The latest report is the fifth in the series highlighting the impact of Covid-19 on society in Europe. The scope is broadened to include the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. The results are not light reading. Mental health and well-being remain below pre-pandemic levels; the rate of respondents with unmet healthcare needs remains stubbornly high, at 20 per cent; and respondents reported being under increased financial pressure due to the cost of living crisis. For national and European parliaments, this translates to a decrease in trust in national and European institutions.
The World of Work
Job losses have been decreasing steadily since the height of the pandemic with many European countries, including Ireland, either at or below pre-pandemic levels. While the pandemic is said to have caused a "work from home revolution", remote working has not been the permanent fixture many would have expected. Just 12 per cent of EU workers surveyed were working exclusively from home, compared to one in three in mid-2020. While the majority of workers have returned to the workplace, with 69 per cent exclusively working out of the home, the rate of hybrid working has remained relatively static - from 14 per cent in Summer 2020 to 18 per cent in Spring 2021 and 2022.
More than one in five workers expressed an interest in working from home every day and over a quarter would like to do so several times a week. There is little difference in the rates between men and women who would like to work from home, however the rate of men who wanted to work exclusively in the workplace was 29 per cent, compared to 23 per cent of women. Workers in the various age categories from 18 to 59 also expressed more of an interest in working from home, either exclusively or some of the time, while 22-29 per cent preferred to return to the workplace compared to 35 per cent of workers aged 60+.
The report also found that, while there were clearer work/life boundaries now than there had been previously, with a decrease in both women and men worrying about work when they were not working, there was an deterioration in work/life balance with an increase in both men and women being too tired to take on household jobs after work, a decline in family time, and an increase in respondents saying their jobs prevented them from spending time with their families.
Health and Wellbeing
Mental wellbeing deteriorated across all age-groups between Summer 2020 to Spring 2021. Measured using the WHO-5 mental well-being index, 0-100, where a higher number means better mental wellbeing, people aged 18-29 fell from a score of 48 in 2020 to 42 in 2021, people aged 30-44 fell from 47 to 43, those aged 45-59 fell from 48 to 44, and those aged 60+ fell from 51 to 49. Mental well-being did improve in the year between Spring 2021 and 2022 for all except the oldest age group, who remained at 49 in the latest survey, none returned to their 2020 levels.
Feelings of tension, loneliness, and depression persist across all age groups and remain above Summer 2020 levels. Risk of depression is particularly high at almost 60 per cent across all age groups, and highest among the younger 18-29 cohort. A further exploration of depression risk by characteristic showed that women were more likely to be at risk than men (59 per cent compared to 50 per cent); the unemployed had the highest risk across economic groups (69 per cent); and people with a disability were almost 50 per cent more likely to be at risk of depression than those without (68 per cent compared to 48 per cent). Unsurprisingly, people who declared they were unable to make ends meet had the highest depression risk of any category (75 per cent), compared to those who had no difficulty doing so (46 per cent).
The report also asks respondents about their unmet need for medical care. One in five respondents said that they had such an unmet need. Hospital or specialist care is the most prevalent medical need that remains unmet, followed by dental care and mental health care. A concern considering the data on mental health earlier in the report.
Cost of Living Crisis
Previous editions of this report asked respondent about the impact of Covid-19 on their ability to make ends meet. Current circumstances leading to an "unprecedented" rise in the cost of living meant that the rate of people reporting that they were having difficulty making ends meet in Spring 2022 (53 per cent) was higher than in Spring 2021 (when it was 45 per cent) or the beginning of the pandemic (47 per cent).
An inability to make ends meet results in an inability to pay utilities and other bills. In Spring 2022, 16 per cent of respondents reported being in arrears on utility bills, while 11 per cent were in arrears on consumer loans, telephone bills, and health bills; 10 per cent were in arrears on informal bills; and 8 per cent on rent or mortgage payments.
A breakdown of respondents in arrears on utility bills by tenure shows that 20 per cent were living in social housing; 17 per cent were renting privately; 16 per cent owned with a mortgage; and 13 per cent owned with no mortgage.
Impact on Trust and Social Cohesion
The report notes a decline in trust across all institutions - media, policy, Government, EU, and Healthcare system.
When it comes to trust in national and EU Government, overall trust in the EU was higher than at national level. However an interesting, but possibly not surprising, detail in the report is the data on trust in national Government by ability to make ends meet. Those who find it most difficult reported having less trust in Government than those who find it easiest. However, when compared to Summer 2020, the greatest decline in this trust was reported by those who find it easiest to make ends meet.
What can Ireland learn from this?
There are many lessons which could be taken from this report, however perhaps the most crucial in the run-up to Budget 2023 is the need to protect those who can least absorb the health and financial blows dealt by consecutive crises. Targeted measures aimed at those on low and fixed incomes are essential. Investment in healthcare, particularly mental health, is critical. Government needs to support the most financially vulnerable while simultaneously investing heavily in the root causes of inequality. There is sufficient funds available to do this, and the wrong choices could cost Government heavily.