Families in the crisis: Finding work-life balance in difficult economic context
28 - 29 April 2014, Athens, Greece
Ongoing economic hardship is correlated with a decline in the trust Europeans feel for their political institutions, as was made clear by Eurofound research findings presented at the joint seminar coordinated by Eurofound and COFACE on tackling political disengagement in advance of the upcoming European Parliament elections in May. A key element in this disengagement is the falling levels of trust that Eurofound's European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) has documented across the Member States.
About the event
The conference was one of the highlight events of the Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE)’s Year for Reconciling Work and Family Life in Europe thematic work programme over the course of 2014. This event was jointly organised by COFACE and its Greek member organisation, KMOP, in close cooperation with the Hellenic Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The conference focused on austerity measures and cuts to social services, women’s participation on the labour market, and how work and family life reconciliation can work under economic stress. Other topics addressed were childcare, family solidarity in times of crisis and the outlook for the young people and their future families. It was an opportunity for Greek social partners and civil society representatives to meet their colleagues, who work at the European level and exchange information, build up concrete actions.
Eurofound research manager Daphne Natalie Ahrendt, of the Living Conditions and Quality of Life Unit, outlined some key findings from the EQLS, and highlighted how these correlated with deprivation and sociodemographic characteristics. Eurofound's Daniel Molinuevo, research officer in the same unit, talked about recruitment and retention of home care workers and gave examples of successful initiatives.
European or not?
Findings from the Eurobarometer survey show a relatively high proportion of Europeans on average – 62% – feel themselves to be EU citizens; in countries hardest hit by the crisis, however, this feeling of being European has declined markedly: in Greece, the figure is as low as 44%.
Trust declines across EU
Across Europe generally, findings point to a crisis of faith in public institutions since the advent of the economic crisis. Results from the autumn 2013 Eurobarometer show that trust in the EU has fallen: in spring 2007, some 57% of respondents said they trusted the EU; in autumn 2013 that had fallen to 31%. However, in countries that have been hit hardest by the crisis, levels of trust are much lower: 19% in Greece for instance, and only 13% in Cyprus. The EQLS found a similarly wide discrepancy between Member States in terms of levels of trust in national political institutions, as outlined in the figure.
Trust in national institutions
Economic concerns lead to falling trust: surveys from the Eurobarometer bear this out. But it’s not just the EU that is being less trusted: ongoing decline in trust in national governments mirrors the decline in trust in the EU. In fact, as the graph shows, levels of trust in the EU remain higher than trust in national institutions. However, as Ms Ahrendt highlighted, ‘it is such a difficult task for the EU to refute the portrayal that falling trust is solely an EU problem.’
Falling levels of trust not unique to EU
Hardship and declining trust
In countries where there are grave concerns about the economy, levels of trust have declined most sharply. In Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary almost 100% of respondents to a Eurobarometer survey expressed concern about the economy; and it is in these countries that levels of trust have declined the most. The EQLS backs this up: regardless of the type of economic hardship suffered, people who are in difficulty trust their national government less than average. Given that there is more unemployment and more economic hardship in the wake of the crisis, the base for distrust is hence also growing.
Levels of trust in government by financial circumstances
To restore trust is a long-term, complex process, Ms Ahrendt stressed. However, the EQLS points to some possible ways in which to work towards this. The survey’s findings indicate that a key factor in greater trust is good-quality public services – doctors, schools, transport and childcare. Ensuring equal access to good services has the scope to boost levels of political trust, over the long term.
And interestingly, people who volunteer score higher in terms of their trust in institutions: out of a score of 10, they rated their trust at 4.8, as against 3.9 for those who did not volunteer. Governments could do more to recognise the value of volunteering, and to boost the public’s awareness of the benefits of volunteering to themselves and to their communities.
- Daphne Natalie Ahrendt: Quality of life in Europe: Families in the economic crisis and changes in policy measures
- Daniel Molinuevo: Recruitment and retention of home care workers: Examples of successful initiatives
Eurofound's policy brief detailing the issues surrounding politcal trust and civic engagement is available online; also available in German and French.
More information and the programme are available.