Europe is showing its capacity to respond.

TH – 10/2021

On 4 March 2021, the European Commission published the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). This drew attention to the significant impact of COVID-19 on jobs and social systems across Europe. In its Porto Declaration of 8 May 2021, the European Council recognised this and underlined the EU's commitment to intensify the implementation of EPSR at EU and national level. Fair wages, combating social exclusion and poverty, promoting equality and fairness and supporting young people, as well as reducing risks of exclusion of vulnerable social groups, are seen as appropriate means to achieve this.

A comprehensive report by the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) has now examined the national responses to the COVID-19 crisis in relation to social protection in the 27 EU Member States, the UK and the 7 candidate and potential candidate countries.

Quick responses were helpful

The main focus was on measures in the labour market, healthcare and support for working parents. An overall rapid response through the introduction of often temporary measures - most notably, in general terms, the relaxation of eligibility conditions, the raising of benefit levels and the creation of new ad hoc social and employment security schemes and tax relief - was observed. These emergency measures, some of which would have seemed impossible before, have been instrumental in averting a massive social crisis. However, they also highlight the weaknesses and gaps in existing social protection and inclusion policies that need to be urgently addressed. Although the measures were the most important tools to address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, the report underlines their limited potential of the countries' social protection systems to transform.

Data is important

A number of specific measures are proposed which could usefully be considered at national and/or EU level. Thus, the preparation of studies, aiming at a thorough review of the immediate and long-term impact of the pandemic and of the (mostly temporary) protective measures taken, as well as the collection, analysis and publication of data on COVID-19 and its impact are strongly recommended. From these, policy-makers would then have to deduce targeted options for action.

The one-of-a-kind situation created by the COVID pandemic should be used to initiate political reforms; again, the idea of a minimum income in all European states is mentioned here. In particular, the 2019 European Council recommendations on access to social protection could also be implemented for groups of people who so far have little or no access to a minimum level of social protection. Platform workers in particular should be mentioned here, although this group now enjoys a strong political will on the part of both the European Commission and the Parliament to move in precisely this direction.

Click here to read the report.