ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence for the upcoming EU Care Strategy
The European Care Strategy was announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech of September 2021. The Strategy would be aimed at supporting “men and women in finding the best care and the best life balance for them.” The initiative will consist of two Council Recommendations, on childcare (revision of the Barcelona targets) and long-term care, as envisaged under the European Pillar of Social Rights. It aims to strengthen gender equality and social fairness, as well as highlight the need for high-quality, accessible and affordable care services for children and people who need long-term care. In this context, the European Commission launched a three-fold call for evidence, to which ERGO Network responded, inviting stakeholders to submit their views on the European Care Strategy overall, as well as separately on the revision of the Barcelona targets on childcare, and on access to affordable and high-quality long-term care.
We welcome that the initiative will be rooted in a fundamental rights-based approach, including non-discrimination and social inclusion. It will also focus on social investment as well as healthy ageing and prevention policies, and it acknowledges of poor wages and working conditions in the care sector. We support proposed links with the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and strategies on Ageing, Gender Equality, Disability and the Child Guarantee. However, we also urge strong synergies with the EU Roma Strategic Framework & the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan. We appreciate the explicit mention of Roma and minority ethnic children, but adults must also be considered: older Roma, Roma with disabilities and Roma carers. Their specific needs should be prioritised and the care gap between Roma and non-Roma reduced. Statistical monitoring should be disaggregated by ethnic background when measuring progress.
Europe’s Roma have a 5 to 10-year shorter life expectancy compared to others, while 22% have a longstanding illness / health problem, 28% feel limited by their state of health, and 55% of Roma women aged 50+ are in bad health, according to the Fundamental Rights Agency. Older Roma experience additional difficulties, due to a life spent in poverty, health inequalities and increased health risks and vulnerability to chronic diseases. Low employment rates and overrepresentation in low-paid work give access to no or poor pension entitlements.
Additionally, older Roma women experience bad health, low employment records and exposure to gender-based violence and intersectional discrimination. Efforts must also be made to ensure that Roma living with a physical or mental disability or chronic illness can benefit on equal footing from available support schemes (income support, care services etc). An independent living approach to long-term care must be supported, promoting deinstitutionalisation while ensuring the burden of care does not fall on relatives. For centuries, Roma children have been left behind regarding a good start in life. Only 53% of young Roma children attend early childhood education and care, with participation rates far below the EU’s Education and Training Strategy targets in 5 Member States. The initiative must aim to end segregation and foster the capacity of early childhood education and care staff to provide diversity education and awareness about Roma language, culture, and history.
Over 80% of Europe’s Roma are in poverty. Care costs are prohibitive and administrative obstacles are deterrents to obtaining insurance. Many Roma communities are not covered by childcare or long-term care services, forcing residents to undertake expensive, lengthy journeys. Additionally, many Roma face language barriers and a lack of identity papers, legal address, bank account and literacy skills. Efforts are also needed to tackle the digital divide in care, ensuring that vulnerable users such as the Roma have free or affordable access to equipment (PC, tablet), infrastructure (coverage, internet, electricity etc) and digital skills. The Strategy should seek to remove financial and nonfinancial barriers to access, while resisting attempts towards the commodification and privatisation of care. Free and comprehensive state service provision must be support instead, through consistent public investment in care as a common good. Investment is needed in community-based services, including social economy initiatives, to create local jobs and respond to community needs where they arise.
There is an ethnic dimension of the care sector, as care work is deeply racialised. Many Roma women and women of colour are employed as carers in facilities or households. The initiative should tackle the gender and ethnic pay and pension gap, as well as fight discrimination in the workplace, supporting the implementation of the Racial Equality and Employment Equality Directives. Only 16% of Roma women are employed, while 40% of them (and even 50% in some countries) are not seeking work because of care responsibilities. Gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles must be tackled. Parents and caregivers should enjoy work-life balance & flexibility to spend adequate, quality time with their children.
Antigypsyism deters access to childcare and long-term care services, with 41% of Roma report being discriminated by services. The Strategy must mainstream the fight against racism and discrimination from an intersectional perspective, combating antigypsyism, sexism, ageism, and ableism as well as the stigma associated to living in poverty. Care services staff should provide inclusive and respectful care, as well as receive anti-bias and diversity training combined with awareness raising of specific Roma care needs. Employing more Roma staff also helps bridge gaps. The health and education Roma mediators’ scheme must be scaled up, with the mediators formally recognised and paid adequately to reflect their added value.
If the European Care Strategy is to be successful and respond in an effective way to actual needs on the ground, stakeholder involvement and ownership are paramount. The processes around this initiative must closely associate care givers and care receivers from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the Roma, as well as the civil society organisations representing them, in the design, delivery, and evaluation of care policies, in a structured, resourced, and transparent way . ERGO Network and its national members will continue to closely monitor and contribute to the work around the shaping of the Strategy, in order to ensure that the concerns, rights, and inclusion of Europe’s Roma are duly taken into account.