Time to reassess what it is like to live in Europe

By James Higgins (Eurofound)

Eurofound is currently running the latest round of its Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey to document how life has changed during the pandemic and gauge opinion on how to meet challenges, old and new. This opt-in survey is open until the beginning of May. The data will provide an up-to-date picture for policy makers and service providers about the society at large and about which social groups have coped well and which have struggled. This knowledge is also essential for the evolving debate regarding the role and goals of social services, discussed in the European Social Services Conference 2022.

You have the opportunity to contribute your perspective: fill it in and share with the people in your social and professional networks – Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey

It has been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, fundamentally changing many aspects of life and work across Europe. EU and national-level policy and fiscal interventions mitigated some of the most severe potential economic and employment impacts of crisis, while social, health and care services supported societies in dealing with the wide-ranging consequences of the pandemic. At present, people may be returning to the workplace and reconnecting with communities, but the past two years cannot be unlived, impacting people’s perceptions, quality of life, expectations of public services, and feelings about the future. Policymakers are challenged with finding responses to the challenges of a profoundly changed Europe.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of work, well-being, life and society. Previous rounds of the survey revealed declining mental health and trust, as well as rising inequalities, and – although they took place during times when citizens across Europe experienced more acute isolation – the now enduring nature of the pandemic brings into question long-term resilience and optimism for the future. This situation unfolds concurrently with shockwaves sent across Europe by the war in Ukraine, and an escalating humanitarian crisis that is felt across the continent and internationally.

Public sentiment on the war in Ukraine and action that should be taken will be part of the findings, this is a new aspect of the research. Also of fundamental importance will be the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on young people across Europe, as previous Eurofound research showed that COVID-19 ended a six-year decline in youth unemployment, with young people more likely to find themselves unemployed and to report poor mental health than the rest of the population. Eurofound identified youth mental health as a crisis in its own regard, highlighting that the demand for mental health services for young people soared across Europe during the pandemic, with young people in Ireland and the Mediterranean countries indicating particularly low mental well-being and life satisfaction. The multifaceted effects of the pandemic on gender equality is also an area to monitor closely, as previous iterations revealed that measures taken by governments to control the spread of the virus exacerbated gender divides in unemployment, domestic labour and financial security, all to the disadvantage of women.

In addition to this are the issues of how the lockdowns changed the labour market in Europe, how digitisation has changed the workplace, how COVID-19 has affected business continuity, and how crises impacted broader equality and cohesion. Public services, like many aspects of broader society, were challenged to adapt to a new reality of physical contact restrictions and spurred digitalisation: some are still feeling the impacts borne by the citizens they serve, some are also adapting to assist the incoming refugees. The outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe may be moving gradually into history, but the long-term impacts of the pandemic on work, life, and society are just beginning.

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