Are household services a way out of the crisis?
How much potential for the weakened European economy lies in personal and household services? A public consultation by the European Commission on increasing employment and quality in the sector should provide some insights. However, the effects on the European Union employment market should not be overestimated.
“The current EU unemployment figures are dramatically high and unacceptable. The creation of jobs must be a clear European priority,” emphasised László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion on the occasion of the presentation of the employment package (see article in this issue). According to the latest findings of the European statistics office Eurostat, 24 million EU citizens are unemployed. The Commissioner believes therefore that personal and household services should play an integral role in the recovery of the employment market.
The services to be covered by this term are explained in the Commission’s working document. In general, they are activities that contribute to the well-being of families and individuals in the home environment. Childcare, long-term care of the elderly, cleaning, but also household repairs and gardening are encompassed by this definition. In the past, many of these activities have been undertaken in the home, usually by women. Over time, aspects of these tasks have increasingly been transferred outside the households.
However, according to the Commission, the transfer of household-related work to external service providers can be substantially intensified. On the basis of a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Commission calculates that an average of two and a half hours per day are spent on housework and maintenance in the European member states of the OECD. On the basis of a population of 331 million between 15 and 65 years of age, this means around 830 million hours of housework per day, which corresponds to the equivalent of up to 100 million full-time jobs.
With the increase in the employment rate of women, the Commission concludes that the informal care of children and the elderly in the family, as well as housework, needs to be reconsidered. In this context, the Commission is looking closely into the significant issue of the work-life balance, and - like the European Sunday Alliance - is keen to promote improvements in this area.
The care of the elderly is often provided informally, i.e. by people within the household. Likewise the requirement for childcare services is highly dependent on the employment rate of parents and their number of hours worked part-time. The formal employment in the field of personal and household services eventually becomes too expensive for most people. . Many households switched therefore to unofficial employments.
The Commission is aware of this problem and is therefore considering the introduction of a model that will enable families, especially those on medium and low incomes, to have their housework done by others. Service vouchers, such as those in place in Belgium and France, could be an appropriate measure. The service user pays only a proportion of the actual price, with the difference being borne by the State. The Commission justifies these payments in times of public budget consolidation on the basis of the positive feedback effect for the State purse, with increased revenue from income tax and social security contributions and reduced expenditure on unemployment-related benefits. Moreover, the Commission has identified a further challenge, namely the quality of the work and services, and therefore calls for training and further education opportunities for service providers.
At the end of the day, the extent to which family tasks such as childcare and care for the elderly should ultimately be transferred to external providers remains to be seen. Relatives often have better knowledge of the individual needs of the recipient of care, which means that professional care should always ensure that relatives are involved. This should be given serious consideration, especially in the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.
The online questionnaire on personal and household services is available for completion until 15 July 2012.
Translated from the original text in German