Care sector must be at the centre of a sustainable future economy – MEP Maria Walsh 

Speaking at the Beyond Growth 2023 Conference, MEP Walsh called for a social conversation on the future of the care sector, with investment needed to guarantee fair employment and working opportunities


IRELAND: The care sector must be at the centre of a sustainable future economy, both here in Ireland and indeed all across the European Union. That was the message delivered by MEP Maria Walsh when she addressed the Beyond Growth 2023 Conference in Brussels on Monday afternoon. The Midlands-North-West MEP led a thought-provoking panel on the Care Economy, with a focus on doing away with gender blind policies for a beyond growth future. Speaking about the critical need for funding, MEP Walsh said investment in care is “not just a moral necessity, but it significantly contributes to a sense of belonging and allows for the positive development of both those who are cared for and those who care.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the provision of care all across the globe, as we applauded our frontline workers battling the worst of the pandemic. However, it also highlighted the difficulties in the care sector, as it continues to be underfunded and understaffed, both in formal and informal settings. “The pressures of caring – on carers, families and volunteers – has become abundantly clear and there is a real need for change. We need to put care at the centre of a sustainable future economy, and a social conversation on the future of care is now required,” stressed MEP Walsh. 

Continuing, she noted that care is an extremely gendered issue, with women bearing the brunt of care responsibilities. This, she opined, plays a central role in the inequality between men and women. “80% of all long-term care in Europe is provided by informal carers, overwhelmingly women, who are deprived of fair working conditions, mostly unpaid and without adequate social support. The EU Commission has reported that 90% of the formal care workforce are women. This feminization of the care sector impacts women’s economic

independence, contributes to pay and pension gaps, and can lead to an increased risk of poverty. We so desperately need to change the attitude towards care and move away from the ‘male breadwinner, female carer’ narrative, which continues to shape society’s view of care,” continued MEP Walsh. 

Focusing on the changing demographic patterns in Ireland and across the EU, Walsh told the Conference that the number of persons in the EU in need of long-term care is projected to rise from 30.8 million people in 2019, to 38.1 million people in 2050. “There is the potential for up to eight-million vacancies in our health and social care sector in the next 10 years. We already face labour shortages in the long-term care sector and this risk is only increasing. It is vital that we meet this head on. We must invest in the care economy and guarantee fair employment and working conditions,” she added. 

In July 2022, the European Parliament passed a Report on a Common European Action on Care, while the European Commission launched its EU Care Strategy last September. This, according to Walsh, demonstrates that there is momentum growing, “but more needs to be done”. 

“The significance of this Beyond Growth Conference for us all – and especially policymakers like myself – is to understand that creating decent jobs in the care economy means creating low‐carbon jobs. For a job to be low-carbon, it must be work that is non-extractive and vital for having a healthy and functioning society. Care work ticks both of those boxes, which only further amplifies and underlines that a properly functioning care economy is essential for sustainable development,” continued MEP Walsh.