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Problems across the EU makes Covid-19 crisis even more challenging

We need social policies that can adapt to changing realities, meet the challenges of a post-Brexit Europe and withstand future shocks.  If this is not done, there is a real danger that social cohesion across the EU will be further fragmented.  This is one of the main recommendations from the National Social Monitor - European Edition.

Key findings from the National Social Monitor – European Edition

Housing

Housing costs continue to dominate public discourse, despite increasing incomes and employment rates. Over two-thirds of households in Europe feel burdened by housing costs, with almost one third (29.3 percent) reporting that housing costs represent a heavy burden.

The proportion of Irish households reporting housing costs as presenting a heavy burden is lower than the EU average, at 26.7 per cent, however over half of Irish households (55.2 per cent) experience some burden with housing costs which is significantly higher than the EU average. 

EU housing welfare payments have increased from €50.7 billion in 2004 to €72.1 billion by 2017.  EU spending on public housing development, conversely, has fallen from €39.1 billion in 2004 to just €26.1 billion in 2017.

Housing cost burden is an issue across the EU.  It is clear that increasing demand-side subsidies, ultimately paid to private housing owners, is an unsustainable and costly policy. It uses public monies to artificially support unaffordable private rents while providing no return to the Exchequer of Member States. For countries such as Ireland, with inadequate legislative or policy infrastructure for long-term tenancies, private rented subsidies such as the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rent Supplement do nothing to secure the long-term housing needed by low-income households in need of State supports

Access to healthcare

Across the EU there is a clear income gradient when it comes to reported unmet need for medical care.  It is lowest among highest income groups, and highest among those at the bottom of the income distribution.

The situation is also different between countries. Ten member states (including Ireland) have a key challenge concerning access to healthcare, based on self-reported unmet needs for medical care, again due to cost, waiting time, or distance (Estonia, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania).

Issues that need to be addressed across the EU include health inequalities and access to healthcare faced by the most vulnerable (including high out-of-pocket costs in some countries).  While the overall quality of healthcare is high in the EU, the erosion of health coverage experienced by some groups following the economic crisis has not been resolved and lower income groups continue to experience more unmet need than others. 

This is particularly concerning in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic.  The fact that so many countries failed to prevent erosion of health coverage for the most vulnerable should be a matter of concern to national and international policymakers in the EU and needs to influence planning for the future.

Making ends meet and financial distress

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) which was falling between 2014 and 2018 has started to increase again, most notably among those in the bottom half of the income distribution.

After improvements in the past number of years, difficulty in making ends meet is once again becoming a problem across the EU.  Financial distress for people in the lowest income quartile is 23% and it stands at 14.6% for the second lowest income quartile.  

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

Every country in the European Union has committed to legally-binding emissions targets for 2020 and 2030. While progress is being made across the EU-28 to reduce its GHG emissions, and the EU-28 average in 2017 was 21.7 per cent lower than 1990 levels, contribution to this progress is not evenly shared across all member states. 

Six of the EU-28 countries remained above 1990 levels Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Malta and Austria. These countries are likely to face a considerable environmental and financial cost, given those binding commitments referred to above. At the other end of the scale, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Estonia have made the greatest reductions in GHG emissions.

A digital copy of the National Social Monitor – European Edition is available here.