“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”  Anonymous Greek Proverb

This week, the above quote got my attention as I read through an article online – mostly because of the altruistic nature depicted in the quote. Usually, when a person plants a tree – they always expect to gain something from it (whether that’s fruit…or shade). However, when an older adult plants a tree, they know well enough that they may not live to see the plant grow fruit or enjoy its shade – yet, still, they plant it in order to benefit future generations. I’m encouraged by the thought of this selfless behaviour.

Europe’s population is ageing and is expected to increase the demand for long-term care. According to the recently published 2021 report on Long-term Care prepared jointly by the Social Protection Committee (SPC) and the European Commission, the number of people aged 65 or over is projected to rise by 41% to 130.1 million in the next 30 years.

As a result the number of people who may require long-term care in the EU27 is estimated to rise from 30.8 million in 2019 to 33.7 million in 2030 and 38.1 million in 2050. These figures demonstrate that the EU can no longer overlook the challenges that have long plagued the long-term care sector.

Now is the time to plant trees for investment. If the EU Member States do not invest in the long-term care workforce, tackle recruitment and retention challenges, boost the attractiveness of the sector and ensure sustainable funding streams – then we will be creating an even greater challenge for ourselves in the years to come – not to mention being no where close to achieving Principle 18 of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Worryingly, the SPC report also highlights that many people in need of care may also not be able to access it. For example, on average in the EU27, only one-third of the people aged 65 or over experiencing severe difficulty with self-care or household activities were able to use home care services in 2014.

Indeed, this could indicate that people in need of long-term care rely on informal care – either by choice or the lack of formal services or financial resources – or have unmet care needs. Additionally, when it comes to residential care, the number of long-term residential care beds varies massively across the Member States.

The challenges facing the sector may be enormous. However, recently we have witnessed the EU’s commitment to further achieving Principle 19 of the pillar. In the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, the Commission has announced an initiative on long-term care to begin in 2022 – building on the findings provided in the joint-report on long-term care. Eurodiaconia and its members are looking forward to contributing to this initiative as service providers who have continued to meet care needs throughout the crisis.

Now is the time for the EU27 to put their money where their heart is. The National Recovery and Resilience Plans must prioritise the care sector and build its resilience to future crises. The funds must go where they are needed the most.

Investing in long-term care is planting trees whose shade we will sit in and the next generation will also benefit from.

Have a lovely weekend,

Kewan Mildred 

Policy and Membership Development Officer