Personal and Household Services, Between Health and Social

Essays - May 11, 2024

The European Federation for Services to Individuals (EFSI) is the representative body at the Brussels level of 21 national federations and companies involved in the personal and household services (PHS) sector.  The PHS sector covers activities such as care in situations of dependence and disability, childcare and household support services (maintenance, gardening, cleaning, etc.)

In view of the European elections, EFSI has published a Memorandum where it issues five recommendations towards a so called “Social Caring Europe”.

First of all, the Federation argues for tax incentives supporting the sector.  All Member States offer some degree of social protection coverage, in kind and/or in cash, but in comparison to the 30 per cent average GDP spending for old-age pensions, PHS services support is currently estimated at just 8 per cent of the average GDP.

Belgium, Sweden and France are singled out as good practices.  In Belgium, a service voucher system allows to recoup 50 per cent of costs.  Sweden’s deduction pays for 90 per cent of the service, while France’s deduction permits its social security system to reduce costs by 19 per cent.  According to EFSI, each euro spent on long term care services is associated with a national added value of 1.7 euros, plus 0.7 euros in tax and social contributions.

On the other hand, tax incentives would reduce the percentage of people that cannot access PHS services for financial reasons, which is currently estimated at 35.7 per cent.

The second recommendation has to do with coping with an older population and its care needs.  For example, EFSI calls for proper regulation of live-in care work, an important strand of long-term care.  However, from an ECR perspective one could contend that de-regulation is at first instance a more efficient lever to attract and retain PHS workers.

A number of initiatives are proposed to bring migrants into the PHS sector, though if working conditions improve in attractiveness, more EU nationals should be in a position to enter this market as job seekers.  Measures to improve qualification recognition would contribute to enhance the perceived societal value of PHS services.  Nevertheless, the legislator should preserve the freedom of individuals to recur to family members in order to perform PHS if and when so wished.

According to the European Commission, PHS is the third sector with a higher degree of undeclared work, after construction and HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering).  EFSI estimates that 3.5 million PHS workers are undeclared in the EU, out of a total 10 million.

Its policy recommendation to tackle undeclared work is by increasing the European Labour Authority’s remit.  This seems rather against the principle of subsidiarity.  National authorities should do the monitoring for potential infractions and sanctioning.  But above all, a well functioning labour market, where demand and offer interplay, are a proper self regulating factor where undeclared work diminishes, particularly if there is scarcity on the offer side.

The fourth recommendation deals with employment models.  Out of the 6.5 million PHS workers who are declared, 2.2. million (that is, 34 per cent) are directly employed by the private household.  According to EFSI, both this model as well as the in-between system, where workers are recruited by a third party organisation mandated by the clients, should be treated equally.  This stands out as reasonable and fair.

Finally, the EFSI memorandum criticises an alleged man-woman gap related to the amount of daily hours dedicated to unpaid PHS activities.  Again, the freedom of families to organise their private lives as they might deem fit should not be the object of social engineering, whether it comes from a sector association or from governmental authorities.

An additional source of sex comparison is that of workers dedicated to PHS:  91% are women, and PHS accounts for nearly 7.5 per cent of the overall female employment rate.  Once more, a professional vocation needs no top-down determination, but is a legitimate path for women to make.  If that represents a certain social trend, so be it.  Equally free are decisions within a family to undertake part-time employment.  Public authorities should, however, value non-monetary contributions of family members with a dedication to care.

Source of image:  www.milehighhomecare.com