It is estimated that in the EU, 80 percent of long-term care, of people with a chronic illness, disability or other long-lasting care needs, is provided by informal carers.
They often do this unpaid and with minimal support. Therefore, it is fair to say that carers are an inherent as well as an indispensable part of the provision, organisation and development of health and social care systems.
Without the efforts of informal carers, health and long-term care systems would simply not be sustainable – indeed, their contribution to the economy and society as a whole should be explicitly recognised.
Moreover, while caring for a loved one can be a source of personal satisfaction and emotional gratification, it can also have many challenging consequences: it can affect physical and mental health, social participation, integration and inclusion, financial situation and labour market participation.
For young carers, caring can have a negative impact in terms of their formal education, personal and social development and employment prospects in later life.
The current COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has not only exacerbated the negative impact of care on carers themselves, it is also highlighting the essential nature of informal care, as millions of people across the EU have become unpaid carers for loved ones in recent months.
"The current COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has not only exacerbated the negative impact of care on carers themselves, it is also highlighting the essential nature of informal care, as millions of people across the EU have become unpaid carers for loved ones in recent months"
Confinement measures, put in place - first in many EU countries and now at regional level - may enhance their isolation, cause distress and create challenging home situations. T
hese measures will continue to have a stronger impact on carers and their families than on the population in general.
Yet, despite their importance, many carers say they feel invisible and ignored. And, as said, many pay a high price for their caregiving in terms of negative health, social, employment and social security outcomes.
Moreover, the combination of various demographic and socio-economic developments is rapidly leading to increased strain on carers and lack of support.
While there are differences in, and within EU Member States, in general, policy support for carers and long-term care systems are falling short across the board.
This is why this year, on October 6, the first-ever European Carers Day was celebrated across the EU.
The initiative for this day was taken by Eurocarers, the European organisation working with and for informal carers, to address the urgent need for a special annual event to shed light on carers and the issues they face.
"We warmly invite our fellow MEPs to join our Interest Group, as a strong Parliamentary voice will help make the case with the European Commission and Council to take action. This way, as MEPs, we can help enable carers to provide the indispensable care required by dependent family members and friends"
This first European Carers Day had a simple but powerful motto, capturing both the contribution of carers as well as their need for support:
We are INFORMAL CARERS, We are ESSENTIAL & We need SUPPORT.
As co-chairs of the European Parliament Informal Carers Interest Group - active since 2008 in advocating policy measures that enable carers to continue to care - we warmly welcomed this day.
In addition, we warmly invite our fellow MEPs to join our Interest Group, as a strong Parliamentary voice will help make the case with the European Commission and Council to take action.
This way, as MEPs, we can help enable carers to provide the indispensable care required by dependent family members and friends.
All Member States are currently facing the same challenges in terms of long-term care provision. While these systems differ greatly between - and sometimes within - Member States, it is clear that all countries need the resource provided by informal carers to prevent a collapse of their care and social security systems.
Society simply cannot do without carers; this means that their support needs have to be addressed, in all domains which concern them.
The EU-level can help achieve this and the European Parliament has a significant role to play; the time has now come to truly reflect upon and engage in the much-needed reform for long term care so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live healthier, better and more balanced lives.