Europe is facing a great demographic challenge at the same time its welfare system is put to the test. The next decades will see fewer active workers while its elderly population will have greater needs in long-term care. By 2060, one in three Europeans will be over 65. The ninth Policies and Practices’ session focused on how innovation would help relieve this challenge.
Arnaud Senn Technical Projects Officer at the European Commission (DG CONNECT)
Joël Riou President of ASAP Solutions Co-founder of Responsage
Opening the debate, was Mr Arnaud Senn, Technical Projects Officer at the European Commission’s DG CONNECT. Mr Senn emphasised that ageing has now become a priority in EU policy making. “The first momentum”, he said, “moved towards macro-economic issues and social protection issues especially with the EU long-term care report” before adding that by now “ageing has inspired, influenced and been integrated into all EU policies”. The EU report, released in June 2014, helped to grasp the full scale of the ageing issue in Europe. It also played an important role in identifying gaps in social protection by gathering data, but also through a precise mapping of good practices in long-term care and social protection.
The report also contributed to a“clarification of common objectives to define an adequate social protection model against dependency problems”, added Mr Senn.
The private sector still struggles in finding a sustainable model for the social protection, the report tries to address the issue of the business model as well.
There are no particular recipes: whether they are publicly or privately funded, all formulas can be considered. Nonetheless, “experience has shown that the most efficient projects conducted in partnerships are between public and private institutions but also between large firms and smaller companies”, continued Mr Senn. Where large firms will have an advantage to support long-term projects, SMEs will tend to be more flexible.
Complementarity also goes for public and private sectors: when the former ensure sustainability, businesses “are absolutely essential partners because they will produce goods and tailor-made services”, said Mr Senn.
Silver economy: prospects and challenges
For all the difficulties that the sector encounters, Mr Senn emphasised its growth potential and the consequences on job creations. Encouraging the stakeholders to embrace the silver economy, he also warned that global competition meant that some countries outside the EU were very advanced in designing goods and services for elderly people. “We have to dedicate a good part of our energy to that: how to boost silver economy, which has a potential of job creation?”, he underlined. One way to go, is to embrace the potential of IT systems, electronics and other technologies.
On 9-10 March, Mr Senn added, a European summit on innovation for active and healthy ageing will be held in Brussels. It will try to build a common vision on the issues providing insights and perspective on Silver economywhile taking into account points of view of different stakeholders: decision makers, civil society, private firms, representative of elderly people.
Bridging the gap between public and private sectors
Joël Riou was the second panellist of the session. President of ASAP Solutions, the start-up, launched in 2012 andspecialised in the field of ageing, he also co-founded Responsage.
“Today”, he started, “there are two worlds”: public policies and institutions on one hand and “the world of employees” on the other. “They don’t communicate”, he regretted.
Responsage tries to connect these worlds through a multimedia platform at the disposal of workers shouldering the responsibility of elderly dependent people. “Its purpose is to give information, consulting and direction to people who call us” he explained. The service is free of charge for employees, as it is paid for by their employer. Responsagefills a gap between public institutions and citizens. “We drive people towards the public institutions to solve their problem”, he said before adding that the latter’s services may suffer from a lack of communication and therefore miss to meet the demand. According to Joël Riou, such services may expand in the future as people in charge of human ressources and employers are concerned about the well-being of their employees and “this challenge of care-giver employee is going to be a very heavy question in a close future”.
Opportunities in the silver economy
Although health care coverage in the Member States has been addressed for decades in the European welfare model, ageing and long-term care were never treated on par. “It was primary and firstly considered as a family problem”, Mr Senn illustrated. As a consequence, across Member States, public institutions never developed a comprehensive approach to long-term care and dependency problems. “One of the key challenges for the years ahead is to know how we combine the different parties : families, public institutions and publicly funded social protection and other stakeholders”, he added.
IT services and products, contributing to the development of “smart homes” and other innovations will help address the issue. Therefore “we need the industry to get involved”, stressed Mr Senn, with the help and supervision of the public sector.
Like all market-based economy, the supply side needs to meet demand. Mr Riou explained to the audience the challenge it means for the silver economy: in order to reach stakeholders and clients, one needs to demonstrate the services or the products, how they can fit in the daily life. “And that’s one of the main problems today”, he continued: “to explain to a public who is not ready to hear about dependency.”
A question from the floor raised the issue of solving ageing challenges through interdisciplinary approaches. Indeed, the Commission officially supports a cross-sectoral method in order to “break the silos” and involve the industry, IT as well as social workers. Mr Senn explained “the projects we try at present to promote and to support are regionally-based projects dealing with integration of care”. The cross-sectoral approach is not an easy task. Mr Senn explained: “in most Member States, regions remain the level at which care is organised, maybe not funded, in some cases some Member States fundings come from the top, national level.” Yet, even in these Member States, one sees the regional level emerging as the key to organise and deliver care. “We are supporting integrated care which means bringing all people together to deliver care for the people ”, Mr Senn continued.
In a nutshell: “how do we make people work together efficiently in partnership with public institutions and also the private sector?” he asked.
A fragmented market
Mr Riou added that Responsage was started only with private funds: depending on public institutions funding would have required a lot of energy and patience. Institutions seem often remote and out of reach for more local projects.
At the European level, the Commission is confronted with a very fragmented market. When trying to promote the digital single market, it has to deal with 28 regulators, data protection agencies, etc. “It will be really difficult to set up a good competitive model if we stick to strictly national market.”
All Member States have one common challenge though: the financial burden of their ageing population. Mr Riou added that in France, for instance, the average pension amounts to 1,200 euros whilst the average monthly cost for elders comes to 2,300 euros.
The cooperation between stakeholders
To wrap up the session, both panelists were asked how the silver economy could be spurred. One idea is to improve the cooperation between public and private sectors. “It is possible to work together to find a way to gather our strengths and to spare money” said Mr Riou. Another issue concerns big companies: “they understand they have a social role to take because of the reduction of public expenditures but also because they understand that it is not possible to have employees with a bad quality of life”, he continued.
Mr Senn added there is also a strong case for increasing cooperation between large and small firms. “Personalisation of services is something determinant” he said. SMEs can complement the role of big firms as they are very flexible and give a quick reply. They are also much more responsive”, Mr Senn added. Sustainability is not guaranteed, even in wealthier countries, because although the market is large, it is also very fragmented. Mr Senn concluded: “working together and combining talents and skills will be one of the key challenges.”