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“Care is something that can ensure the inclusion of all in society,” says Heather Roy from Social Platform

[Brussels, 19 October 2011] Social Platform is a network of European umbrella non-profits active in the social sector. The main working principles of this association are equality, solidarity, non-discrimination, advocacy of and respect for human rights of everyone in Europe with the focus on the EU member states. European Women’s Lobby, AGE Platform Europe, European Network Against Racism and Mental Health Europe are among the Social Platform members. As its main area of interest for the years 2010 and 2011, Social Platform has chosen the topic of care. EWL Vice-President Alexandra Jachanová Doleželová (from Czech member organisation Gender Studies) interviewed Heather Roy, who is a member of the Social Platform Management Committee, on why Social Platform has decided to concentrate on the issue of care and what activities related to care it has been realizing recently.

Why has Social Platform decided to have “care” as its annual theme for the years 2010 and 2011? And what do you see as main problems in the EU policy of care?

In order to support the achievement of the main objectives of the Social Platform, our strategic plan includes a commitment to establish annual themes, which address cross-cutting issues in order to promote the engagement of civil society with issues of key importance across the European Union. The Annual Theme is voted on by members at the Annual General Meeting and then is implemented in the next year. In 2009 members agreed that Care should be the Annual Theme for 2010 and in 2010 it was decided to prolong this theme for 2011. This extension was because the theme of Care is such a wide one and encompasses many different topics for our members so it was felt that it was best to spend more time on the topic. Care was chosen because it is at the heart of much of the work of the members of Social Platform. Members are concerned with the formal and informal care sectors, gender aspects of care, employment aspects of care, the provision of care services, the situation of family carers, including children as carers, migration and care and much more. Our work on care so far has been to identify the policy issues we need to address when it comes to care and just as the subject itself is vast, so are the potential policy areas. We are currently considering how care is valued in society, how carers are educated, how life balance is achieved if you are a family carer, what the social rights are for informal carers e.g. in the family, how is care funded, how is the quality of care considered, what are the implications of migrants in care and the ‘grey’ economy. We also know that there are a number of future initiatives coming from the European Institutions which concern care e.g. the communication on Long Term Care and the Maternity Leave Directive that are connected to our members’ interests and so we will be looking at how to feed into these processes.

How does Social Platform define “care”?

That is a good question. One of the challenges we have faced is to agree on a common definition of care, not least because of linguistic and cultural differences. Therefore, we have decided to embrace the diversity of definitions of care in our members and this reflects the different claims on care from the different groups of care receivers and care providers. However, we can make a common statement about what we are doing with the Annual Theme rather than defining care: ‘Developing a common foundation for Care that respects the rights of individuals, guarantees access to services and promotes social inclusion.’ For Social Platform members care is a central experience of our shared humanity and one that when delivered in the right way can lead to empowerment and a high quality of life. There is also a right to care, and rights that must be considered in care. Care is also a way to avoid exclusion or to be re-included in society but at the same time we are also clear that care services should be accessible to all.

What kind of activities does Social Platform run in this regard and what are its main achievements?

So far we have undertaken consultations with our members, understanding their experiences and perspectives on care. This is important as the work on care must reflect members’ needs and interests. We have also appreciated the assistance of Professor Fiona Williams from Leeds University who has enabled us to develop our care paradigms in both a seminar with members and at our Annual Conference. We held the latter in November 2010 where we gathered together 150 people interested in care from our members and partners. We also had academic input and political input from members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the then Belgian Presidency. The conference itself focused on four elements: common concepts of Care, challenges and opportunities in receiving and providing care, defining the optimum social, legislative, financial and economic environment for quality care through multi actor policy co-ordination and the roles and responsibilities of decision makers and external stakeholders in care policies. Throughout the conference members presented their experience and perspectives on care, particularly from the national level, and our chairs and rapporteurs drew conclusions. Those conclusions are now shaping a policy paper on care which will hopefully be adopted by members later this year. We then hope to use this policy paper to advocate on care issues with our institutional partners.

In November 2010, Social Platform organized an annual conference on care, what were its main conclusions?

The conference had a number of conclusions which are perhaps too numerous to list here. However, we could group them into five areas:

Recognition – care in itself needs to be recognized as something for the social and economic good and essential to sustain society. Additionally care needs to be visible - too many carers are hidden away, too many people who receive care are hidden away. Care needs to be visible so that the appropriate rights, dignity and value are applied to the different people in care relationships. Finally, there will be a rising need for Care in our societies due to our changing demographics so we must recognize this now so we plan our service delivery for the future and recognize the economic implications of care both in terms of costs and in terms of employment potential.

Rights – care relationships demand rights to be respected and valued. Therefore there needs to be a greater effort in ensuring that a person centered approach to service planning is adopted that ensures empowerment, independence, self-determination, participation and freedom of choice. Good legislation is key, but we also need to change our cultural perspectives of care and the value we give it.

Redistribution and Resources – care demands resources both human and financial. Sufficient funding needs to be made available to service providers to provide quality care and sufficient funding and support should be made available to those needing care so that they can access the care they need. People working in care also need to be resourced properly through education and training and paid a living wage. Redistribution can be considered as the redistribution of care responsibilities e.g. between mothers and fathers, from care providers to care users as well as the transnational redistribution of care labor brought on by migration. Finally, redistribution is also concerned with who does the caring. Is it done through the states – particularly taking collective responsibility for the funding of care through taxation and insurance – or is care a family responsibility with little state support?

Responsibility links to the previous point. Who has responsibility for care today? Is it a state or a family responsibility? The answer to this determines the redistribution question. Similarly, the relationship between care giver and care receiver infers responsibility – responsibility to respect rights.

Relationships are also important in the care paradigm and can be seen as between those in a care relationship as giver and receiver or between formal and informal care. There are also relationships between different care sectors e.g. child care, youth, elderly people that need to be taken into account alongside the policy-making relationships between users groups and organizations, professional and informal care givers, trade unions and public authorities at all levels.

Do you think that the EU 2020 Strategy focuses on care sufficiently and what is your idea of the ideal policy of care in 2020?

Europe 2020 does not specifically focus on care but rather on developing a smart, sustainable and inclusive society. We can therefore link the subject of care to Europe 2020 through this word ‘inclusive’. Care is something that can ensure the inclusion of all in society. The right methods of care can empower people to be active participants, to be engaged with family and friends. Additionally, care can also enable people to access the employment market. Quality, accessible services such as childcare or elderly care can enable parents or children to return to work. Finally the poverty targets and the employment targets need care services to support their attainment, so even though care itself is not explicitly mentioned, it is inherent in any work for an inclusive society.

About Heather Roy:

Heather Roy is the Secretary General of Eurodiaconia. She has a professional background in advocacy and organizational management including membership support and development, project and programme management, fundraising, strategic planning and external representation. She has travelled in Europe for her professional life, including Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Heather has also worked with homeless youth and with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts as the European Director. She has been active in the Commonwealth Study Conferences, which explore the human consequences of changing industrial environments and the need for leadership. She was chair of the Council of Europe’s Programme Committee in the Youth and Sports Directorate and has chaired several symposia and events on youth-related issues including active participation, human rights, globalization and gender. Heather is originally from Scotland but has been living in Brussels for over 10 years. She speaks English and French. She has university degrees in Scottish Language and Literature, Information Technology, and International Politics.

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