With more people needing personal care at home, more care workers will be needed. But the picture across in Europe is of a job struggling to gain credibility and status.

The lack of professionalisation of Personal and Home Services (PHS) and their contribution to the economy were the central themes of a seminar organised by the European Social Network (ESN) and Edenred, a services provider that works with local social services to support the implementation of personal budgets through social vouchers. PHS may include the provision of childcare, long-term care for older people and people with disabilities, as well as help with home duties, such as cleaning, shopping or gardening.

Major economic contribution, low status

Societal changes, such as the increase in female employment and single parent families, and demographic ageing have led to a significant increase in the use of personal and home services (PHS). According to the European Federation of Services to Individuals, there are almost 8 million people employed in the PHS sector across Europe. This represents 4% of total employment, over 90% women. Despite its significant contribution to the economy, this is a highly unregulated sector with low wages and high turnover, lacking professionalisation.

PHS play a crucial role in promoting social inclusion, especially for migrants, women and the low-skilled, who make up a majority of PHS workers. In turn, they provide support that promotes people’s autonomy.

“Personal and home services contribute to support women’s choice to work by providing childcare and PHS also supports the social inclusion of some of the most dependent people in our societies, such as people with disabilities and older people” said Nathalie Renaudin, Edenred’s public services director.

Promoting choice

Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Europeans aged 65-79 will rise by 36% and those aged 80 or above will increase by 57%. Their wish to remain longer at home is being met by informal carers and local authorities’ social services. Nord County Council in France explained that they use social vouchers to pay for home care to promote the personal autonomy of people with disabilities and older people to help them stay at home for as long as they wish.

Using vouchers to pay for home care is also a way of promoting choice for people, they can decide what services they want to pay for or who they would like to employ as a carer. A third of all local authorities in France are providing social vouchers for more than 150,000 people. Ninety per cent of them employ their carers directly while 10% do so through a provider. 

PHS make a significant contribution to society and the economy, supporting for instance parental employment, promoting the autonomy of people with disabilities or helping older people to stay at home and in their communities for longer. However, the central issue is the low status, low skills and lack of standards of home care work.

With an ageing society and public policy that aims to focus on community social care, the number of home carers is set to increase. But transforming the condition of low pay and professionalisation will remain a challenge. It will take a concerted action from everyone involved to break the cycle of low status and lack of quality.

“There is no EU wide standard or regulation for social care workers and recruiters have no benchmark for good quality”, said Alfonso Montero, ESN’s Chief Executive, drawing on key messages from our report on the social services workforce.