A cocktail of insecurity, misinformation and mistrust imperil Europe’s future. Reliable, accessible data are at a premium.
Europe faces a winter of uncertainty and potentially discontent. The cost of living is rising rapidly and the spectre of recession looms.
Economic concerns are affecting citizens’ trust in institutions. Research by Eurofound has indicated a decrease in trust in national institutions across the European Union—including in governments, healthcare systems and the police.
The spread of misinformation on ‘social media’, as well as increased isolation during the pandemic, may also be driving declining trust. The research indicates that trust in institutions is lower when social media are a primary news source.
The economic challenges Europeans are facing, and those to come in the months ahead, may provide a catalyst for still further misinformation. This would make a difficult situation worse, sowing seeds of despair among the most vulnerable.
Era of uncertainty
Indeed, there is evidence of this emerging in Eurofound’s recent work. The fifth round of its ‘Living, working and COVID-19’ online survey presents a retrospective overview of responses from more than 200,000 people across the EU since the beginning of the pandemic—addressing wellbeing, health and safety, work and telework, trust, work-life balance and the financial situation of citizens. The agency’s European working conditions telephone survey, meanwhile, is a high-quality, probability-based survey analysing the working conditions of 70,000 people in 2021.
The latest results of ‘Living, working and COVID-19’ reveal the toll of the new era of uncertainty. They represent a clear call to action: to improve trust, engage with citizens who feel marginalised and cover the basic needs of those feeling the pressures of inflation and social change.
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These challenges do not stop at the borders of the EU and indeed are often more acute beyond. A new analysis of the survey compares ten neighbouring countries. Respondents there also report struggles with the cost of living and an alarmingly high risk of depression—particularly among the younger population.
Widespread feelings of social exclusion among younger respondents are very evident, in the EU (28 per cent) and in the neighbouring countries (41 per cent), with many expressing fears about their financial and employment situation. This reflects the lasting effects of the pandemic, painting a bleak picture across Europe and highlighting the need for further policy attention, especially towards youth.
Reeling from the pandemic
Workers in Europe are still reeling from the pandemic, which often brought significant changes in working conditions and vastly diverging working experiences. These are documented in the working-conditions survey, which found 49 per cent frequently working at high speed and 48 per cent to tight deadlines—in effect, half of the respondents. In addition, 19 per cent of workers reported that their job frequently involved them in emotionally disturbing situations.
Of particular concern is that, while those working from home fared comparatively well during the pandemic, over a range of employment and working-conditions indicators, frontline workers were more likely to say they did not receive the recognition they deserved for their work. This despite the pandemic revealing the vital importance of these workers to Europe’s economy and social cohesion and the widespread public support for essential workers during this time.
In addition to new and emerging working-life issues, this survey points to longstanding challenges for the EU’s workforce which require policy attention. They include lack of decent and predictable earnings for vulnerable groups, widespread health problems, long working hours and work-life conflicts. Around 30 per cent of workers are in strained, poor-quality jobs, where the negative aspects of work outweigh the positive. Progress on these issues will be critical to developing more inclusive labour markets and managing the EU’s demographic transition.
Making data accessible
These different data allow us to understand better how workers and citizens are experiencing the crises which continue to affect and disrupt our lives. They allow policy-makers to take stock of the emerging issues and use evidence-based analysis to inform decisions promoting a fair and inclusive society—one that truly seeks to leave no one behind.
But equally in the context of today’s climate of disinformation and distrust, which stokes fear and confusion, the need to make solid, robust data and findings accessible for citizens seeking to respond effectively to these emerging issues and navigate this new world has never been more important.
Eurofound will continue to provide this across all its platforms and channels. Citizens who wish to do so can join the discussion and debate via the Eurofound Talks podcast or delve into the data and research on our website.
Mary McCaughey is head of information and communication at Eurofound. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and of the College of Europe, Bruges, Mary has an early background in journalism and has contributed to a wide range of publications, including the Wall Street Journal Europe and the Irish Times.