The Acting Ministers of Social Rights and Equality, Ione Belarra and Irene Montero, called on the European Union to set up “public, robust and flexible” care systems during the high-level meeting “Transformation of the Care Model – Right to Care” held on Wednesday 18 October in Madrid in the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and in which EFFE was invited to participate, alongside the European Commission and representatives of the Member States.
The aim of the meeting was to promote a European Care strategy and to encourage the exchange of existing public policies in the EU, aiming at ensuring the universal right to care and establishing approaches that help to define a common strategic framework.
“We need to move towards strong and flexible public care systems, which are undoubtedly the challenge of the welfare state in the 21st century,” said Minister Belarra in her speech. In addition, she added that they will work with other member states on public care systems “that are on an equal footing with education or health care“.
Belarra stressed that the right to care “must be guaranteed” and that care tasks are “essential, cannot be postponed and can never be stopped, because they are what allow the rest of life to function.”
In addition, she recalled that in 2022, the European Commission “took an unprecedented step” by presenting the European Care Strategy, which “made long-term care a cornerstone of the reform of the European social model“.
For her part, Minister Montero stressed the importance of prioritizing the “right to care and the right of women to have time to live” in public policies and in the priorities of the State, both in Europe and in Spain.
« We have an obligation not only to achieve a fairer distribution of care tasks between men and women, but above all that the state assumes its responsibility in these tasks, as we have done in this legislature “, said the Minister of Equality.
Ms. Montero pointed out that the National Working Conditions Survey, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (INSST), reveals that women spend 12 and a half hours more per week on unpaid care work than men.
« Today, women have an hour and a half less free time than men. Therefore, in order to exercise other rights, such as the right to health, the right to culture, the right to political participation, the right to rest, we need time, and this must be a priority for Europe,” said Montero.
This event demonstrated the understanding of the issues facing the sector, and the willingness of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU to respond to them. The ministers, as well as the speakers, insisted on the fact that care activities still suffer too much from a misunderstanding, being often relegated to informal tasks and not as work, which has strong consequences for work life balance, precariousness and working conditions.
The event was entirely disscussed through the prism of gender equality, as the guarantee of the right to care guarantees the rights of women, and in particular migrant women. However, it was explained during this conference that stereotypes are tenacious, and that there is a social mandate given to women to carry out these care activities.
By way of comparison, it was shown by the experts of the different panels that if the work of informal carers was integrated into the formal economy and paid, it would represent an equivalent of 9% of the world’s GDP, equivalent to the tourism sector.
Ministers and Secretaries of State acknowledged strong advances, such as ILO Convention 189 and the implementation of the European Care Strategy. They also insisted on the need to look at what is being done outside the EU, as other continents also share the same problem. They cited the example of the Buenos Aires Commitment adopted at the XV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2022, which proposes a path to evolve towards the care society, as well as the proposal for a bi-regional pact for care between Latin America and the European Union that was developed at a summit of heads of state held in July 2023, in order to promote cooperation in the field of human rights protection, public policies and care systems between the two regions.
The representatives of the Spanish Presidency recalled that all people have a right, not a privilege, to decide how, where and with whom to live; that all individuals at some point in their lives are faced with the need for care; whereas, for the time being, care is a vector of gender and socio-economic inequality; and that current systems do not take into account the wishes and needs of those who receive such care.
Finally, the speakers agreed on the fact that, in addition to significant social investment to ensure the transition to new models, it was necessary to focus on home care and social dialogue to address the weaknesses of the sector, such as the shortages, training and working conditions.
The full meeting is available here
10 years of commitment and advocacy