PHS policies - Implementation and monitoring guide

Increased societal demand for PHS raises many challenges


At present there are 7.3 million PHS workers throughout the European Union and, with more than 155 000 new jobs created between 2011 and 2013 in Europe, PHS is the second-fastest growing employment sector behind ICT (European Commission, 2015).

As a matter of fact, the current societal changes make personal and household services more and more essential. Changes in family structures (e.g. increases in the female employment rate, increased numbers of single parent families, etc.) result in greater difficulties for families with regard to coping with everyday life tasks. On average, EU citizens spend 23 hours per week caring for children and 8 hours caring for elderly or disabled people, as along with 11 extra hours on cooking and housework, according to Eurofound. The impact of household tasks on work-life balance cannot be ignored, especially given that 53% of EU workers declared in 2011 that they came home too tired to do household jobs that need to be done several times a month.

Furthermore, the unprecedented and general ageing of our societies increases demand for home help and care services. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Europeans aged 65-79 years old will rise by 36 % and those aged 80 years or above will increase by 57 % (European Commission, 2011a). Currently, ageing people’s wish to remain at home longer is partially met by informal help and care coming from family carers and undeclared workers. As such, across Europe about 80 % of care provision hours are delivered by informal carers, predominantly women aged 45 or more (Eurofound, 2015). Some of them provide care to their relative out of choice, but others do not and are obliged to reduce their working hours or, in some cases, to withdraw from the labour market to meet their relatives’ needs. In the long term, this situation is not sustainable, nor is it economically or socially acceptable.

In addition, the number of family carers is expected to decrease by 2050 in parallel with the shrinking of the working age population (Colombo, 2015). Therefore, developing personal and household services is key to allowing older people to stay longer in their homes and also to enabling family carers to access a range of affordable domestic help services that would allow them to combine their care obligations with work and family.

Thus PHS increase the quality of life of elderly and dependent people and enable workers (mainly women) to balance their professional and personal life. They can be used on a regular basis or only in exceptional circumstances. However, EU citizens face many barriers when they want to access one or more personal and household services which restrict the options available and result in serious disadvantages.

  • PHS lack a structured and suitable quality supply, which in turn constrains EU citizens’ choices in their private life, particularly with regard to care services. Thus, fertility behaviour may be limited: couples may decide not to have or to have less children. Family carers may also choose not to move to remain in the same city as their dependant relatives… These private decisions may have some repercussions on society as a whole. They affect the local demography, further reinforce the demographic ageing trend and lead to economic problems. Another possibility for carers is to stop working or work part-time. Most of the time, a decision of that type is embraced by women rather than men, which has highly negative consequences on gender equality and social inclusion. It is worth noting that after every child, mothers work 12% less, and almost half of the inactive women in the EU are inactive for family reasons (European Parliament, 2013). Similarly, 7 % of women report that they care for an elderly or disabled relative every day, in comparison to only 4% of men (Eurofound, 2012).
  • EU citizens can rely on private supply (i.e., private nurseries, residential homes, housework services, etc.) but it is quite expensive and not affordable for most of them. Therefore, EU citizens may decide not to access PHS or they may choose to work more, later, or – in the case of couples – at different times so that they can rely on a private offer to take care of their dependant relatives. In return, they sacrifice their well-being and free time to ensure that they have the economic capacity to access such quality services. However, this solution is sparely used in low-revenues families as it generates other needs for the carers who spend less time at home: domestic services are also increasingly necessary to enable the worker to cope with his or her personal and care responsibilities. What is more, it puts extra pressure on lone workers (single parents for instance, or a single child taking care of his or her elderly relative) who shoulder the whole burden of caring for the dependent people. Few options exist in such cases, and the options that do exist have highly negative consequences for the worker with regard to his or her career and finances.

That is why the most popular alternative to the use of professional PHS is recourse to the undeclared economy. From the latest Eurobarometer survey (European Commission, 2013), we can conclude that approximately 7 million Europeans purchase home cleaning services on the undeclared market, 2.3 million buy home babysitting services and another 1.4 million purchase assistance services for a dependent or elderly relative. In 2010 the share of undeclared work in the market of personal services amounted to 70% in Italy and Spain, 50% in the UK, 45% in Germany, 40% in the Netherlands, 30% in France and Belgium and 15% in Sweden (DGCIS, 2011). These projections may underestimate the real situation.

The prevalence of the undeclared economy in the sector is extremely damaging to the State, to workers and to users. Its persistence can be explained by a strong market tension between the desire for greater professionalism and users’ concern that they should get the service at an affordable price, together with the fact that formal supply is insufficient. Its dominance creates problems at different levels:

  • Economic level: any State intervention to favour the formal provision of PHS would create additional revenue for public finance. Conversely, a lack of intervention generates a significant economic loss for public finance. Thus, the prevalence of undeclared work is extremely damaging for public finances. This situation can be explained by the fact that the sector is characterised by a high employment content and by the fact that “without public support, formal employment in PHS is quite costly for the majority of the population and the formal market for PHS is quite limited” (European Commission, 2012). The cost of the lack of State intervention in this sector is tremendous: a comparison between the cost of an unemployed person and the cost of a full-time equivalent worker in the sector shows that the economic impact of State inertness is higher for public finance than the cost generated by PHS-supporting measures (EFSI, 2013).
  • Working conditions level: at the individual level of PHS workers, the fact that their work is not formal leads to precarious working conditions (unsecured income, no access to social security or pensions rights, and so on) and a lack of recognition of its value and the qualifications required. Indeed, personal and household service jobs require a number of technical skills (such as hygiene rules, use of products, taking care of a vulnerable person and elimination of occupational hazards) and interpersonal skills (such as discretion, confidence, autonomy and adaptation to users’ needs). What is more, undeclared PHS workers do not benefit from any training to attain those skills. Nor are they aware of occupational health and safety rules and regulations. Therefore their own safety is at risk while they work (manipulating hazardous products, risk of falling, and so on), as is the safety of any dependent people for whom they may care.
  • Qualitative level: the quality of PHS services relies heavily on workers’ working conditions and qualifications. Furthermore, service quality depends on the availability of services, their comprehensiveness with regard to users’ needs, the organisation of their delivery and the quality regulation in place. Obviously, in a context in which most PHS are provided on the undeclared market, they are poor quality and users receive no guarantees.