Social protection

23 December 2019

Social protection systems are intended to protect citizens against the risks associated with, for instance, unemployment, illness and disability, old age, costs of children and housing. Article 2 of the EU Treaty identifies the promotion of a high level of social protection as a key task. The social protection system includes benefits in cash and in kind, so the European Pillar of Social Rights highlights access to childcare, healthcare, long-term care and social housing alongside unemployment benefits, minimum income and old age pensions.

The European Commission’s Social Investment Package supports the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and includes a recommendation against child poverty, a review of policy options for long-term care, and strategies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health systems. The Commission uses the European Semester process to monitor the social protection systems of Member States and offers country-specific recommendations where necessary on the use of their social budgets to ensure adequate and sustainable social protection.

Eurofound’s work

Eurofound’s studies have looked at access to services and benefits both as means to meet specific needs and as part of integrated efforts to promote inclusion. Quality public services are a vital means for achieving high levels of social protection and social inclusion. Eurofound research examines access to and quality of a variety of social services. The focus is on those services and benefits that respond to the needs of vulnerable groups such as older people, migrants, young people or people with disabilities. 

Survey data

Eurofound examines access to and quality of social protection in its European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS), first carried out in 2003. EQLS 2016, the fourth and most recent survey to date, includes an analysis of perceptions of insecurity around different societal concerns: personal safety, housing insecurity, employment insecurity and income insecurity. It also includes an extended module on access to and quality of healthcare, long-term care, childcare and education.   

Key contributions

With people living longer, the need for affordable care of high quality is increasing. Recent research on care homes for older Europeans examines long-term care services in the public and private (profit and not-for-profit) sectors, looking into issues of quality, accessibility and efficiency of services. Access to early childhood education and care services and the quality of such services are also receiving greater attention in the EU, both to enable employment of parents, especially mothers, and to promote the well-being of children. A Eurofound study assessed evidence on the elements of working conditions and in-service training that increase the quality of such services.

In its 2013 resolution, Social housing in the EU, the European Parliament called on Eurofound to examine the cost of inaction on inadequate housing. The EQLS has also highlighted problems with the affordability of housing, while other research has examined the development of advisory services to help people deal with household debts (and will be the subject of new research in 2019). Moreover, Eurofound’s study on access to social benefits examines where gaps have been identified between eligibility and take-up of social benefits and provides an overview of problems that people encounter in accessing benefits. It also examines strategies aimed at reducing the non-take-up of benefits. Another strand of research has explored the social dimension of intra-EU mobility and specifically looked at the impact on social protection and public services, including the take-up of welfare benefits. 

Other research has focused on the provisions on maternity leave in the Member States, showing a high level of compliance with the provisions of the Maternity Leave Directive (92/85/EEC).

Young people are at high risk of social exclusion across many European countries, with long-term consequences for the individuals concerned and for the economy and society as a whole. Eurofound has examined successful initiatives aimed at promoting the social inclusion of young people in the EU. Research has also explored the situation regarding access to social protection for young people on temporary or fixed-term contracts. A further study examined the implementation of active inclusion policy as an instrument for combating the exclusion of young people with disabilities or health problems from the labour market. 

    Data and resources

    Ongoing work


    Highlights (9)

    Visi (465)

    Publications (50)

    Articles (403)

    News (7)

    Events (5)