Findings from a new EU-wide survey

The report of the Third European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) was published in December 2012 and has a particular focus on the impact of the crisis. Perceived social exclusion is highest among the long-term unemployed. Countries reporting a better quality of life are those in North and West Europe. However differences in levels of satisfaction with one’s personal situation (as opposed to perceptions of quality of society) are less pronounced. The most vulnerable groups – the lowest income quartile, the long-term unemployed, older people (in Central and Eastern Europe) – show the greatest decline in wellbeing compared with previous surveys.

The balance between reliance on family and reliance on public services is interesting. Family is still the main source of support in all areas of life. However, people who cannot depend on family members in the household (people living alone and single parents) usually turn to friends for support. Family as a source of support dominates especially in eastern Member States, whereas in countries with well-developed public services, people are more inclined to turn to formal services for help. This tendency grew in the last four years; in some countries, the importance of family increased during the crisis (for example, in financial need), while in some western and northern Member States people increasingly turned to public services.

Public services address basic needs of society and have been estimated to comprise more than a quarter of the EU’s overall GDP. They employ almost one-third of its entire workforce, mostly in ‘health and social work’, ‘public administration and defence’ and ‘education’ (CEEP, 2011). There are some interesting findings in relation to public services, health and health care, which also covers some aspects of public social services in Europe:

  • Europeans are generally more satisfied with public transport, health, childcare and education than they are with long-term care services and social housing.
  • Users of long-term care actually give higher ratings of its quality than do non-users.
  • Public long-term care and childcare services are better regarded by low income earners.
  • People over 65 rated long-term care more highly than other age groups.
  • Women tend to be less satisfied than men with long-term care and health.
  • There appear to be greater problems in accessing long-term care than childcare; perceived lack of quality emerges as a significant barrier here.

Other findings reveal the interconnections between social problems in people’s lives. For example, mental health is worse among people who fear losing their accommodation and among the long-term unemployed.

Eurofound identifies some policy pointers that follow from its findings about quality of life:

  • “While the focus for policy-makers should primarily be directed at vulnerable groups, attention should also be paid to the situation of people who at first sight seem advantaged but who are in fact struggling with problems related to employment, debt, housing insecurity and access to services.”
  • “Measures to address social exclusion should not only focus on the labour market or even improving income; people involved in associations and doing voluntary work, for example, feel less excluded.”
  • “The increase in people with a chronic physical or mental health problem, illness or disability requires greater awareness and a policy response to reduce barriers.”

You can access further information online, including a short clip that summarises the key findings.