(18 June 2020) Together with the European Federation for Retired People and the Elderly (FERPA), EPSU expressed disappointment that the European Commission’s Recovery Plan for Europe does not address the havoc the pandemic has caused for the elderly and elderly care workers. We have asked the European Council to make support available for long-term care facilities to prevent that in a possible second wave the elderly and workers caring for the elderly are hit again. The two Federations want the European Council to instruct the Commission to carry out an investigation into the causes of why the pandemic has had such an impact, and what can be the solutions. We addressed a similar request to the Council of Europe.
The European Council should follow the demand of the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Mrs. Dunja Mijatović. She urged the Member States to carry out such investigations. We see it as a task of the Commission to compare the experience in different countries and explore if there are communalities. We agree with the Commissioner for Human Rights that violations of the human rights of the elderly took place whenever they were refused care. The lack of protection for workers caring for the elderly and other vulnerable groups exposed them but also those they care for to unnecessary risks and this needs to be urgently addressed. This will help prepare countries for a second wave of the pandemic and for any future pandemics.
The Commission has not acknowledged that in many countries austerity measures have led to underfunding of long-term care facilities. Nor is there recognition that the workers in elderly, residential and home care, mostly women, have been seriously affected by the pandemic and that their work has been undervalued and underpaid. There is a lack of both resources and staff. And whereas billions are pumped into the economy, no additional funding appears to be made available to assist long-term, residential and home care.
Mrs Dunja Mijatović suspects that human rights violations have occurred which could have been prevented. She said: (…) “In many countries and individual institutions, management of the crisis appears to have been fragmented and chaotic, with care personnel often being left to their own devices. Some have made heroic efforts to save residents, sometimes confining themselves in the facilities and avoiding contact with their own families; some countries, like Romania, even made it mandatory for staff to isolate themselves in long-term care facilities or specially designated places. In other cases, residents were left in absolute neglect or abandoned despite having been infected, as it was reported in Spain, for example. (…)
She went on: “ There is understandable outrage and frustration among family members who lost their loved ones under very opaque circumstances. Many have made criminal complaints about the management in care homes, for example in France. In Spain, prosecutors opened criminal investigations for a number of facilities for older persons, and similar investigations are also ongoing in Italy. In accordance with their obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to life, member states must shed light on all the deaths occurring in these institutions, without exception.”
The Human Rights Commissioner points out how Member States have probably violated various conventions and failed to guarantee the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups their right to health and right to care, including the right to long-term care (enshrined in the EU in the 2017 European Pillar of Social Rights (principles 16 and 18)). Human rights violations have occurred that need to be explored and addressed so they are not repeated. The investigation will assist in taking the appropriate measures to prevent such violations in a possible second wave or future pandemics.
The two Federations further used the occasion to support the demands of the ETUC for an ambitious Recovery Plan that the Council will discuss 19 June.
For the position of the ETUC on the Recovery Plan (soon available)