This presentation will first introduce a broad definition of what an “unpaid carer” is, and then proceed in pointing out that approximately 80% of care across Europe is provided by this kind of actors, such as spouses, children, other relatives and friends. Even in countries with a well-developed supply of formal long-term care, the number of informal carers is estimated to be at least twice as large as the formal care workforce, whose estimated economic value - as a percentage of the overall cost of formal long-term care provision - in European Union (EU) Member States ranges from 50% to 90%.
Carers are therefore an indispensable part of the provision, organisation and sustainability of health and social care systems; and they will become even more important in view of the changing health and care needs, due to the ageing of society and the increasing prevalence of frailty and chronic diseases. This resource is however currently under pressure, due to lower birth rates, the trend towards smaller families, increasing mobility (leading to greater physical distances between relatives), the rising number of women entering the labour market and a prolonged working life due to delayed retirement (partly following explicit policies aiming at increasing labour force participation of women and older workers).
These developments are being compounded by increasing shortages of formal caregivers, which is rapidly becoming a major issue in the majority of EU countries. This is because, although caring for a loved one can be a source of personal satisfaction and emotional gratification, it might also have challenging consequences for carers' (physical and mental) health, social participation and financial situation. At the same time, there can be negative consequences for society and the economy as well, as informal care provision can result in lower productivity for those carers that combine care and work, and can also lead to increasing health and welfare costs, due to carers' physical and mental health problems.
In conclusion, carers are important to those in need of care as well as to the economy and society as a whole. However, their interests should be more systematically considered in policies, both at national and European level, that impact on them in a consistent and across-the-board manner, such as in particular health, social, employment, social security and housing policies, all coming into play in different ways.
Disclosure of Interest None declared