The European Commission on Wednesday proposed raising non-binding targets for early childhood education and guaranteeing affordable long-term care services in a bid to support the sector and improve women's participation in the labour market.

Women bear the main brunt of care responsibilities, amounting to 90% of the formal care workforce, with another 7.7 million out of employment because of care responsibilities, the Commission said.

To reduce pressure on the care sector, which has been under exceptional strain during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission proposed raising the EU target for children below the age of three who are enrolled in nurseries to 50% from the current 33% goal.

It also proposed raising the enrolment target for children in kindergarten between the age of three and the start of compulsory education to 96% from 90%.

Both the higher 2030 targets, which need to be backed by EU governments, should be complemented with higher wages for care workers and better training, the Commission said.

Long-term care should also be more affordable and support should be given to informal care givers, the Commission said.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Mark Porter)