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Social protection

Social protection systems exist to protect people against the risks of loss of income associated with unemployment, ill-health and invalidity, parental responsibilities, costs of children and housing, old age or following the loss of a spouse or parent. The organisation and financing of social protection systems lies with EU Member States. Nevertheless, the EU has a particular role in ensuring, through EU legislation coordinating national social security systems, that people who move across borders and hence come within the remit of different social protection systems are adequately protected. Such legislation mainly concerns statutory social security schemes.


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From January to June 2024, Eurofound supports the work of Belgium's presidency of the Council of the EU, providing valuable research results on specific topics linked with the presidency priorities.

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From January to June 2023, Eurofound supported the work of Sweden's presidency of the Council of the EU, providing valuable research results on specific topics linked with the presidency priorities.

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Eurofound research

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, also investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the use and delivery of such 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. 

Research will also focus on structural change, driven largely by digitalisation, climate change and also COVID-19, and how to ensure just transitions that promote social protection and workers’ rights. 

Social protection and quality of life

Eurofound examines access to and quality of social protection in its European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS). EQLS 2016, the latest edition, 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.   

Provision of social services

With people living longer, the need for affordable care of high quality is increasing. Research on care homes for older Europeans examines long-term care services in the public and private 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. 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. 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).

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. 

Upward convergence in social protection systems

Through the various strands of research, Eurofound will monitor upward convergence in social protection and provide in-depth analyses of convergence trends among European countries. 

Key outputs


Unaffordable housing is a matter of great concern in the EU. It leads to homelessness, housing insecurity, financial strain and inadequate housing. It also prevents young people from leaving their...

30 mei 2023
Research report

Policies to support refugees from Ukraine

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mass immigration of refugees into the EU – over 5 million to date, according to the UNHCR – has put European societies under...


Disclaimer - Please note that this report was updated with revised data (specifically for Bulgaria) on 23 March 2021.This report sets out to assess the initial impact of the COVID-19...

11 maart 2021
Research report

Casual work, both intermittent and on-call, contributes to labour market flexibility and is therefore increasingly used across Europe. In some countries, practices go beyond the use of casual employment contracts...

20 december 2019
Research report

EU context

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. The European Pillar of Social Rights highlights access to childcare, healthcare, long-term care and housing alongside unemployment benefits, minimum income and resources for people in old age that ensure they can live in dignity.

The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 key principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and social protection systems. The principles are structured around three categories, one of which is social protection and inclusion. On 4 March 2021, the European Commission presented its action plan to fully implement the Pillar, turning the principles into concrete actions to benefit EU citizens, while also supporting the recovery from the impact of COVID-19. To reduce inequalities, it proposes a new target for the EU to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million by 2030, including at least 5 million children.

On 24 March 2021, the Commission proposed an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee to ensure that children at risk of poverty and social exclusion have effective access to key services such as healthcare and education. On 14 June 2021, the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) adopted the European Child Guarantee. 

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.

Another key priority for the European Commission is to create a Europe fit for the digital age. This includes investing in digital public services and also providing adequate social protection for platform workers. 

Eurofound’s work on social protection links in with the Commission’s 2019–2024 priority on an economy that works for people. 


Publications results (55)

This background paper focuses on one important aspect of social protection: unemployment benefits, both first tier (usually contributory) and lower tier (predominantly tax-based, non-contributory and means-tested). Unemployment benefits help to cushion the impact of job loss on household finances an

02 February 2024

Ensuring greater social protection for self-employed people has been the subject of much policy debate in recent years. In 2019, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed. Sudden reductions in income during the COVID-1

30 January 2024

Onbetaalbare huisvesting is een punt van grote zorg in de EU. Gebrek aan betaalbare woningen leidt tot dakloosheid, woononzekerheid, financiële druk en ontoereikende huisvesting. Ook ontneemt het jongeren de mogelijkheid het ouderlijk huis te verlaten. Deze problemen ondermijnen de gezondheid en het

30 May 2023

This paper provides a context for the questions to be explored within the Foundation Forum 2022. Europe is emerging from the COVID-19 crisis having managed to protect its economy in the face of a major shock and prevent mass unemployment. However, challenges remain. While the Member States up to now

24 February 2022

Disclaimer: Please note that this report was updated with revised data (specifically for Bulgaria) on 23 March 2021.Met dit verslag wordt beoogd de initiële impact van de COVID-19-crisis op de werkgelegenheid in Europa (tot en met het tweede kwartaal van 2020) te beoordelen, met inbegrip van de

11 March 2021

The EU strives for the upward convergence of its Member States, where their performance improves and gaps between them decrease. Nearly a decade after the Great Recession, the COVID-19 crisis has again put this objective under pressure. This policy brief focuses on convergence in material well-being

08 December 2020

Het recht op toegang tot zorgdiensten van goede kwaliteit wordt benadrukt in de Europese pijler van sociale rechten. In dit verslag worden drie zorgdiensten behandeld: opvang en onderwijs voor jonge kinderen (OOJK), gezondheidszorg en langdurige zorg. Gebleken is dat de toegang tot deze diensten

08 October 2020

Casual work, both intermittent and on-call, contributes to labour market flexibility and is therefore increasingly used across Europe. In some countries, practices go beyond the use of casual employment contracts to include other types of contracts and forms of self-employment.

20 December 2019

Upward convergence is a process whereby the performance of EU Member States in a given domain or range of domains is seen to improve while gaps between Member States reduce. Achieving upward convergence is of crucial importance to the EU, as the increase of disparities among Member States threatens

25 September 2019

In recent years, concerns have been expressed at EU and national level that the combined stresses arising from school, parental expectations and societal pressures can make the transition to adulthood difficult for young people – with the risk of a long-lasting negative impact. One way of easing the

03 July 2019

Online resources results (409)

Presentation made at the 'Informal meeting of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers (EPSCO)' by Ivailo Kalfin, Executive Director, Eurofound and Prof. dr. Paul Schoukens, Full Professor, KU Leuven. Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Namur, 11-12 January 2024.

11 januari 2024

Solidarity with Ukraine and support for the Ukrainian people is unwavering

Today, 24 February 2023, marks one year since Russian forces began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, starting a war of aggression that has spread death and destruction. It also marks one year of resolute Ukrainian resistance.


Building resilience after COVID-19: EU measures to protect jobs and promote skills

Since 2011, the Restructuring support instruments database of the EU PolicyWatch has been collecting information on measures that assist companies and workers to anticipate and manage restructuring. This article looks at measures in the database aimed at supporting employees and employers during the


Policies to support refugees from Ukraine

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mass immigration of refugees into the EU – over 5 million to date, according to the UNHCR – has put European societies under pressure. EU and national-level policymakers together with civil society reacted quickly to accommodate the waves of fleeing Ukr


Changing priorities: The impact of COVID-19 on national policy agendas

A first analysis of working life policies and developments in 2020 shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has in some cases speeded up and in other cases slowed down several policy developments in the EU, Norway and the UK, albeit to varying degrees, and dependent on national contexts. Increased


Coronavirus highlights sick pay void for platform workers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is starting to have a serious impact on the world economy. The consequences for platform workers are especially severe in light of forced work stoppages due to self-isolation and lack of sick pay in many cases. Recent media coverage shows that platform workers in

Poland: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

Protests by doctors at public healthcare facilities, delays in trade union legislation, and the government’s hasty removal of the limit on income subject to social security contributions are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in

Greece: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

The fall in the unemployment rate, combating undeclared work, one-off social benefit payments, initiatives to strengthen social dialogue, and a general strike over the 2018 budget are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life

EU-level: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

Launch of the second phase consultation of social partners of the Written Statement Directive, social partners’ positions regarding aspects of the European Pillar of Social Rights​ , and President Juncker's State of the Union address are the main topics of interest in this article. This country

Poland: New rules limit number of employees entitled to company social fund benefits

Under new regulations in force from 1 January 2017, the threshold for the establishment of a company social fund (ZFŚS) is 50 employees (it was previously 20). Such a move drastically reduces the number of employees eligible for such a form of occupational welfare. Employers welcomed the revision

Blogs results (6)

The housing crisis could be tackled by improving public services, better urban planning and ensuring that social protection benefits reach the people who need them most.

2 mei 2024

The European Pillar of Social Rights states that ‘everyone has the right to affordable long-term care services of good quality, in particular home-care and community-based services’. Taking a step to make this principle a reality, the European Commission is currently preparing a European Care

5 mei 2022

When it comes to Europe’s COVID-19 recovery and its aspiration to build back a more resilient society, the so-called green and digital transitions have dominated EU policy discussions. And as Eurofound made preparations for the 2022 Foundation Forum – a unique occasion for high-level debate on the

11 maart 2022

​​​​​​​To date, close to six million workers in the EU have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Many businesses have closed their doors forever or been pushed to the brink, bringing severe financial and psychological hardship to the individuals and families affected. However, the toll of the pandemic

9 februari 2021

A debate has started in Italy about the support that the state should provide to undeclared workers operating in the informal economy during the COVID-19 crisis. Nunzia Catalfo, Italy’s Minister of Labour in April stated that ‘undeclared work should not exist’ but went on to acknowledge ‘it is a

11 mei 2020

It feels like every day there are new articles or blog posts about how Uber drivers are exploited, or on the bad working conditions and safety standards for Deliveroo riders. In an era of ‘fake news’ can we trust that these are accurate? They most likely are, and I agree that things are not all rosy

17 oktober 2019
Upcoming publications results (1)

Social protection can include a range of entitlements to monetary and in-kind benefits. Eurofound’s project focuses on unemployment and minimum income benefits. Social protection can provide a safety net for people who are negatively impacted by the green and digital transitions. During the COVID-19

September 2024


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