. Currently, around six million people work in the sector, but estimates suggest the bloc will require another 1.6 million care workers by 2050.
In Banska Stiavnica in eastern Slovakia, a community-based pilot project has been set up with the aim of helping older people live safely and independently at home for as long as possible.
In this region of the country, access to quality care and services for the elderly is not always possible due to a lack of funding and staff.
38-year-old Lucia Schneider has been taking care of her grandmother, Eva, for about a year. She is one of the lucky ones able to provide care as part of her job.
"My job is to help my grandmother with cleaning, shopping, and helping to take a shower," Lucia told Euronews.
Growing demand for long-term carers
Public spending on professional long-term care is low in Europe, representing only 1.7% of GDP in 2019 according to data published by the European Commission. Due to the costs, it very often falls on the family to take care of their elders, according to data published by the European Commission.
Since the loss of her husband, Eva lives alone, and her small pension doesn’t cover the cost of all her needs. Therefore, her family must also support her financially.
"I couldn't go to a retirement home because my pension is too small to cover the payment," Eva revealed.
But while she can, Eva prefers to stay at home and be close to her family.
Projections show that in Slovakia, the number of people in need of long-term care will increase by more than 50% by 2070 - double the EU’s average increase.
Support and technology for the elderly
Mária Petrová lives alone and requires long-term care. One year ago, she registered with a community social service centre for one of the projects supported by the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).
The ambition is to bring together social, health providers and municipalities to offer more services to the elderly.
The support and technology she receives allow her to live at home independently.
"I often need to go to the doctor. Mr Zorván takes me to the hospital, he also waits for me, and brings me home."
"[My control monitor] shows [my] temperature, blood pressure and other things. All this is helping a lot, mentally and physically," she added.
How is the EU supporting long-term care?
Pavel Červienka manages the project on the ground. He leads a consultation with the municipality and elderly people in the region, to work out their needs.
"We have come up with the idea of connecting municipalities into microregions", he said. "This way we can accumulate more funds and be able to pay enough carers, and possibly motivate more people to start social work."
Pavel Adamy is accompanied by Alžbeta Zaušková, one of the project’s social carers. For her, this work is a vocation that must be better valued.
"It is a very important job nowadays, so it could be better in terms of working hours, and it could be better paid," Alžbeta explained.
With a shortage of staff and growing pressure on public finances, the European Union has adopted the European Care Strategy to improve the working conditions of carers and enable the elderly to grow old with dignity.
Euronews asked Ivailo Kalfin, Director of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) to explain the biggest challenges facing long-term social care in Europe.
"There are many, so it is difficult to summarise them. But maybe the huge challenge is the access to long-term care services. Simply, there are many people that do not have proper access to long-term care.
"But the elephant in the room is the staffing and the carers. There is more and more need for care workers in Europe with an ageing population and there are less and less carers. You don't have enough young people in the care sector and that gives a very grim perspective in the future if nothing is done."
Care work is often characterised by difficult working conditions and low wages. This means it is difficult to attract more people to that sector.
"That's why the Commission will put forward a long-term care strategy," Ivailo Kalfin explained. "Of course, we need to talk about salaries because the care workers are underpaid. But this is not only the salaries, there is a number of additional support which could be provided to care workers, for example, some more support for mental health because they are working in difficult conditions.
"Then the training is also very important because [technological] change might help, but it might be an obstacle. So it's very much in need that these people are kept up to date.
"Many of them are on short-term call, so they have to be available all the time, but they also need to have the time to rest, to relax, to recompose, before going back."
For Ivailo Kalfin, more concretely supporting informal carers, such as family members caring for their relatives, poses even more difficult challenges.
"These informal carers in most cases are women. Because women tend to work for less paid jobs, for more precarious jobs. And this is a stigma which continues for many years," he said.
Many of these people taking care of [the] elderly or people with disability at home cannot go to work. So they have really very low income and this is their job practically. So if we want to provide a minimum quality of life, they need to have support from the social system."
Producer/Author/Reporter: Fanny Gauret
Crash Course Author: Jeremy Wilks
Video editor: Silvia Lizardo
Production: Louise Lehec
Camera 1: Mathieu Rocher
Camera 2 : Yves Pottiaux