Social policies

30 April 2020

European social policies aim to promote employment, improve living and working conditions, provide adequate social protection and combat social exclusion. These policies are generally the competence and responsibility of Member States but the European Pillar of Social Rights, endorsed in November 2017, gives new momentum to initiatives at European level. The Pillar of Social Rights is built upon 20 key principles, structured around: equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion.

A defining ideal of the European project is that economic prosperity and social progress should go hand in hand. The EU’s current framework policy Europe 2020 has set targets on five key outcomes, which are progressing well regarding employment but only slowly regarding combating poverty and social exclusion. It proposes a range of initiatives to help reach these targets in such areas as youth employment, skills, social protection, effective health and long-term care, social inclusion and educational attainment.

The challenge for policymakers is to support policies that promote both better living conditions and more opportunities for active participation in society in times of budgetary constraints. A key issue in this debate is the role of public services, which are central to the European social model.

The Commission’s Social Investment Package, launched in 2013, highlights the need to modernise social policies to optimise their effectiveness and efficiency in light of demographic change and economic challenges. In 2014, the European Commission set up the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) to provide independent information, analysis and expertise on social policies. The principles in the Pillar of Social Rights provide an extensive basis for development of new initiatives. 

Eurofound’s work

Eurofound links its research to the policy priorities formulated by the European institutions and social partners. The Agency’s research findings show how policies are working out in practice, what approaches have been shown to work, and indicate how policies can be made more effective.

Key contributions

Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) provides a fairly comprehensive picture of living conditions and helps depict new or emerging risks that can inform the social policies of the future. EQLS 2016, the fourth survey since 2003, looks at the situation around work and family life, health and care services, education, living standards, as well issues around social tensions and social inclusion. 

Largely based on EQLS data, Eurofound produces a series of policy briefs from each survey on a range of topics providing background information and policy pointers for all actors and interested parties engaged in the current European debate on the future of social policy. Topics based on data from EQLS 2012 include: 

  • Social cohesion and well-being in the EU 
  • Quality of life in urban and rural Europe 
  • Work preferences after 50 
  • Social situation of young people in Europe
  • Household over-indebtedness in the EU: The role of informal debts 
  • Political trust and civic engagement during the crisis 

Other social policy research has examined a range of measures aimed at improving the situation of vulnerable groups. In particular, Eurofound has carried out extensive research on policies targeting young people, particularly those aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs), long-term unemployed youth, as well as young people with disabilities or health problems. Research has also focused on issues affecting older people, including innovative solutions around income and retirement. Additional studies have looked at access to early childhood care, home-care services, and care homes for older Europeans. Recent research has examined equal opportunities and social mobility in Europe and measures to promote employment opportunities for economically inactive persons, while evidence on in-work poverty has been assessed.

    Data and resources

    Ongoing work

    Other topics addressed will include:

    • Examining services for labour market integration of people with disabilities based on data from the 4th EQLS to support policymaking in designing relevant and efficient services
    • Mapping developments in advisory for household debt in EU countries as well as identifying barriers to access these services to combat poverty and assessing take-up
    • Analysing differences and inequalities in access to social services of general interest in the EU and assessing the nature and extent of convergence/divergence
    • Exploring wealth and transmission of (dis-) advantage in the context of social mobility, with the possibility to inform policymakers about equality of opportunity and fairness in society
    • Monitoring convergence in social protection and providing in-depth analyses of convergence trends among European countries as well as a discussion of policy options to restore convergence among Member States
    • Report on regional convergence and inequalities, which investigates evolutions of social imbalances (e.g. unemployment, social exclusion, poverty) at the regional level and examines the relationship between growth, regional disparities and interpersonal inequalities 


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