Challenges and prospects in the EU: Quality of life and public services Chapter 9

105 Introduction The eight preceding chapters in this volume cover a wide range of themes, brought together under the umbrella concept of ‘quality of society’. They are based on research conducted by Eurofound mostly in the period 2016–2018. The analyses presented represent not only a variety of subjects but also a range of research methods, although several chapters draw extensively on the EQLS 2016. Data from the EQLS are complemented in some chapters with recent EU-LFS, EU-SILC, Eurobarometer and European Social Survey analyses. In addition, measures to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups have been drawn from case studies in Member States, based on the work of external contractors as well as input from the Network of Eurofound Correspondents (NEC) and in-house studies. For instance, in the chapter on young people, a survey of service providers was developed with support from an external contractor. Although the chapters examine services to groups across the whole population of the EU, there is, evidently, a focus on services to meet the needs of people with health and social problems. In particular, and in different ways, several of the chapters address the needs of younger people: of the very young for childcare services, of children for education, of teenagers and young adults for access to health and social care services and of young refugees and asylum-seekers. It is notable that Eurofound’s research increasingly seeks to examine the situation of young people aged 12–18, whereas its focus in the past has largely been on those aged 18 and over. Several of the services specifically address transitions across the life course, from school to vocational education, from teenage years to adulthood and from life in a troubled country to settlement in the EU. Clearly, what happens at an early age influences needs and demands later in life, and this applies to the population in general regarding needs for healthcare and long-term care, for example. Demand for many public services is growing, with increasing needs across the spectrum of health and care. Of course, many needs in these sectors are met by family and neighbours or friends acting as informal carers. An awareness of the significance of unpaid informal care highlights the specific and greater involvement of women in these roles. However, it is also the case that an increasing number of workers – again, women in particular – are occupied in paid employment in these public services. For people in need, it is imperative to improve access to sources of support, both formal and informal, from personal or social networks as well as from public service providers. The EQLS 2016 shows that in the EU as a whole, and contrary to some popular conceptions, trust and social cohesion have recovered to levels that existed before the financial crisis (Eurofound, 2017). However, there were still 12 Member States where average trust in national institutions in 2016 was lower than in 2007. The ranking of institutions in terms of trust is relatively stable over time and across countries. National political institutions (governments and parliaments) tend to be ranked lower in general than other institutions, and only 30–40% of people typically express trust in these national political institutions (the proportion expressing trust in the EU is usually somewhat higher). Perceiving the existence of certain societal tensions – between ethnic or racial groups, and between religious groups – is more common now than before the crisis, and this has a significant negative impact on trust in institutions. As the first chapter in this volume showed, civic participation, especially volunteering, has a positive impact on levels of trust, while feelings of insecurity result in lower expressed trust in institutions. The importance of insecurities is increasingly emphasised (Eurofound, 2018; OECD, 2018); the EQLS documents some declines in feeling certain about being able to retain accommodation and widespread concerns regarding income insecurity in old age. It appears that a certain sense of security is an essential factor for trust in institutions. There are some indications of improvement in the quality of public services (particularly healthcare and childcare) between 2011 and 2016 – more so in countries where quality ratings were previously low. The ranking of the quality of long-term care remains relatively low compared with, for example, childcare, suggesting a need for greater attention to the quality (and also availability) of this service. On the whole, quality ratings of the public services examined are relatively uniform for the different services in individual Member States. The results also point to a marked continuity over the last decade in the countries where services are generally regarded as being of high or low quality – this is true of healthcare, long-term care, childcare and the education system – which suggests that the broader welfare systems in different countries are important determinants of perceived quality of individual services. 9 What next?