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Care and support for older people is a significant challenge for public social services in light of the demographic changes taking place across Europe. The promotion of autonomy and inclusion of older people has to be balanced against the sector’s challenges related to funding, quality and the mixed market economy of care services, as well as workforce training and sustainability. 


ESN’s work on ageing and care began with a working group in 2008 that discussed care and funding choices, independent living and quality. The research project ‘Contracting for Quality’ (2009-10) assessed the complex set of relationships in long-term care in terms of funding and quality management in six EU countries. ESN continued its work on long-term care by contributing to conferences, projects and EU-level peer reviews, such as the 2016 Peer Review in Germany on the Active Ageing Index at the local level. ESN also contributed to the INTERLINKS research project and a European partnership on wellbeing and dignity for older people. During the ESN autumn seminar in 2012, 'Retaining and regaining independence and inclusion in later life', we looked at how social services, health services and other partners can promote prevention and rehabilitation. In 2013, we organised the policy and practice workshop ‘Ageing and care – challenges and opportunities in social services’ to identify future priorities for developing services for older people.

Between September 2014 and October 2016, ESN’s Working Group on Ageing and Care met five times to look at the integration of health and social care services for older people, local initiatives for active ageing measures, the social care workforce, quality assurance and technological innovation. The last meeting included a joint session with ESN’s Disability Working Group where we discussed how services for people with learning disabilities in older age should be provided.

The complexity of demographic change and the need to build up an evidence base for the different aspects of the phenomenon brought about the Joint Programming Initiative More Years, Better Lives, which funds cross-country research on demographic change. ESN is a member of the initiative’s Societal Advisory Board, which is responsible for ensuring the societal relevance of the research activities.

Another important topic in the field of ageing and care is home and informal care. In April 2016, the report, toolkit and European recommendations of the 4Quality! project on improving jobs and services in personal care and household services in Europe were published, which ESN had worked on with our European partner organisations.


The EU supports its Member States to face the demographic challenge through policy debates, research and initiatives in various areas. The most recent effort is the European Commission’s Blueprint on digital transformation of health and care, a vision that will frame the activities and funding streams in this area for the next three to five years. The European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations 2012 and the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing are other significant initiatives. In a staff working document on long-term care which was published as part of the Social Investment Package in February 2013, the European Commission called on Member States to invest in prevention and rehabilitation in order to reduce demand for long-term care. Along with the SIP, the Social Protection Committee (SPC) published the report ‘Adequate social protection for long-term care needs in an ageing society’ in June 2014, which supports measures focusing on prevention and rehabilitation, independent living and the effectiveness of care delivery. The WHO’s age-friendly cities and communities programme also ties in well with EU efforts.


ESN’s practice library contains many local and regional practice examples from the Working Group on Ageing and Care, the contracting for quality research project and various seminars and from the European Social Services Conference.


Key resources

External resource