Home-care services will be a major job creator
The long-term care sector is a growing source of jobs. Rising numbers of older people, and longer lifespans, alongside the declining availability of family care providers are increasing the demand for paid care.
The size of the long-term care workforce is expected to double by 2050. However, the sector is generally characterised by difficult working conditions – low pay, demanding work, irregular working time and poor career prospects – which means it struggles to attract new recruits and retain its existing workforce.
Research findings just launched by Eurofound propose a number of strategies to avert future staff shortages in home-care services – services that support older people and those with disabilities or chronic illnesses to live independently in their homes.
Based on case studies of successful initiatives across Europe, the research report suggests that job quality can be improved by professionalising the sector by providing opportunities for professional development, improving career paths and making training more accessible.
There is slim evidence at present of efforts being made to address working conditions in the sector. According to Kai Leichsenring, a researcher at the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, who spoke at the launch, there is ‘more a “race to the bottom” rather than improvements in working conditions’ in the context of the current crisis.
He noted that new forms of precarious work with even lower pay and fewer social rights are emerging in relation, for example, to migrant carers, not only in economically troubled countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain, but also in Austria and Germany. He believes that ‘professionals, management and users need to discuss much more what is important to them, how this can be realised and how different interests may be reconciled’. However, the framework conditions for such dialogue are largely absent in the context of home care.
Nevertheless, there are some initiatives that show that innovative change is possible and these are highlighted in the case studies. One such initiative is Netherlands Neighbourhood Care (Buurtzorg Nederland), which started when a group of district nurses came together to transform nursing and care at home.
The project gives small, self-organising district teams of highly skilled workers full responsibility for the nursing and care of clients at home. These teams enhance the services available to clients by supporting the contribution of volunteers or by helping clients to access the formal health and social care system. The organisation believes its approach improves the quality and efficiency of home care and enhances the attractiveness of the jobs of district nurse and orderly.
The long-term care sector offers a way to tackle both the demographic and employment challenges confronting Europe. Increased professionalisation of the sector as well as expectations of quality services from users may well drive improved quality standards in working conditions.