On 6 February, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs (OJCEA) met with the Director of Eurofound Juan Menéndez-Valdés to discuss that agency’s social research findings on Ireland in comparison to EU Member States and five candidate countries. Eurofound is an EU research agency, based in Dublin, working on developing better social, employment and work-related policies. Their main research is on working conditions and quality of life in the EU.
Mr. Valdés provided the committee with a presentation titled “Living and working in Europe, how does Ireland measure up?” based on Eurofound’s 2016 Quality of Life Survey (QLS) which was published in January 2018. The survey is conducted every four years and highlights people’s social and growing quality of life concerns living in the EU. Interestingly, for Ireland the three main areas from the QLS survey that Mr. Valdés focussed on during his presentation were: low levels of social tension; public services; and mental health of young people.
Low Levels of Social Tension
A key finding from the survey was that Ireland has one of the lowest levels of social tension in the EU, and Mr Valdés focussed on levels of tension between different racial and ethnic groups. Ireland polled at 21 per cent with only Portugal, Latvia and Lithuania showing lower percentages. The highest levels of social tension were recorded in Italy with 55 per cent and in Belgium with 54 per cent. Mr. Valdés highlighted that the UK, Poland, and Lithuania have the largest proportion of migrants in Ireland and he noted that they tended to come from a predominantly-Christian background like many in Ireland, partly explaining Ireland’s low levels of social tension.
Public Services – Housing and Childcare Challenges
Mr. Valdés highlighted that Ireland is below the EU average when it comes to the quality of social housing. The Netherlands is the most satisfied Member State on social housing, which is impressive considering its very high population density. Mr. Valdés also covered housing security, on which Ireland is below the EU average. He confirmed 22 per cent of people in Ireland feel they will have to leave their accommodation within six months due to affordability. Spain recorded the highest percentage of housing insecurity at 38 per cent. Additionally, childcare affordability is a serious issue according to the QLS., with some 54 per cent of Irish people saying it was a “little difficult” to afford childcare compared to an EU average of 33 per cent.
Mental Health of Young People in Ireland
For his third main theme from the QLS, Mr. Valdés referred to the status of mental health among young people in Ireland. Ireland has an EU average risk of depression among young people. However, Mr. Valdés referenced a Eurostat, European Health Interview Survey from 2014, of young people between the ages of 15 and 24. He remarked that Ireland has the highest rate of severe or moderate depressive symptoms in the EU amongst young people. Mr. Valdés made particular reference to the fact 17 per cent of young females suffer from depression compared to nine per cent of males. This can be compared to Ireland’s nearest neighbours, the UK, where five per cent of males and nine per cent of females are diagnosed with depression.
Happiness, Life Satisfaction, and Perceptions of Resilience
According to the QLS, Ireland recorded one highest levels happiness and life satisfaction in the EU. Ireland has remained stable over the years in relation to happiness; however, Irish people’s life satisfaction levels have seen an increase in recent years, and Mr. Valdés mentioned to the Oireachtas Committee that this could be because of the end of the financial crash-induced economic downturn. Denmark recorded the highest overall levels of happiness and life satisfaction. However, when it comes to self-perceptions of what is termed “resilience” – the ability to handle difficulties in life – in the QLS, some 24 per cent of Irish people said it took them a “long time to bounce back”, 22 per cent had “difficulty in coping”, and another 15 per cent perceived both. Ireland ranked in the bottom half of Member States, with Finland recording the highest self-perceptions of resilience.
Further Findings – Some Reasons for Optimism
There are other noteworthy facts from the 2016 QLS, beyond the ones mentioned by Mr. Valdés at the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee. For example, Irish people are more optimistic about their own future at 81 per cent, than their children’s future (79 per cent). But Irish parents are the third most optimistic in the survey on 79 per cent, behind Denmark and Sweden, about their grandchildren’s future. Irish people score the second highest in the EU (88 per cent) for feeling that they have autonomy over their life – Sweden recorded the highest score at 91 per cent. The reasons behind this, according to the QLS, are higher incomes and employment levels considerably add to people’s sense of autonomy. For additional interesting findings on Ireland, the full Eurofound QLS 2016 can be found here.