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Housing, the environment and difficulty in making ends meet are key issues in Ireland and across the EU

In this Spring 2019 edition of our National Social Monitor, we outline the present situation on a range of policy issues, comparing Ireland and the rest of Europe, that impact on people’s wellbeing and we assess whether policy is addressing the causes of problems or only their symptoms.   All these issues have implications for Ireland’s economy and how the market performs. However, they also have implications for the wellbeing of all of Europe’s population and for the EU. 

Key findings from the National Social Monitor – European Edition

Housing

Despite economic growth, housing issues persist across Europe.  Cyprus, Portugal and Hungary have the highest percentage of households living in substandard dwellings (house with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation or rot in window frames or floor) and Finland, Norway and Slovakia the lowest.  In Ireland 12.6% of the population, equal to 611,982 people were living in these substandard conditions in 2017.

Tenants paying market rent are the hardest hit in terms of housing cost burden across the EU.  Greece fares worst with almost 84% of these tenants spending over 40% of their disposable income on housing costs, with over a third spending in excess of 75%.  In Ireland more than 1 in 5 tenants are paying market rent over 40% of their disposable income in housing costs, with almost 1 in 10 paying over 60% and more than 1 in 20 paying 75%. 

Making ends meet and financial distress

The level of difficulties in making ends meet is still higher in Croatia, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Spain than it was before the crisis in 2007. On average in the EU, two people in five report difficulties in making ends meet. Even in the most affluent European countries, at least 30% of people in the lowest income quartile experience difficulties in getting by.

Financial distress of households (defined as the need to draw on savings or to run into debt to cover current expenditures and based on personal perceptions) is still running at high levels having reached an historic high in 2013.  Financial distress for people in the lowest income quartile while reducing, remained well above 20%. By comparison, financial distress was down to 7% for the wealthiest quartile.  Across the EU people in the lowest and second lowest income quartiles experience the greatest financial distress. 

Environment

Between 1991 and 2016, emissions from Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Ireland increased the most across the EU, with Ireland having the greatest increase between 2012 and 2016.  Those countries currently going against the trend of emissions reductions, including Ireland, face a considerable environmental and financial cost. 

As a member of the European Union, Ireland has committed to legally binding emissions reduction targets in 2020 and 2030.   Our GHG emissions are nearly 3 million tonnes over the pathway required to meet our 2020 targets and we are on track to overshoot these targets significantly.  Action in this area is urgently required.  If Government does not act now, Ireland faces ever increasing environmental, social and financial costs. 

Access to healthcare

Ten Member States (Estonia, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania) have a key challenge concerning access to health care, based on self-reported unmet needs for medical care again due to cost, waiting time, or distance. 

Participation

Trust in national governments has generally increased and in 2018 the Netherlands (63%), Malta (63%), Luxembourg (62%) and Sweden (60%) rank at the top, Poland (33%), Cyprus (32%), Slovakia (32%) and the United Kingdom (32%) rank towards the middle and Bulgaria (22%), Croatia (19%), Spain (18%) and Greece (14%) are at the bottom.  Trust in the Irish government, which decreased during a decade of recession was higher in 2018 than 2007, at 41%.

While economic growth has indeed led to improvement in living standards and investment in infrastructure and public services, the benefits of this improvement in living standards have been distributed in a grossly unequal fashion. This is true both in Ireland and in other EU countries.  We need to move away from a policy of prioritising economic growth over all else.  A more integrated approach to policy across the European Union is required to ensure the European Social Model can meet the challenges of a post-Brexit Europe.  There is an urgent need to develop social policies that can adapt to changing realities and withstand future shocks.  If this is not done, there is a real danger that the damage to social cohesion across the EU caused by the crisis in 2008 will never be repaired.

The National Social Monitor - European Edition is available to download here.