Unpaid care by family and friends is the cornerstone of long-term care throughout Europe. Over 10% of adults in the larger EU countries provide unpaid care. Whether the numbers of unpaid carers can keep pace with the numbers needing care seems doubtful in view of higher rates of childlessness among younger adults, increasing female labour market participation and increasing geographical mobility.
It is therefore not surprising that Unpaid care has developed a high profile within EU policy forums. The 2007 spring meeting of European Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs (EPSCO) endorsed support for informal care as a top priority of the EU. National governments have produced strategies on support for carers.
A range of studies have been conducted on unpaid care in Europe. An analysis by Linda Pickard has found that the variation in provision of unpaid care between different EU countries was associated with both socio-demographic differences and differences in their long-term care systems. A study by Riedel and Kraus found that almost all the European countries they studied offer some kind of cash benefit that can be regarded as a support to finance long-term care provided by informal carers. Courtin et al conducted a mapping of support services for carers in Europe and found that policy developments are uneven across EU states, with some countries having mechanisms to assess needs and support informal carers while others are only starting to develop support services.
It is vital that governments pursue effective policies to support unpaid carers and that their policy decisions should be based on robust evidence. The lack of quality information, advice, support and training for unpaid carers might lead to adverse impacts on their health and quality of life. In turn, these negative effects can undermine their ability to continue caring and/or to combine caring with employment or other family responsibilities. A decline in unpaid care could place substantial extra pressures on publicly funded services. Reductions in employment by unpaid carers would reduce national output and income.