EU social climate survey examines impact of crisis

To identify the impact of the economic and financial crisis, a Eurobarometer survey in June 2011 examined the views of EU citizens on a range of social issues (job satisfaction, employment situation, pension provision and unemployment benefits) in terms of the current situation, the situation compared with five years ago and their expectations for the coming 12 months. The responses were largely negative, although there were wide variations between countries.

Introduction

The European Commission issued the Eurobarometer Social Climate Report (Special Eurobarometer 370) (2.46Mb PDF) in October 2011. The survey, which was conducted in June 2011, asked a range of questions on personal and employment issues to determine what impact the economic and financial crisis has had on the lives of EU citizens. It is based on approximately 1,000 interviews with people in each Member State, with the exception of Cyprus (500), Germany (1,500), Luxembourg (500), Malta (500) and the UK (1,300).

Job satisfaction

Participants were asked to rate their current level of satisfaction with their job on a scale of -10 to +10. The EU average score was 1.7 which, although not especially positive, is an improvement of +0.2 on the previous survey carried out in May 2010.

In terms of national responses, the three Nordic Member States scored highest: Sweden (+5.7), Finland (+5.6) and Denmark (+5.1). Hungary scored lowest with a score of -3. Other low-scoring Member States included Romania with -2.7, Greece with -2.4 and Lithuania with -1.5.

When asked to rate their satisfaction with their job compared with five years ago on a better–worse scale of -100 to +100, the EU average score was -4. When asked to consider how their situation might change over the coming 12 months, the score was +9.

In terms of comparison with five years ago, Sweden gave the highest score (+35) followed by Luxembourg (+24), Austria and Denmark (both +14). Eight Member States reported scores lower than -20, with Greece (-43), Romania (-41), Lithuania (-39) and Hungary (-38) giving the lowest answers.

Expectations for the coming 12 months concerning job satisfaction were highest in Sweden (+30), Estonia (+26) and Luxembourg (+20). Optimism was lowest in Greece (-30), Portugal (-21), Hungary (-12) and Romania (-11).

Employment situation

When asked to evaluate the current employment situation in their country on a scale of -10 - +10, the EU average score was -3.5. Again, there were wide variations between countries, ranging from -8.1 in Ireland and -7.9 in Greece to +2 in Austria and +1.6 in the Netherlands.

There was overall pessimism compared with five years ago, with an average EU score of -52 on a scale of -100 to +100. There were wide variations in the views from individual EU Member States ranging from -97 in Greece and -91 in Spain to +22 in Germany (the only country to record a plus score on this question).

Average expectations for the coming 12 months were also relatively pessimistic, with an average EU score of -12 on a scale of -100 to +100. Individual EU Member State scores varied form -83 in Greece and -64 in Portugal to +31 in Sweden and +30 in Denmark.

Pension provision

Survey respondents were asked to assess their country’s pension provision. The overall view was broadly negative in terms of current provision, with increasing pessimism when asked about the future. The EU average response to the question about current pensions situation was -1.7 on a scale of -10 to +10. Country variations ranged from -6.3 in Greece to +4.9 in Luxembourg.

When asked about current pension provision compared with provision five years ago, the EU average score was -47 on a scale of -100 to +100, with individual country variations ranging from -93 in Greece to +3 in Cyprus.

When asked about expectations for pension provision for the coming 12 months, the view was pessimistic, with an average EU score of -30 on a scale of -100 to +100. Individual country variations ranged from -78 in Greece and -55 in the Czech Republic and Portugal, to -4 in Sweden and +7 in Estonia (the only country to record a positive response).

Unemployment benefits

The assessment of the provision of unemployment benefits was also negative on the whole, with an average EU score of -1.2 on a scale of -10 to +10 when assessing current provision. Individual country assessments ranged from -6.3 in Romania to +4.7 in Luxembourg and +3.7 in Austria. A total of 11 Member States recorded positive scores for this question.

Respondents were also asked about unemployment benefits compared with provision five years ago. The EU average was negative at -37 on a scale of -100 to +100. As with other questions, there were wide country variations ranging from -83 in Greece and -75 in Romania to +7 in Luxembourg and -5 in Belgium and Austria.

When asked about expectations regarding unemployment benefit provision over the coming 12 months, the EU average score was -24 on a scale of -100 to +100, with individual country responses ranging from -75 in Greece and -58 in Portugal to +4 in Sweden and Estonia.

Conclusions

The report notes that overall:

Opinion across the European Union varies greatly depending on the topic analysed and that the general feelings of pessimism, optimism, satisfaction or dissatisfaction at EU level often mask a number of strong differences between the opinions within an individual country or socio-demographic category.

(Special Eurobarometer 370, p. 102)

In terms of personal job satisfaction, it would seem that although the current score was slightly more optimistic than in the 2010 survey (+1.7 compared with +0.2), the overall view was that things had worsened slightly compared with five years ago (score of -4). However, there was optimism that things would improve in 12 months’ time (score of +9).

In contrast, the overall view for respondents’ national employment situation was much more negative, with an average score of -3.5, although this was a +1.5 improvement on the previous year’s score. Respondents also felt that the situation was much worse than five years ago, with an average score of -52 (although this is actually a +16 improvement on the score in the previous year’s survey). Expectations were also low for the coming 12 months, with an average score of -12, although again this is a +9 improvement on the result for the 2010 survey.

All this may indicate a belief that the EU is beginning to emerge, albeit unevenly, from the crisis. Given the continuing financial upheaval in the euro zone, it will be interesting to see how public opinion develops in future surveys.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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