In December 2022, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) published data on ‘Living, Working and Covid-19 in the European Union and 10 EU Neighbouring Countries”. It highlights some of the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted living and working conditions in EU Member States and EU neighbouring countries.
In this EMI Analysis, European Movement Ireland discusses the main findings of the research, the impact of the pandemic on living and working conditions in Ireland, and some points for consideration.
Eurofound is an EU agency “whose role is to provide knowledge to assist in the development of better social, employment and work-related policies”. Established in 1975, it is based on Wyattville Road, Loughlinstown, Co. Dublin.
Living, Working and Covid-19
The Living, working and Covid-19’ e-survey was first launched by Eurofound in April 2020 and aimed to capture the wide-ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the work and lives of people in the EU.
A second e-survey was conducted in July 2020, a third in March 2021, and again between October – November 2021. A fifth e-survey took place between March – May 2022, in which a pilot survey was done in 10 neighbouring countries with the European Training Foundation (ETF). The 10 countries were Albania, Georgia, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, North Macedonia, Palestine and Tunisia.
Based in Turin, Italy, the ETF is an EU agency which supports countries surrounding the EU to reform their education, training, and labour market systems.
Living, working and COVID-19 in the European Union and 10 EU neighbouring countries was published in December 2022 and can be read here.
Selected findings highlighted
The most recent e-survey for Living, working and Covid-19 often found wide gaps between respondents from people in the 27 EU Member States (EU27) and the 10 neighbouring countries (10NC).
For example, 55% of people in the EU27 reported that they are finding it difficult making ends meet, which soars to 86% in the 10NC. For respondents who are in arrears with bills, utility bills were the highest for people both in the EU27 (18%) and 10NC (66%).
In terms of whether respondents found that they were experiencing a lack of sufficient access to education and training programmes, there was again stark differences between the EU27 (36%) and 10NC (73%). However, similarities were found by those who are unemployed and accessing such services in both the EU27 (62%) and the 10NC (84%).
The report outlines that financial pressures have negatively affected the health and mental wellbeing of respondents, with similar trends across both EU and non-EU respondents.
The research found that 22% of people in the EU27 and 21% of people in the 10NC who found it hard to make ends meet also reported poor health. This compared to 5% (EU27) and 4% (10NC) who found it easy to make ends meet.
While there has been a shift towards flexible working arrangements, a significant number of respondents, particularly women, reported that they have a poor work-life balance. This is especially true for women in EU neighbouring countries, which serves as a reminder for the need for gender responsive measures and policies in both EU and non-EU countries.
Finally, on the issue of where respondents had worked in the last month, 69% of people in the EU27 reported that they had only worked in the office, while this was 85% in the 10NC. The report stated that this revealed the “untapped potential to embrace digital opportunities for work”.
The survey highlights that respondents in the EU27 and the 10NC share serious concerns about the rising cost of living. However, results of the survey also indicate significant differences in living and working conditions between EU and non-EU countries, with respondents in the EU reporting a higher quality of life and wellbeing than their non-EU neighbours.
Selected findings highlighted – Ireland
In Ireland, just under half of respondents (48%) reported that they were having difficulties in making ends meet. This was below the total average of 58% for the EU27 and the 86% recorded for those in the 10NC.
A significant finding came on the issue of mental health. The research found that 58% of respondents in Ireland were at risk of depression. Differences are very evident between respondent in the EU27 (56%) and in the 10NC average (72%).
On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), Irish respondents reported moderate levels of life satisfaction of 6.2, above both the EU27 (5.9) and the 10NC (4.3). As such, Ireland placed 8 out of the 37 countries surveyed, with Denmark (7.9) reporting the highest levels of life satisfaction, and Lebanon (3.0) the lowest.
On the issue of working from home, the report found that Ireland (45%), along with Belgium (45%) and Austria (44%) had the highest levels of people who reported working both at ‘only home’ and ‘combined’ with the office. Ireland’s figure puts it ahead of the EU27 (31%) and the 10NC (15%) averages.
As the report outlines, the education sector has also been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Respondents from the EU27 as well as the 10NC raised concerns about the quality of their education systems and access to education and training during the Covid-19 crisis. On a scale of 1 (low) – 10 (high), respondents in Ireland determined the quality of the Irish education system to be 4.9, slightly above the EU27 average of 4.8.
Ireland, like many of its EU neighbours, has faced several economic and social challenges arising from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Perhaps the most concerning finding of the survey is the high risk of depression among Irish adults, as well as the fact that nearly half of Irish respondents reported having financial difficulties. However, Ireland has also become a leader in flexible working arrangements, having taken advantage of the digital opportunities which emerged during the pandemic.
The financial concerns raised by respondents in the survey also highlights the importance of policies such as RePowerEU and the EU’s emergency energy measures, through which the EU is aiming to tackle rising energy prices and reduce the cost of living for consumers in the EU. Similarly, concerns surrounding health, wellbeing and access to education and training reaffirm the importance of delivering on the European Skills Agenda and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
To find out more about the work and publications of Eurofound, click here.