Social security developments and trends – Europe 2024


Europe has historically been home to some of the most advanced social security systems in the world. Many countries in the region provide comprehensive, adequate protection against common life cycle and labour market risks for the vast majority of the population. Widespread protection of individuals over the life course enables social security systems to play a key role in ensuring economic and social stability in the face of large-scale shocks. Despite these broad protections, notable gaps remain, especially for migrants, women, self-employed workers, and people engaged in digital platform work and other new forms of employment. If left unaddressed, these gaps could increase the vulnerability of impacted population groups and threaten the long-term sustainability of social security systems.

Demographic ageing continues to present a central challenge to social security systems around the region, prompting governments to initiate or intensify their efforts to reform old-age pension systems. Increased longevity and higher dependency ratios will result in a drastic shrinking of the labour force and dramatic pressures on public budgets. Pension, disability, and health systems, including long-term care, will be particularly impacted and require decisive action. To preserve the long-term sustainability and adequacy of pension systems, for example, governments are raising retirement ages and encouraging longer careers. Doing so reinforces revenues but may also result in unintended socioeconomic consequences for affected groups. For this reason, many governments are implementing policies to mitigate the impacts of reforms while also ensuring their public acceptance, which is critical to ensuring long-term public trust in social security systems.

Changes to the world of work and family dynamics compound the demographic challenges facing European social security systems. Debates and decisions in the European Union (EU) affecting work- life balance, social protection for self-employed workers, and platform work are both provoking and reacting to policy changes at the national level and will continue to have ripple effects outside the EU. The rise in digital platform work, for example, has raised fundamental questions about traditional financing arrangements for social security while also drawing attention to historical gaps in coverage of self-employed workers, notably for unemployment, sickness and work injury benefits. At the same time, reforms in several countries around the region have enhanced cash, care and paid leave policies, with the aim of reducing poverty and inequality while promoting a more balanced distribution of care responsibilities.

In addition, the rise of new technologies has presented both challenges and opportunities for social security systems in Europe. Technological advancements have contributed to more flexible ways of working, such as through digital platforms, but have also resulted in greater career instability, income volatility and downward pressure on wages. Social security institutions are adapting by leveraging technology to better serve the emerging needs of their populations. For example, the trend toward greater digitalization of services has continued, with a focus on adapting services to customer needs to ensure that people can access the benefits to which they are entitled. Social security institutions are also increasingly making use of artificial intelligence-based solutions to improve processes and address long-standing challenges, such as low takeup of benefits, streamlining of claims processing, risk assessment and forecasting.

Finally, a confluence of large-scale shocks has created new economic and social risks that require urgent attention and strain the resources of governments and social security institutions. Just as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were abating, new crises have emerged. Armed conflicts and other geopolitical events have impacted on global prices and migratory flows and in some cases have led to acute humanitarian crises. In many countries, social security institutions have been at the centre of efforts to ensure that refugees can access necessary benefits and services, and that the social security rights of migrants are both transparent and enforced. Europe, like other parts of the world, is also impacted by climate change and natural disasters, which have increased in intensity and severity. For social security systems, responding effectively requires both immediate attention to the needs of affected populations as well as the proactive pursuit of sustainable solutions, including by supporting green transitions and socially and economically responsible investments.

Social security systems across Europe are confronting these multiple challenges through a combination of conventional and innovative tools. Their long-term resilience depends on finding ways to ensure that solutions to address both the long-term financial prospects, and the near-term concerns with coverage, adequacy and effective delivery, are mutually reinforcing.

Social security developments and trends – Europe 2024, comprises the following chapters:

This is one of four regional reports during the 2023–2025 triennium presenting a regional perspective on social security developments and trends as well as identifying challenges and spotlighting innovations. They will be followed by a global report for the World Social Security Forum 2025. The reports are presented in an interactive web-based format that will enable members of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) to navigate the content with ease and facilitate knowledge sharing, in addition to a supporting PDF-version.

Highlights of legal reforms


In recent years, national social security reforms in Europe have been driven by the need for sustainable and adaptable social security systems that respond to shifting demographics and socioeconomic realities across the region.

The majority of recent social security reforms in Europe have focused on old-age pensions, in line with challenges related to population ageing and higher dependency ratios. These reforms fall into two broad groups. First, policy makers have sought to ensure the long-term financial sustainability and adequacy of pension systems. To achieve this, some countries have raised the pensionable age and introduced incentives for deferred retirement, while others have sought to reshape their second pillar pension schemes to adapt to the evolving nature of employment and enhance income security in old age. Second, new policies have expanded access to pension benefits. Some reforms have introduced new possibilities for credited or purchasable contributions. Other initiatives have created new early pension options, often aimed at long-career workers, women, or the unemployed who meet certain contribution requirements.

Reforms to other branches of social security have sought to strengthen accessibility and the coverage of benefits. For example, some 6 countries have introduced new measures to extend coverage and improve access to medical, mental health, and long-term care services, to ensure better support for vulnerable individuals and their caregivers. Others have implemented administrative reforms to promote affordability and the quality of basic health services. Several countries have also introduced legislative changes to parental benefits. In line with the European Union (EU) Directive on Work-Life Balance, these reforms aim to reduce gendered care imbalances, which often lead to women’s underrepresentation in the labour force. New policies include paid paternity leave and initiatives to promote shared parental responsibility. Reforms to bolster minimum income protection and to introduce or increase child benefits have also sought to reduce poverty and inequality, as well as reduce the financial burden on families.

Finally, governments are increasingly adopting policies to adapt to the evolving landscape of work and address the challenges faced by self-employed workers and workers in new forms of employment. Accordingly, several countries in the region have implemented reforms to adjust contribution and taxation systems, alongside efforts to improve employment regulations in the platform economy.

Synthesis of the main trends and developments

Pension reforms

System-wide pension reforms

During the last three years, Belgium, France, and Ireland have begun to implement comprehensive pension reforms aimed at addressing the challenges posed by changing demographics and to ensure the long-term sustainability of their pension systems.

In 2023, France significantly reformed its pension system. The reform increased the pensionable age and the minimum contribution period for a full pension, which will now reach 43 years in 2027 (previously scheduled for 2035). The reform also increased the minimum monthly contributory pension to 85 per cent of the net legal monthly minimum wage, introduced a pension supplement for qualifying parents of up to 5 per cent, and began phasing out most special systems covering public-sector workers.

Building on earlier efforts at structural reform, in 2023, Belgium reached an agreement for a broad overhaul of its pension system. While legislation to implement certain components of the reform is still underway, the agreed package includes: i) a gradual increase in the guaranteed minimum pension; ii) an increase of the number of years of effective work required to receive a minimum pension (including paid work and time spent in temporary unemployment, maternity or paternity leave, and certain caregiving); iii) the introduction of a bonus for long-career workers; iv) changes to credited contribution periods; v) a planned increase to the solidarity contribution rate; and vi) changes to the duration and amount of certain survivors’ benefits.

In January 2024, Ireland began to implement a major reform to its social insurance State Pension. The changes aim to improve the long-term sustainability of the programme by rewarding deferred retirement with an actuarially adjusted increase up to age 70, increasing contribution rates, and adopting a total contribution approach to pension entitlement (to be implemented in 2025). Beyond efforts to improve sustainability, the reform package also credits contributions to individuals who leave the labour force to provide long-term care.

Reforms to second pillar pensions

Several countries, including Georgia, Greece, Monaco, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Türkiye, have undertaken reforms to their second pillar contributory pensions that complement mandatory social insurance and non-contributory pension benefits.

In 2023, Georgia implemented a 2018 law increasing the flexibility of its mandatory individual account programme. Covered individuals may now choose the risk portfolio of their investments (low, medium or high), or may opt for a default option where the risk portfolio will be adjusted by age, with risk declining as retirement approaches. Covered individuals may change portfolios once every 12 months. The reform aims to increase individuals’ investment returns by encouraging higher risk (and higher return) portfolios.

In 2022, Greece replaced its previous mandatory notional defined contribution (NDC) programme with a new mandatory individual account programme for those who first joined the workforce on or after 1 January 2022. The reform aims to address sustainability concerns with the previous system and to increase retirement savings among the working-age population.

Monaco introduced a new mandatory occupational pension programme for private-sector employees beginning on 1 January 2024. Previously, all private-sector employees were covered by France’s main occupational pension programme through bilateral agreement; the new programme therefore provides the country with more flexibility in setting its social security and employment policies. Pension entitlements accrued for periods of previous employment in Monaco will be transferred to the new programme, which applies a defined benefit points system.

In 2023, the Netherlands began to gradually transition its quasi-mandatory occupational pension system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution model. During the transition period, which will last until 2028, employers and employees must agree on how to adjust their pension schemes to meet the new requirements. The reform, which has the agreement of social partners in the Netherlands, seeks to adapt the occupational pension system to reflect the changing nature of employment, in which individuals may work for many employers over the course of their careers.

As part of the wider reform to the pension system in Slovakia, individuals aged 40 or younger who enter the workforce for the first time after 30 April 2023, are automatically enrolled in the country’s individual account programme, with the ability to opt out within two years of joining. The programme was previously limited to workers younger than age 35, and required opting in, a decision which could not be reversed. The changes aim to boost supplemental retirement savings among covered workers.

In Türkiye, starting in January 2022, employees aged 45+ may register for the Automatic Enrolment System, a component of the second pillar Private Pension System. Previously, the programme was open only to employees younger than age 45, who were enrolled automatically with the ability to opt out within two months of joining. Additional reforms to the Private Pension System included increasing the government’s matching contribution rate and allowing pre-retirement withdrawals under certain circumstances.

Reforms to increase pensionable ages

Increasing life expectancy and concerns around the sustainability of pension systems have led to reforms in France, Israel, Sweden, and Switzerland to increase the minimum pensionable age, encouraging longer working lives.

As part of the comprehensive pension system reform passed in 2023, the pensionable age in France will incrementally increase by three months every year until reaching age 64 in 2030. The early pensionable age for workers with long careers has also been adjusted, providing insured persons with the option to claim pension benefits at ages 58, 60, 62, or 63, depending on when they entered the work force (contribution requirements apply). Previously, workers with long careers could claim pension benefits at age 58 if they began working before reaching age 16, or at age 60 if they began working before age 20.

Israel passed legislation in 2022 increasing the standard pensionable age for women born in 1960 or after. Under the reform, the pensionable age will increase from age 62 to age 65, gradually rising by 4 months a year from 2022 to 2024, and thereafter by 3 months a year until 2032. Unemployed women born between 1960 and 1966 who pass a means test may be eligible for a transition grant to offset the impact of the increase.

In 2022, Sweden increased the minimum pensionable age for its NDC and mandatory individual account systems from age 62 to age 63, while the minimum pensionable age for the non-contributory guarantee pension and supplemental benefits (including the contributory pension supplement, housing allowance, and means-tested old-age income support) increased from age 65 to age 66. The reform also increased the age at which employees lose the right to remain employed, from age 68 to age 69. There is no maximum pensionable age.

Also in 2022, Switzerland approved the gradual increase in the standard pensionable age for women from age 64 to age 65, matching the standard pensionable age for men. Under the reform, the pensionable age for women will increase by three months a year starting in 2025, until reaching age 65 in 2028.

Incentives for deferred retirement and continued labour force participation

As average life expectancy increases in Europe, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, and Ireland have implemented reforms aimed at encouraging continued labour force participation.

Croatia and Ireland designed provisions to incentivize deferred retirement. In Croatia, the social insurance pension will be adjusted by 0.45 per cent for each month of deferral, up from the previous 0.34 per cent, and will be subject to a maximum increase of 27 per cent. An incentive was also introduced to encourage individuals eligible for early long-career pensions to defer retirement, increasing pension benefits by 0.15 per cent for each month of deferral, up to a maximum of 9 per cent. In Ireland, the contributory State Pension amount was increased for individuals who defer claiming their pension after age 66, the standard pensionable age. For each year of deferral up to age 70, the pension amount is actuarially increased, up to a maximum amount.

Elsewhere, policy makers have sought to discourage early retirement and to relax restrictions on continued employment. In 2022, Austria re-established a penalty for claiming an early social insurance pension, reducing pensions by 4.2 per cent for each year they are claimed before age 65, the standard pensionable age. The country also introduced an Early Starter Bonus (Frühstarterbonus) for pensioners who began contributing at early ages. In Belgium, the 2023 pension reform agreement plans to re-establish a pension bonus, which when implemented will reward people who continue working after the early retirement age. To encourage continued employment, as of January 2024, Denmark no longer considers the earned income of pensioners and their spouses or cohabitating partners when calculating the state pension, removing the ceiling on how much pensioners can earn from employment while receiving pension benefits.

Reforms creating early pensions

Over the past three years, a number of countries in Europe have introduced new early pensions, offering certain people the flexibility to claim pension benefits before reaching the standard pensionable age.

Denmark and Slovakia have introduced early pensions for workers with long careers, who tend to work in lower-skilled occupations and in more physically demanding jobs.

In Demark, eligibility for the new early pension is determined based on a person’s number of years of employment between ages 16–61. Beginning in 2022, workers with 42, 43, or 44 years of employment during this period may respectively claim pension benefits two, three, or four years before age 67, the standard pensionable age.

In Slovakia, as part of the wider reform to the pension system implemented in 2023, people are eligible for an early social insurance pension at any age as long as they have at least 40 years of coverage and their monthly benefit would be at least 1.6 times the legal monthly subsistence minimum.

Elsewhere, early pension reforms target specific demographic groups.

For example, in 2021, Ireland introduced a new early pension benefit, allowing unemployed residents who meet certain contribution requirements to retire at age 65, one year before the standard pensionable age for all State Pensions (contributory and non-contributory). The early pension benefit mirrors Ireland’s social insurance unemployment benefit (Jobseeker Benefit) but requires that individuals cease employment or self-employment.

In addition to gradually harmonizing retirement ages for men and women, in 2022, Switzerland introduced special early retirement rules for women born between 1961 and 1969. These women will be eligible to claim an early pension from age 62 (two years before the standard pensionable age) and will face smaller early retirement penalties.

Finally, in 2023, Türkiye eliminated the minimum retirement age for certain individuals, effectively creating a new early pension option. Under the reform, individuals who first enrolled in the country’s social insurance programme on or before 8 September 1999, may claim a pension at any age if they have at least 25 years (men) or 20 years (women) of coverage and meet certain contribution requirements.

Reforms to introduce credited and/or purchasable contributions

To expand access to contributory pensions, Albania, Belgium, Ireland and Ukraine have created or expanded the possibility for contributions to be credited or purchased.

In Albania, unemployed mothers with three children or more will now receive credited contributions for both the health and social insurance systems. To qualify, household income must be less than 100,000 lek (ALL) a month (2.5 times the national monthly minimum wage), and one child must be age five or younger. By recognizing time mothers spend providing unpaid care to children as working years, the reform seeks to increase coverage of contributory pensions.

Belgium and Ireland have also taken steps to credit contributions for carers. In Belgium, before 2003, home-based childcare providers did not pay social insurance contributions. This limited access to a guaranteed minimum pension, which requires 30 years of contributions. As of 2023, contributions are proportionately credited for home-based childcare providers who have reached or will reach pensionable age between 1 January 2023 and 2 January 2033, based on the number of years worked between 2003 and 2022. For example, a care provider who worked for 20 years during this period would be credited an additional 25 years of contributions, the equivalent of a full career. In Ireland, as of 2023, people who leave the labour force to provide long-term care will be credited contributions to the State Pension. To qualify, people must be at least age 16, provide full-time care, and live in the same household as the individual for whom care is provided.

In Ukraine, beginning in 2023, citizens can purchase contributions for future social insurance pensions. Qualifying groups include those working abroad, those who will not reach the minimum contribution period for a pension before reaching the standard pensionable age, and those with low income aiming to increase their future entitlement.

Reforms to health and long-term care

Reforms to the coverage and administration of health care benefits and services

Over the past three years, policy makers in Europe have sought to improve the coverage, quality, and affordability of health care services.

In Ireland and Romania, reforms extend access to free health care services to persons previously uncovered.

In 2023, Ireland expanded eligibility for its “GP Visit Card” programme, which provides universal and means-tested access to free primary health care. The reform extended universal benefits – previously limited to children younger than age 6 and adults aged 70+ – to all children younger than age 8 (the age requirement for older persons remains unchanged). It also relaxed the means test for individuals in all other age groups, who are now eligible for coverage provided their net weekly income is below the national median income.

In January 2024, Romania launched a new system to extend social protection and health care coverage to domestic workers. Under the new initiative, domestic workers receive payment from their employers in the form of vouchers issued by the National Agency for Employment. Workers then redeem the vouchers for cash and pay taxes and social insurance pension contributions on 50 per cent of their income. To incentivize participation, workers who redeem a minimum number of service vouchers per month receive health insurance coverage providing free access to a basic package of health services.

In Croatia and Finland, administrative reforms have sought to improve affordability and quality through the consolidation of basic health services. In 2023, Croatia transferred ownership of general hospitals from local to centralized state authorities and introduced a unified public procurement process. As part of it largest-ever reform to the organization of its social services and health care system, in 2023, Finland transferred the administration of social and health care services from 332 municipalities and joint municipal authorities to 21 new welfare counties, plus the City of Helsinki. The new system aims to enlarge risk and financial pools and to standardize the delivery of services across the country.

Increasing access to mental health and long-term care services

Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Slovakia have implemented reforms to increase access to, and the adequacy of, mental health and long-term care services.

In Austria, the amount of the care allowance (Pflegegeld) paid to those with severe psychological disabilities and dementia was increased in 2022 to cover an additional 20 hours of care per month. A means-tested care bonus (Angehörigenbonus) was also introduced for care givers with monthly income below 1,500 euros (EUR) a month. The bonus is paid to certain people who have left employment to attend to a family member who requires full-time care (of more than 160 hours of care per month).

In Belgium, beginning in 2022, psychological care covered by compulsory health insurance may now be provided in a wider range of settings, allowing patients more flexibility in choosing treatment environments. Under the reform, local mental health networks provide services to facilitate access to psychological care.

In Germany, as part of a 2023 reform to the long-term care system, cash and in-kind benefit amounts for home and ambulatory care were each increased by 5 per cent and will be automatically adjusted in line with prices in 2025 and 2028. In addition, the duration of the Support Allowance (Pflegeunterstützungsgeld), which is paid to people who must be absent from work to care for a relative, was extended to up to 10 days per calendar year.

In Slovakia, a new care benefit was introduced in 2021, allowing those caring for a sick relative to receive social insurance benefits through the existing sickness insurance programme. Carers are now eligible to receive up to 90 days of cash benefits to cover 55 per cent of lost wages while providing home or palliative care.

Reforms to parental benefits

In recent years, several European countries have introduced or extended benefits for parents following the birth or adoption of a child. In particular, the 2019 EU Work-life Balance Directive, which aims to improve access to family leave and flexible work arrangements, has contributed to policy changes in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Malta and Slovakia.

Croatia, Germany, and Slovakia introduced new paid paternity leave benefits. In Croatia, beginning in 2023, employed and self-employed fathers covered by the compulsory health insurance programme receive 10 days of paid leave (15 days in cases of multiple births), which must be taken within the first 6 months after birth. In 2024, Germany plans to launch a new benefit for fathers and co-mothers (a birth mother’s same-sex partner), who will receive 2 weeks of paid leave following the birth of the child in addition to the country’s existing parental leave entitlement (which is shared between parents). In Slovakia, as of 2022, fathers with at least 270 days of health insurance coverage over the previous two years receive 14 days of paid leave in the first 6 weeks after birth.

In addition to reforms that created new benefits, Belgium increased its existing paid paternity leave from 15 days to 20 days (2023), Hungary in increased its entitlement from 5 days to 10 days (2023), and Malta expanded the duration of its statutory paternity leave from 2 days to 10 days (2023).

Denmark and Finland both introduced reforms in 2022 to encourage parents to share parental leave and care responsibilities more equally. In Denmark, each parent is entitled to 24 weeks of paid leave following the birth of a child, of which 13 weeks are transferable. The reform also expands leave transfer rights for single parents and LGBT+ families. In Finland, both parents receive 160 parental allowance days, of which 63 may be transferred to the other parent or guardian, while single parents may use the combined total of 320 days.

Reforms to family, household, and minimum income benefits

Reforms to strengthen minimum income protection

Denmark, Germany, and Spain have moved to strengthen minimum protections for vulnerable people and households, notably for the unemployed and for families with low incomes.

In 2023, Denmark introduced several structural changes to its cash assistance system to reduce income inequality and increase labour force participation. The reform abolished the income cap for social assistance benefits, instead introducing an “income ladder approach”, whereby a gradual tapering of benefits ensures there is a financial incentive for cash assistance beneficiaries to find work. A new, simpler benefit rate structure aims to facilitate access to benefits, and the amount of income a person can earn without reduction of social assistance benefits has also increased.

To simplify support for vulnerable people, in 2023, Germany introduced the Citizen’s Allowance (Bürgergeld), which provides a guaranteed minimum income to low-income or unemployed people who are able to work. The means-tested benefit combines support that was previously provided through separate unemployment and social benefits.

In 2022, Spain implemented measures to improve the coverage and adequacy of its Minimum Living Income (Ingreso Mínimo Vital – IMV) programme, a non-contributory minimum income support programme introduced in 2020 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to replace several heterogenous regional benefits. The recent reform relaxed IMV income limits under certain circumstances, allowing greater flexibility to seek employment while receiving the benefit, while also incorporating a child supplement aimed at reducing child poverty.

New child benefits

Over the past three years, Denmark, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, and Spain have implemented reforms that seek to reduce child poverty and social exclusion, as well as to reduce the financial burden on pregnant women and families.

In 2023, Denmark introduced a child allowance for parents who are single, retired, in education, or in certain other circumstances, replacing an earlier temporary child allowance. In addition, the reform included an innovative child leisure allowance to provide families with children who are receiving social assistance benefits with a tax-free allowance of 450 Danish kroner (DKK) per child per month to pay for sports, leisure and cultural activities (up to a monthly maximum of DKK 1,350 per family).

In Poland, beginning in 2022, a new universal child benefit is paid to families for a second or subsequent child who must be aged 12 to 36 months (with exceptions in the case of adoption). Families can opt to receive 1,000 zlotys (PLN) for one year, or PLN 500 for two years. While the new benefit is intended to cover costs related to childcare, it is unconditional.

Spain introduced a new child supplement in 2022 as part of the reform to the Minimum Living Income. Beneficiaries receive EUR 115 a month per child aged 2 or younger, EUR 80.50 a month per child aged 3 to 6, and EUR 57.50 a month per child aged 7 to 17.

Relatedly, the Russian Federation and Slovakia have introduced or strengthened benefits for pregnant women. In 2023, the Russian Federation established a new means-tested social assistance benefit for pregnant women and for citizens with children younger than age 17 and extended pregnancy and childbirth benefits to citizens working under civil law contracts. In 2021, Slovakia introduced a new social insurance benefit for pregnant women covered by sickness insurance to compensate for increased expenses during pregnancy.

Measures impacting the self-employed and workers in new forms of employment

Protecting the self-employed and workers in new forms of work (including in the platform economy) has been a focus for policy makers in Europe. In part driven by EU-level recommendations and directives on social protection for the self-employed and platform workers, reforms across the region are seeking to address affordability and sustainability concerns and to close legal coverage gaps.

Some countries have adjusted the income base used to calculate contributions for these groups. For example, Spain introduced a new contribution system based on net income to streamline contribution payment in line with the system for employees. The reform also introduces special provisions for the newly self-employed, establishing flat-rate contributions for the first year of self-employment. In Finland, contributions from self-employed workers are now calculated from an estimated value of labour output, rather than self-reported income. This estimate is based on the median wage in a particular sector, with some individual flexibility. The reform aims to reduce the under-insurance of self-employed workers, to improve the adequacy of social security benefits.

Similarly, Serbia has moved to simplify its taxation and contribution systems for online freelance workers. As part of a 2022 reform, freelancers may choose the taxation and contribution model that most appropriately matches their situation and expected income, with accompanying online tools to simplify the declaration and payment process, particularly for digital workers who receive payment in foreign currencies.

Other countries have also undertaken initiatives to improve the affordability of social security for the self-employed by introducing flexibility in income declarations (Portugal) and insurance premium incentives (Türkiye), among other measures.

In addition to social protection reforms, many countries have sought to revise employment classification systems to better reflect the nature of platform work and ensure protection for platform workers. In part spurred by developments at the EU level, such reforms have been implemented or are underway in Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Others have extended existing benefits to these new groups. For instance, Belgium and Greece have extended existing work injury protection to independent workers, while discussion surrounding the extension of social security benefits are underway in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Key messages

European countries are actively reforming social security systems in response to shifting demographics and socioeconomic realities. The majority of recent social security reforms in Europe have focused on old-age pensions, in line with challenges related to increasing longevity and higher dependency ratios.

Reforms to old-age pensions fall into two broad groups: i) reforms to ensure the long-term sustainability and adequacy of pension systems; and ii) policies that have expanded access to pension benefits for certain groups, either through new possibilities for credited or purchasable contributions, or new early pension initiatives.

Reforms to other branches of social security have sought to strengthen accessibility and coverage of benefits. In health care, new measures have extended coverage and improved access to medical, mental health, and long-term care services. Administrative reforms aim to promote affordability and quality of basic health services.

In line with the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance, several European countries implemented new paternity leave policies and initiatives to promote shared parental responsibility. Reforms have also bolstered minimum income protections and introduced or increased child benefits, with the aim of reducing poverty and inequality.

Governments in Europe are increasingly recognizing the evolving landscape of work, addressing issues faced by self-employed workers and workers in new forms of employment. Several countries have implemented reforms adjusting contribution and taxation models, alongside efforts to improve employment regulation in the platform economy.

Transforming social security management


In the ever-evolving landscape of social security, institutions in Europe are accentuating the digitalization of their organizations and increasingly emphasizing customer-centric approaches and multi-stakeholder engagement. Going beyond efforts to streamline processes and reduce bottlenecks, the new approaches fundamentally re-examine social security services, as institutions increasingly digitize their delivery systems to enhance the quality of services provided to members.

A customer-centric approach to social security system design is enabling institutions across the region to address the needs of their members, prioritizing the user experience to create services that are efficient and tailored to people’s needs. Additionally, new approaches leveraging multi-stakeholder engagement ensure a holistic perspective when formulating and implementing these solutions. These efforts continue to drive institutions towards digital inclusion, bridging the gap between demographic groups and ensuring that all citizens and residents, irrespective of their digital literacy, have access to social security benefits.

Across Europe, governance and performance management remain fundamental pillars to ensure strong performance and the robustness of social security systems. At the same time, mechanisms to monitor performance enhance management while reducing project-related risks. Increasing transparency also provides the basis for greater accountability and stakeholder engagement.

Furthermore, institutions in several countries in the region are blending traditional mechanisms with innovation, leveraging multi-channel communication strategies to reach diverse audiences effectively. In particular, organizations have been embracing innovative communication methods to promote awareness, accessibility, and understanding of social security benefits, fostering a stronger connection between individuals and the systems designed to support them.

Finally, the region is at the forefront of a rich dialogue on the applications and scope of the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools. By and large, institutions are embracing and implementing AI solutions, marking a transformative leap for institutions to optimize social security operations, enhance decision-making processes and streamline administrative tasks.

Overall, Europe continues to offer a breeding ground for innovative administrative change and improved governance, with a focus on leveraging technology to enhance service delivery with the customer in mind.

Synthesis of the main trends and developments

Digitalization to improve service quality

Social security institutions in Europe recognize that technology alone is insufficient to provide quality service delivery. In this sense, organizations have continued the trend to digitalize services but have placed emphasis on improving the quality of services, building on technological developments and improved processes. This focus has given rise to initiatives that range from new web service portals and full life-cycle views of service delivery, to internal monitoring processes that support institutions as they enforce service quality.

Institutions have established new processes to improve service quality. For instance, Kazakhstan’s State Social Insurance Fund introduced a web portal as the customer-facing dimension of a new process that has allowed the institution to significantly reduce the time to provide services from 6 months to 15 days. Türkiye’s Social Security Institution (Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu – SGK) introduced digital payment processes to improve the efficiency and precision of benefit payments. Portugal’s Social Security Institute (Instituto da Segurança Social – ISS) has further emphasized the importance of service delivery by establishing a 360 degree service delivery strategy to ensure that no member is left behind and that members are consistently served while the processes are dematerialized.

Monitoring, evaluating, and standardizing services remains a trend in the region, as in the case of Spain. In France, the URSSAF National Fund (URSSAF Caisse nationale) has shown how complementary monitoring mechanisms, such as social media reputation monitoring, are important to improve service quality. Also in France, the Council for the Social Protection of Self-Employed Workers (Conseil de la protection sociale des travailleurs indépendants – CPSTI) implemented complementary organizational and management internal control mechanisms to ensure that service quality policy has been enforced by leveraging the use of dashboards and indicators.

Customer-centric service delivery, multi-stakeholder engagement and digital inclusion

Institutions in the region have taken steps to focus on the customer when developing, expanding or refocusing service delivery to their members. Engaging in multi-stakeholder consultations has included different types of users, looking to build strategic partnerships, and even restructuring the organization of institutions to place customers at the centre. This, together with the use of new digital technology, has allowed institutions to provide more inclusive services, including encouraging the use of easy-to-understand language to improve dialogue with customers and provide a better user experience.

For instance, the German Federal Pension Insurance (Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund – DRV Bund) has completely redesigned customer service centres, leveraging customer-centric approaches and new digital technology while simultaneously uniforming processes. Belgium’s National Employment Office (Office national de l’emploi – ONEM) has applied a stakeholder engagement approach to ensure intermediary players are not left behind in the design of services. This has meant including key agents that play an active role in delivering services, especially where such services aim to address the technological divide which may present access challenges to some members. Also in Belgium, the Federal Pension Service (Service fédéral des Pensions – SFP) has taken steps to bridge the digital divide while still providing a self-service portal. Specifically, the SFP has established an innovative “digital mandate” mechanism to implements the legal figure of a trustee that enables a trusted family member or friend to support individuals with lower digital skills. These examples show how customer-centric methodologies also leverage other stakeholders to bridge the technological divide.

Other examples of multi-stakeholder engagement include France’s National Family Allowances Fund (Caisse nationale des allocations familiales – CNAF), where a new “parenthood lab” sets the basis for collaboration between stakeholders. The lab provides a space to collect parental experiences and co-create to identify innovative solutions based on root-user experiences in national projects. Iceland’s Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun ríkisins – TR) has gone even further to establish a client ombudsman and quality control mechanisms to ensure customer satisfaction. In the field of rehabilitation, Kazakhstan and Germany have developed new web portals that include multi-stakeholder engagement, with a focus on customer-centric and user-friendly solutions.

Governance, performance management and control for improved management

Institutions throughout Europe continue to look for ways to manage and control internal processes and to review governance structures to realign organizations towards new visions. Organizations are relying on the use of indicators and data to support management in monitoring, controlling budgets and general institutional performance.

In Azerbaijan, the State Social Protection Fund underwent a comprehensive restructuring to realign the organization with its main mission objectives. This process enabled the SSPF to improve service delivery and establish decision support tools for operational management, which included establishing key performance metrics to support assessment and benchmarking. Also established was a new vision towards proactive benefits delivery supported by an actionable ICT structure.

Better governance was also present in the form of new transparency-oriented web portals that allow stakeholders to research and statistically analyse information on the state and conditions of the social security system, as in the case of Finland’s Social Insurance Institution (Kansaneläkelaitos Kela).

Other organizations have established better internal control mechanisms. For example, Belgium’s ONEM established a new budget control system to analyse risk and help monitor technology projects, including performance metrics.

Organizations in Europe continue to exchange experiences at a regional and international level to enhance internal audit of operations and control. For example, the European Healthcare Fraud and Corruption Network (EHFCN) conference allowed institutions to review practices in establishing legal principles and integrity models supported by technology as well as behavioural insight that can improve evaluation, prevention, detection and investigation of improper use of resources.

Leveraging data exchange for data driven social security

Institutions in different branches of social security throughout the region have recognized the value of exchanging data as part of their efforts to provide better and more holistic services, better identify target populations, and expand coverage. This has allowed institutions to gain insights about their members and become proactive.

For instance, France’s URSSAF National Fund engaged in data exchange practices to identify and support self-employed workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its new harmonized data exchange model allowed different social security institutions to better identify people’s needs. The model also served as a coordination mechanism between different institutions to provide social security coverage to self-employed workers and difficult-to-cover groups. The State Social Insurance Fund Board of the Republic of Lithuania under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (SSIFB) established an electronic data exchange claim process to provide, analyse and identify the target population. In Portugal, the Informatics Institute (Instituto de Informática), established a multi-stakeholder data exchange system to provide a new web-based portal for people working in the creative sector. Finally, in the Netherlands, the Social Insurance Bank (Sociale Verzekeringsbank – SVB) has developed a multi-party data exchange to address the non-takeup of an income support supplement by identifying the target population while still complying with data protection regulations.

Data exchange between institutions has also helped improve service delivery in organizations across the region. This has been the case in Azerbaijan, where the Agency for Sustainable and Operational Social Security (DOST) has leveraged data exchange as a means to integrate applications for disabilities from different rehabilitation institutions as part of its one-stop-shop strategy. These efforts have complemented efforts to leverage data exchange to proactively streamline the delivery of benefits. Belgium’s ONEM established an inter-institutional case platform for employment through a loosely coupled data exchange process.

Data exchange was not only limited to interactions between public institutions. Experiences in Austria show how data exchange with the private sector facilitated the e-prescription of health insurance prescriptions that enabled electronic filing and billing, integrating with pharmacies. Germany’s DRV-Bund established a data exchange with pension managers to establish a comprehensive overview of pension entitlements.

Leveraging tailored and multi-channel communication strategies

Social security institutions in Europe have also implemented mechanisms to strengthen communication with customers as part of their overall strategies. The development of new channels and the improvement of existing ones has translated into more comprehensive strategies and services with a focus on quality and adapting how institutions communicate with stakeholders based on their preferences and capacity.

These strategies range from personalized information portals, as in Latvia’s State Social Insurance Agency to Poland’s Social Insurance Institution (Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolecznych – ZUS), which uses multi-channel communication strategies to support crisis situations. Greece’s Electronic National Social Security Fund (e-EFKA) established a new pensions process that leverages digital communication channels (including video conferencing) for their communication and claims processing. Similarly, France’s National School of Social Security (École nationale supérieure de sécurité sociale – EN3S) introduced a website that includes a pedagogical explanation of social security benefits targeting the younger population group.

Azerbaijan’s DOST reorganized its call centre to provide services through different channels, including telephone, online chat and social media. In addition, it re-aligned its governance model to support a customer-centric and “citizen-servicing” model based on the proactive calculation of benefits to align with its vision of a one-stop-shop. Finally, Spain’s General Treasury of Social Security (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social – TGSS) further deepened its multi-channel strategy and identified the “right” channel to use based on clients’ preferences as part of a holistic service quality methodology.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to lie at the heart of discussions in the region concerning technology. Various organizations are developing a deeper understanding of the potential for as well as the implications, scope and limitations of this new technology. At the regional level, these efforts have led to new draft legislation, the proposed AI Act from the European Commission. The new momentum of innovative solutions in social security have fed into a proliferation of AI-based applications in social security, including on data analytics, risk management and even the use of generative AI.

Data analytics are used by Azerbaijan’s SSPF, where an AI solution supports the targeting of state social assistance. The solution supports the evaluation of household conditions and further generates travel plans including optimal routing via geographic information sytems and global positioning systems. In France, the URSSAF National Fund leveraged an AI solution to analyse and forecast social security contribution collection, to support and enhance its cash flow management.

The application of AI for risk management can be seen in various countries. In Germany, it provides a risk analysis and assessment tool for the workplace, also supporting inspectors in the targeted review of risks. In Austria, AI supports processing and managing health claims, streamlining the processes and releasing specialized human resources to review specific claims.

Finally, generative AI models have already helped Spain to segment citizens according to needs, by providing the right communication channel for specific groups of individuals.

Key messages

Digitalization efforts in Europe have focused on service quality to look at end-to-end service delivery cycles.

Through customer-centric service delivery, institutions have found new ways of ensuring that services are not only efficient but adapted to customer needs.

Organizations’ use of multi-channel communications has evolved and is more tailored to customers needs and capacity.

Organizations are emphasizing the use of indicators and data to support management in monitoring, controlling budgets and performance, which continues to improve the overall governance of the institutions.

Data exchange is being leveraged to gain further insight about members, identify target populations, expand coverage, and continue to improve service delivery.

A new breeding ground of innovation around the implementation of AI tools has continued to gain momentum where social security institutions have started to see the potential these tools can bring to social security institutions and service delivery.

Social security coverage for all


Many of the roots of modern social security systems are European, which tops all regions in terms of both the scope and level of social security coverage afforded to the population. Well-developed social security systems in this region – including tax-financed, mandatory contributory and complementary or supplementary schemes, such as those provided by employers or mutual benefit societies – play a pivotal role in ensuring protection for large proportions of the population against life cycle and labour market risks. The role of social security systems as essential social and economic stabilizers was most recently evidenced when mitigating the negative social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the region’s achievements, coverage gaps remain in a number of countries, especially for certain groups, such as migrants, women, self-employed workers, and people engaged in digital platform work and other new forms of employment. Self-employed workers in particular have long lacked full legal and effective access to comprehensive coverage. The expansion of platform work has shed light on these gaps and raised awareness concerning the coverage challenges facing platform workers and self-employed workers in the region. In Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, some comprehensive programmes have been eroded or discontinued, creating gaps in both legal and effective coverage. In these subregions, closing coverage gaps is inextricably linked to efforts to address high levels of labour market informality.

Against this backdrop, a worsening geopolitical context has heightened the need for coverage extension for migrants and refugees, posing serious challenges for many social security systems in the region and requiring proactive and efficient action. Encouragingly, regional authorities as well as many national governments and social security systems have enhanced their efforts to extend social security coverage and improve access to and the adequacy of benefits. Solutions in Europe in recent years have included the extension of legal coverage to previously excluded workers (notably, self-employed workers), establishment of new schemes or programmes for targeted groups, and reduction of administrative barriers and improvements in service delivery through innovative strategies.

These efforts are indicative of a strong and sustained commitment to ensure that the fundamental human right to social security becomes a reality for all in Europe.

Synthesis of the main trends and developments

Translating European Union social protection principles into action for self-employed workers

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the rise of new forms of employment, the significant and persistent coverage gaps for self-employed workers across the region, especially for work injury, unemployment, and sickness benefits, have become more apparent.

The European Union’s (EU) European Pillar of Social Rights holds that all workers, including self-employed workers, should have access to comparable social protection for comparable work (Principle 12). Subsequent recommendations of the Council of the European Union call for extending formal coverage that is effective and adequate, facilitating the transfer of benefits across schemes and increasing the transparency of systems. To date, around half of EU Member States have undertaken or announced measures to enhance social protection for self-employed workers.

Several countries, including France, Ireland and Portugal have improved the scope of benefits available to self-employed workers under compulsory schemes. In France, for example, as of 2021, self-employed people working in liberal professions gained access to daily cash sickness allowances for up to 90 days.

To address issues of the affordability, adequacy and sustainability of benefit programmes, other countries have sought new arrangements to share the responsibility for contributions, adjusted the contribution base, and provided subsidies and flexibility to encourage enrolment. For instance, Portugal and Spain have allowed for greater flexibility in the contribution base to improve affordability for those with lower incomes, and Türkiye provides explicit financial incentives, including contribution discounts, directed at self-employed workers and certain other groups.

Positively, many countries in Europe have also significantly enhanced the accessibility and quality of social security services for self-employed workers. Examples include unified registration and contribution payment in Estonia’s entrepreneur accounts, and simplified processes for France’s auto-entrepreneurs and Serbia’s freelancers. Furthermore, in France, institutions have harmonized services for self-employed workers and improved internal monitoring systems. Finally, organizations in several countries, including Finland, France and Poland have improved services for rural and agricultural workers, many of whom are self-employed, by developing front-office and digital services as well as tools to assess workplace health.

Digital platform work: Pushing the frontiers of coverage extension

Currently, nearly 30 million workers are engaged through some 500 digital platforms operating in the EU. The vast majority of platform workers in the region are classified as self-employed, with implications for their ability to legally access and, in some cases, afford comprehensive and adequate social security coverage.

EU regulators estimate that a significant number of these workers are misclassified, prompting a contentious debate surrounding the development of a new EU directive on improving the working conditions and social protection – including through appropriate classification – of platform workers. Once formally approved, EU Member States will have two years to incorporate the EU directive into national law.

In parallel, some countries have already implemented targeted extensions to platform workers under specific schemes or branches. For example, Belgium, France and Italy (courier sector only) all require platforms to cover workers for work injury and accident insurance as if they were employees. Some platform workers have gained rights through single platform collective agreements, as in Denmark (wage, pensions, sickness leave and family benefits) and the Netherlands (training, pensions, and disability and liability insurance).

In Germany and the United Kingdom, policy makers are engaged in discussions around the extension of benefits to platform workers. Germany is considering providing self-employed platform workers with statutory pension coverage and requiring digital platforms to pay contributions, among other changes. The United Kingdom’s “Good Work Plan” calls for closer alignment of rights and protection for employees and “workers” (an intermediary category between self-employed and employee) and for improved statutory protection for gig and vulnerable workers.

Owing to its novelty, digital platform work will continue to be a frontier for policy change, including for social security, and social security institutions in the region must position themselves to quickly adapt to changing regulations.

Making universal health coverage a reality

The aim of universal health coverage (UHC) is to provide essential health services – encompassing preventive, primary, hospital, dental, and mental health care – to all in an equitable way and without financial burden. European nations invest in infrastructure, technology, and professionals to ensure health care quality under diverse financing models (public, mixed public and private, contributory, tax-financed). While the EU facilitates cross-border health care access within the European Union, collaboration through regional agreements can significantly improve health care accessibility in Eurasian countries.

Despite progress, financial sustainability challenges and workforce shortages persist, prompting ongoing efforts to enhance and adapt health care systems. Demographic changes, particularly the increased demand for long-term care (LTC), is driving governments to expand the scope of social security and improve systems for older adults. Social security systems can optimize LTC provisions by integrating technology and community-based care models to improves access, while personalized care plans and interdisciplinary teams provide comprehensive support, leading to better outcomes.

Specific initiatives in Finland, Ireland, Portugal and Türkiye exemplify the regional commitment to address diverse health care needs and access challenges. Finland has developed customer service solutions for exceptional situations, Ireland provides a grant for alopecia and cancer patients, Portugal has enhanced a programme for economically vulnerable older people by offering discounted health care services and co-payments, and Türkiye recently extended online health insurance access for international students.

In addition, a cross-frontier joint initiative to advance mental health support for residents in Wallonia and Brussels (these are two of the three distinct regions in Belgium), Belgium, covered by the Solidaris Mutual Benefit Society (Solidaris Mutualité) and for farmers linked with Central Fund of Social Agricultural Mutual Benefit Societies (Caisse centrale de la mutualité sociale Agricole – MSA) in France has been launched. This collaborative effort aims to prevent suicides and promote comprehensive well-being.

These efforts collectively contribute to the overarching goal of achieving UHC in Europe.

Strengthening systems for vulnerable workers and populations

Even in the typically well-developed systems of Europe, certain groups and individuals may still lack access to adequate and comprehensive coverage, whether due to legal gaps, high levels of informality or challenges with access.

Extending social security coverage to the missing middle – those workers mainly in the informal economy who are neither poor enough to be entitled to social assistance benefits nor adequately covered by contributory programmes – is a priority for many countries. Given high and persistent informality in parts of Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, some national governments have attached great importance to the development of a national strategy on the transition from informal to formal employment. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the extension of social security (specifically, unemployment and maternity benefits) is key to the national strategy. Uzbekistan is reportedly poised to develop a similar strategy. The focus on short-term benefits reveals a growing recognition of the need to improve the relevance and attractiveness of social security systems for working-age people.

In recent years, innovative policies and administrative measures have been adopted to extend coverage to difficult-to-cover groups and address the issue of the non-takeup of social security benefits. For example, Albania implemented special protection for unemployed women, while Türkiye has implemented several policies to boost the employment and social protection of the long-term unemployed, young people and women, including contribution subsidies for recruiting businesses. Finally, several countries have effectively addressed the issue of the non-takeup of benefits through process transformation and automation for specific vulnerable populations and their households, including single persons (Lithuania), low-income workers (Malta) and low-income pensioners (the Netherlands).

Ensuring better protection for migrants and refugees

The region is facing an acute migration crisis due to armed conflicts and natural disasters in Europe and neighbouring regions, as well as deteriorating economic and political situations in some countries. Reportedly, the number of first-time asylum applications in the EU increased by 64 per cent from 2021 to 2022, and nearly 6 million Ukrainian refugees had fled to other European countries by the end of 2023. Regardless of migration status, those from outside the EU attempting to work face significant challenges. They are significantly less likely to be employed, resulting in lower access to earned entitlements.

Social security institutions around the region have also developed mechanisms to ensure Ukrainian refugees have access to social protection. For example, Poland extended the right to family benefits to Ukrainian refugees and ensured their effective delivery through the Social Insurance Institution (Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolecznych – ZUS). Other institutions have tailored services to refugees by providing services in their native language, introducing mechanisms for rapid admission and integration and extending support for families with children and pensioners.

Generally, European countries have been updating their policies and administrative measures, with mixed implications for social security. In this context, social security institutions are ensuring that migrants and refugees have access to the benefits to which they are entitled, including through the use of bilateral and international social security agreements. To facilitate this, in Serbia, the texts of 34 international social security agreements are publicly available in the corresponding country languages. Also, in Germany and Portugal, migrants in irregular situations can access some urgent medical care.

Key messages

Even in the typically well-developed systems of Europe, adequate and comprehensive coverage may be absent for some people, whether due to legal gaps, high levels of informality or challenges with access. Some countries are tackling coverage extension in tandem with formalization strategies, while others are closing gaps for specific vulnerable groups.

Coverage gaps remain in some countries, especially for migrants, women, self-employed workers, and people engaged in digital platform work and other new forms of employment.

Spurred by calls to action at the regional level, countries are addressing significant gaps in coverage for self-employed workers by extending legal access to additional branches, adapting contributions to be more affordable and flexible, and improving administrative systems to facilitate access.

Specific developments vis-a-vis platform work are pushing forward coverage extension in the region for platform workers as well as self-employed workers.

Initiatives in the region are contributing to meeting the overarching goal of achieving universal health coverage, though financial sustainability challenges and workforce shortages persist, prompting efforts to enhance and adapt health care systems.

Migration continues to present an acute and intractable challenge for many countries in the region. Social security institutions are actively working to ensure that migrants and refugees have access to the benefits and care to which they are entitled.

Protecting and supporting people during a changing life course


The trajectory of human life is a dynamic journey marked by a series of transitions, challenges and transformations. In the region of Europe, this voyage is increasingly defined by a myriad of shifts influenced by societal, economic, technological and demographic changes. Protecting and supporting people at different stages of their life is a central mandate of social security systems and requires comprehensive approaches to promote well-being and opportunities for all members of society.

Europe, with its diverse cultural landscape and socioeconomic dynamics, faces a kaleidoscope of transitions that intersect with the life course. This involves navigating early childhood, the education system, reproductive and partnership decisions, periods of ill health or illness, physical movement within and across national borders, and increasingly atypical and flexible career trajectories. Ever more so, these individual and household trajectories are shaped by intricate and rapidly evolving societal developments, such as population ageing, changing family structures, migration patterns, and advancements in technology that revolutionize the nature of work and communication.

Robust social protection systems, safeguard covered individuals and their households by mitigating and preventing risks and vulnerabilities, starting in childhood and continuing into old age. In Europe, the large majority (more than 80 per cent) of children are entitled to rights-based child benefits from birth, ensuring everyone enjoys a good start in life. Moreover, guaranteeing a minimum level of income for all households continues to be a priority. Throughout working age, increasingly well-coordinated cash benefits and care and employment policies ensure that workers of all ages and in all types of employment can thrive in increasingly dynamic labour markets and safer workplaces.

Demographic ageing continues to be a central challenge, prompting national authorities and organizations to proactively prepare for the evolving needs of older societies. As people progress into older age, old-age pensions and health care services becomes instrumental in fostering financial stability, social inclusion and well-being. Of importance, European social security systems are finding creative and multi-faceted ways to keep people active and capable for as long as possible. Furthermore, disability benefits, rehabilitation services, and quality health care remain integral components of a comprehensive social security system throughout the life span.

Social security institutions across Europe must proactively ensure access to necessary resources and support to enable all to successfully navigate life’s diverse transitions. Practical experiences from the region illustrate how social security systems are accompanying their populations through the different stages of life, thereby better equipping them to cope with the growing complexities of a changing societal, economic and technological landscape.

Synthesis of the main trends and developments

Supporting changing families through improved services

The rising prevalence of atypical families and family ruptures, together with changing career patterns, have heightened the socioeconomic vulnerability of many households across Europe. This has led governments and institutions to adopt policies and tools to improve support to children and families, including services to enhance cash, care and paid leave policies.

Institutions have supported families to enable parents to better share their responsibilities and to make more informed decisions regarding their participation in the labour market and how they engage with the social security system. Some have invested in more and better childcare services by developing digital applications, such as the Happy Daycare app in Portugal, and by helping to improve the supply and maintenance of day-care places, as in France. Finland’s Social Insurance Institution (Kansaneläkelaitos – Kela) has developed a tool to enable parents to maximize their joint income under situations of shared family leave. In France, the National Family Allowance Fund (Caisse nationale des allocations familiales – CNAF) has developed interactive platforms presenting a catalogue of existing services, which includes assisting parents as well as families experiencing separation. In Poland, the Social Insurance Institution (Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolecznych – ZUS) developed Family Support Services to facilitate the implementation of social security legislation aimed at improving access to social security benefits and services.

Across the region, institutions are modernizing approaches to improve minimum income support to households and to address new risks and vulnerabilities. In this regard, Azerbaijan’s State Social Protection Fund has consolidated services to assign social benefits from a single centre to eligible low-income families without them having to visit any institution, while Kazakhstan’s State Social Insurance Fund developed the Digital Family Card, which centralizes information about household well-being and reduces the administrative burden to access benefits.

Promoting employment by protecting people of working age

People rely on social security systems, especially when they experience unemployment, or other short-term risks, to provide adequate income security and to preserve a strong attachment to the labour market. Recent years have seen growing efforts at European regional and national levels to close unemployment coverage gaps and enhance protection for vulnerable and difficult-to-cover groups. For example, the European Council’s recently approved Conclusions on Social Protection for the Self-employed calls for action to address gaps, notably in unemployment insurance. In France, Unédic (Unemployment Insurance) (Unédic (Assurance chômage)) has developed tools to enable national benchmarking from a regional perspective.

In general, countries in Europe continue to apply the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis by combining unemployment benefits with well-developed active labour market policies, including programmes to support groups that experience specific challenges in accessing the labour market. For example, Albania has implemented special protection for unemployed women, institutions in France have developed joint initiatives to identify and support self-employed workers in difficulty, and Türkiye has implemented the “Women-Up” project to support registered employment among women.

Several countries have leveraged digital and online tools to better link services for people experiencing unemployment or under-employment. For example, Azerbaijan introduced an electronic platform to streamline job searching, hiring, and employment regulation; two Belgian institutions have jointly developed a generic and reusable case management platform which can be deployed across government agencies; France’s Unédic launched a new comprehensive website; Kazakhstan has created an electronic labour exchange as a single digital employment platform to facilitate job search and recruitment; and Malta is dealing with the non-take-up of in-work benefit through process transformation and automation.

Ensuring safe and healthy workplaces and capable workforces

Occupational safety and health (OSH) in Europe is a multifaceted and evolving domain aimed at safeguarding workers’ well-being. Europe has implemented comprehensive measures to enhance workplace safety, mitigate risks from occupational hazards and proactively support rehabilitation.

There is a concerted effort in Europe to adopt a holistic approach to OSH through Vision Zero, a strategy of the International Social Security Association adopted by the European Union and implemented in numerous European institutions. For example, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Työterveyslaitos) runs a Vision Zero Forum for companies and Poland’s Agricultural Social Insurance Fund (Kasa Rolniczego Ubezpieczenia Spolecznego) organizes Vision Zero Film Awards. Luxembourg’s Accident Insurance Association achieved a 15 per cent reduction in the incidence rate for work-related accidents.

Across the region, social security institutions have spearheaded prevention-oriented programmes. In France, the National Sickness Insurance Fund (Caisse nationale d’assurance maladie – CNAM) launched a programme that includes prevention as an integral part of any tender to win a contract in the construction sector. Italy’s National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (Istituto Nazionale per l’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro – INAIL) has developed a programme to address psycho-social risks among health care workers.

Institutions have also taken advantage of technological solutions to support the rehabilitation process. For example, Azerbaijan’s Agency for Sustainable and Operational Social Security (DOST) has introduced an Electronic Rehabilitation System to streamline the rehabilitation reporting processes and monitor individual success. The German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the foodstuffs and catering industry (Berufsgenossenschaft Nahrungsmittel und Gastgewerbe – BGN) has introduced a rehabilitation system supported by artificial intelligence that monitors the recovery processes after work accidents, and which also predicts the degree of incapacity for work.

Investing in healthy societies over the life course

Most European countries prioritize universal health coverage, often through comprehensive insurance or publicly funded systems. Ongoing reforms across the region aim to address challenges such as ageing populations and rising costs, and to reinforce robust health care systems in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the region, long-term care (LTC) systems are adapting to ageing populations and a growth in the prevalence of chronic conditions, emphasizing home and community-based services over institutional care. Responding to a growing preference for staying at home, there is a notable shift toward home-based LTC services, as illustrated by the introduction of mobile home-based care by Azerbaijan’s DOST.

Preventive measures remain a priority for health systems in the region. Initiatives in Belgium and France have focused on environmental health and mental health awareness. There is growing recognition of the need for collaborative efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and improve the environmental sustainability of the health care sector.

Organizations are actively pursuing digitalization and tech-driven solutions to create efficient health care and related cash benefit systems. For example, in Türkiye, cash benefits are efficiently processed through direct deposits, simplifying the payment procedure, while an online verification system guarantees prompt and accurate transactions for insured individuals from countries with which it has international social security agreements. Also in Türkiye, the Universal Health Insurance Online Application System for International Students streamlines requests for universal health insurance online, saving time and resources while enhancing overall coverage.

Finally, addressing challenges related to data security and privacy in health care is essential for establishing trust and requires collaboration among health care providers, social security institutions and information technology experts.

Building better systems to support ageing societies

The European continent is experiencing accelerated ageing, leading to an increase in the number of pensioners who increasingly need specific day-to-day services. A positive population growth rate is no longer guaranteed in much of southern and eastern Europe, with major consequences for the financial sustainability of social security institutions. Ensuring sustainability, while supporting the development of new services associated with the “silver economy” is therefore essential.

Organizations are actively engaged in preparing for the consequences of ageing by addressing contributory capacity and revenue generation. Innovative solutions include the Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD) tool in Belgium, which facilitates checks on formal employment, prevents fraud and ensures that social security funds are properly collected. To help maintain the contributory capacity of an ageing workforce, an appropriate prevention policy should be developed, such as the “TMS Pro” to address musculoskeletal problems adopted by France’s CNAM.

Social security organizations are also adapting their services to a growing user-base characterized by the individualization of needs and the availability of technologies that help prevent people from becoming isolated. Many are employing ICT solutions. For example, in Belgium, to address lower digital literacy and declining capacities in old age, a digital mandate system enables a relative of a pensioner to carry out the necessary formalities online. The social services portal in Kazakhstan gives people with disabilities, a growing share of whom are also older, rapid access to technical rehabilitation resources. In Sweden, an online quick pension guide helps people better understand how to build their pension rights, while also encouraging people to stay active and continue contributing.

Key messages

The rising prevalence of atypical families and family ruptures, together with changing career patterns, heighten the socioeconomic vulnerability of many households across Europe. This has led governments and institutions to adopt policies and tools to improve support to children and families, including services to enhance cash, care and paid leave policies.

Europe has enhanced its efforts at the regional as well as national levels to close unemployment coverage gaps. Increasingly well-coordinated cash benefits, care and employment policies across the region ensure that workers in all types of employment can thrive in increasingly dynamic labour markets.

Through initiatives such as Vision Zero and a growing emphasis on technologically driven solutions, institutions in Europe have implemented comprehensive measures to enhance workplace safety, mitigate risks from occupational hazards and proactively support rehabilitation.

European health systems are implementing ongoing reforms to address challenges such as ageing populations and rising costs, including preventive measures and collaborative efforts to reduce the health care sector’s carbon footprint. Many institutions are pursuing digital solutions while addressing data security and privacy challenges.

Social security systems are preparing for continuing demographic ageing by addressing the contributory capacity of their populations and adapting their services to a growing user-base characterized by the individualization of needs and the availability of new technologies to support independent living.

Promoting resilience and sustainability in uncertain times


Social security systems play a fundamental role in supporting individual, economic and societal resilience in Europe. To play that role effectively, social security systems must be financially and administratively resilient. They must be supported by strong, responsive and flexible institutions able to cater to the rapidly evolving needs of their populations in increasingly turbulent contexts, combining conventional and innovative solutions.

Among the main challenges is demographic ageing. According to recent estimates, the population of the European Union (EU) will peak in 2026 and then begin to decrease, resulting in a drastic shrinking of the labour force and dramatic pressures on public budgets.

The implications for social security financing are tremendous. Sizeable gaps will impact on the ability of schemes to deliver fully on their future benefit commitments and may render them unsustainable in the long term if no action is taken.

Various solutions have been implemented to close these gaps, including holistic reforms of social security systems, enhancements to contributory revenue, and increasing tax revenue and optimizing investment returns. However, for social security systems to be politically sustainable, there is growing recognition of the need to ensure that difficult reforms are well communicated, appropriately timed and implemented in a way that minimizes negative socioeconomic impacts.

Paradoxically, the efficacy of conventional solutions to ensure the sustainability of social security systems is being challenged by global trends that affect the region. The global economic, geopolitical, climate and environmental “polycrisis” that has converged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with accelerating demographic, technological and labour market changes, continue to compound the challenges facing social security systems and the people they protect. These growing risks reduce fiscal space while simultaneously increasing the demand for benefits.

The sustainability of social security systems depends on finding creative and forward-looking solutions to these long-standing and emerging challenges. In response, governments, social security institutions and other actors across Europe are investing in the long-term resilience of their organizations, the populations they serve and the broader environment in which they operate.

Synthesis of the main trends and developments

Striking a delicate balance between affordability, adequacy and sustainability

The old-age dependency ratio in Europe is forecast to grow from 33 per cent in 2023 to 60 per cent by 2100. Ceteris paribus, the costs of financing existing levels of benefits will almost double over this time horizon.

To address this, a large number of reforms have started or are already being implemented across the region. France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have taken steps to effectively increase their normal retirement ages or to continue implementing legislative increases to the normal retirement ages. These changes have typically been packaged with other reform measures that are critical for ensuring sustainable and adequate levels of coverage to the most economically vulnerable.

Countries are also seeking to encourage people of pensionable age to remain in active employment whilst deferring receipt of benefits. Countries such as Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark and Ireland have all implemented incentives for delaying retirement or effected penalties on early retirement, thus encouraging longer labour force participation. These reforms aim to lengthen contributory periods and reduce the time over which benefits are paid.

Most countries implementing these major reforms have also included measures to address other system deficiencies and inequalities whilst cushioning the impact on the public in the short term. Some examples include Belgium, France and Ireland. Belgium has included a gradual increase in minimum monthly pensions, bonuses for long-career workers and increases to some survivors’ benefits. In France, changes to the retirement age have been accompanied by an increase in the minimum monthly contributory pension and a pension supplement for qualified parents. Ireland is to credit contributions to individuals who leave the labour force to provide long-term care. When viewed in isolation, these measures result in a higher benefit pay out in the near term. When viewed as a part of the entire reform package, they help to address inequalities and incentivize public support, thereby contributing to more sustainable systems in the long term.

Reinforcing revenues through contributions and taxes

Social security systems in Europe have sought to increase revenues by strengthening contribution and tax collection and compliance capacities at the national level and across borders.

Some countries have increased contribution income by directly increasing the contribution rates, as in Ireland. France and Spain have sought to boost contribution revenue by extending coverage to difficult-to-cover groups, leveraging their existing collection capacity to implement special systems for these groups. Institutions in France and Spain have also implemented solutions to ensure compliance, creating portals to facilitate domestic workers and self-employed workers to register and contribute while simultaneously implementing fraud detection systems using data analytics and data exchange with other public agencies.

Directly raising tax rates and improving compliance can help close financing gaps, provided tax reforms consider the fundamental principles of social security, including wage-relevance and universality. Additional state revenues can be used to offset any financing gaps in existing benefits, subsidize contributions for difficult-to-cover and low-income groups and address other existing inequalities within social security systems. Despite this, many countries have reduced corporate tax rates.

Tax revenue can also be increased by combating illicit financial flows and international tax evasion. Illicit financial flows are estimated to represent up to 6 per cent of national GDP in some countries of Europe, compared with the global average figure of 3 to 5 per cent of global GDP.

Finally, cooperation between tax authorities and social security institutions can mutually reinforce revenue collection, especially for difficult-to-reach populations, such as self-employed workers. In Estonia, France and Serbia, simplified tax and social security arrangements have been implemented to collect both general tax and social security revenues.

Optimizing investment returns for pooled funds and individual accounts and promoting sustainable investments

For countries with established social security reserve funds, achieving an optimal risk or return ratio is of tantamount importance to the sustainability of the corresponding systems. This significance becomes highlighted as reserve funding ratios increase and investment income plays a bigger role in the financing of social insurance schemes, and it remains the primary concern for individual account systems. Many individual account schemes allow individuals to choose among investment portfolios of varying risk. For example, in Georgia and the Netherlands, there is flexibility in the choice of investment portfolio, with the ultimate goal of optimizing the risk versus return profiles of covered individuals.

Some investment decisions have long-term positive implications for the sustainability of systems. European pension schemes are increasingly inclined towards socially responsible investing, which emphasizes environmental and social responsibility and corporate governance criteria in investment decisions as a means to support climate resilience and the green transition. For instance, the Fourth Swedish National Pension Fund is engaged on diversifying its portfolio across climate-friendly stocks to optimize returns, enhance the long-term sustainability of social protection systems and support the green transition. In addition, the French unemployment insurance scheme has incorporated the use of social bonds in its investment strategy. These investments are anticipated to create a trickle-down benefit as they enhance the country’s economic development which will rebound to the benefit of the social security system.

Building resilient labour markets in times of rapid transformation

As in much of rest of the world, labour markets in Europe are changing at a faster pace than ever before and in ways that fundamentally challenge the social security models constructed around them. To be sustainable, social security systems must be equipped to respond flexibly and comprehensively to lower wages, new forms of work, job transitions and increasingly fragmented working careers to ensure that workers in all forms of employment can realize their right to social security.

Countries in the region have employed a variety of tools to improve the situation of low-income workers, facilitate employment and manage career volatility. For example, to address low take-up of an income transfer for households with lower-income workers, Malta now automatically identifies eligible beneficiaries based on income tax returns and household characteristics. Eliminating the need to apply has increased takeup by threefold to reach 96 per cent. Social security institutions in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Sweden have leveraged new technology to better connect workers to employment opportunities, a critical service in increasingly flexible labour markets. In Belgium, to better support people with fragmented careers, the National Employment Office (Office national de l’emploi – ONEM) has developed a system to collect and analyse comprehensive longitudinal data on the employment and related socioeconomic situations of benefit recipients.

The rise of new forms of employment, such as digital platform work, have challenged the traditional configuration of European social security models while also creating opportunities for fairer and more sustainable financing arrangements and stakeholder representation. At the regional level, the EU has developed recommendations and draft directives to ensure that digital platform workers are appropriately classified and have full rights to social security. Some countries, such as Portugal, have found new ways of sharing financial responsibility for social security by defining some workers as “dependent self-employed”, triggering a contribution by contractors responsible for more than 50 per cent of the worker’s business. While self-employed workers have historically been barred form collective bargaining in the EU, the plight of platform workers has opened new avenues for social dialogue in Denmark, France and Germany, in some cases leading to new bargaining rights for self-employed workers. These developments will better equip social security administrations to understand and meet the needs of these workers in the future.

Addressing climate-related risks and natural disasters

Amidst the perennial challenge to improve the adequacy of benefits and enhance the financial sustainability of social security schemes, the negative socioeconomic impacts of climate change, extreme weather events and natural disasters have placed European social security systems under greater strain. These risks expose individuals and families to greater socioeconomic vulnerability, poverty and want, bringing about an increased demand for social security benefits and services. In Türkiye, for instance, the series of earthquakes that hit the country in February 2023 resulted in over 48,448 deaths and left over 3.3 million persons displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance and social security protection. The social security system was central to the response, providing a “short-time” working allowance, cash wage support and advance payment to health providers in affected regions.

At the same time, climate change affects both the economy and the environment, resulting in economic disruption and job losses, with implications for social security. The shrinking of fiscal space and exposure to rising financial and environmental risks impair the capability of governments and social security institutions to respond to the growing demand for benefits and services. Without the development of alternative sources of energy, measures to achieve carbon-free economies – notably, fuel subsidy reforms and carbon taxation – will translate to carbon price hikes and inflationary pressures on essential goods and services. This will disproportionately affect poor and vulnerable population groups, culminating in higher societal inequalities and a greater need for social security. Equally, closures of sectors, such as coal mining, will impact occupational pension plans and reinforce the need for strong public pensions, while active labour market policies will be required to help workers cope with the economic restructuring associated with green transitions.

The policy response from the EU has been to strengthen resilience against climate change disasters with the goal of protecting people and the environment. Regulatory policy tools, such as the European Green Deal, aim to align EU laws with the EU’s climate goals, while alternative financing arrangements, such as the Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve (SEAR) support Member States to finance disaster response interventions. These tools help to create an enabling environment for social security to provide the vital support required for a just transition to greener economies.

Key messages

To build individual, economic and societal resilience, social security systems must be financially and administratively resilient. In Europe, efforts are underway to build strong, responsive and flexible institutions able to cater to the rapidly evolving needs of their populations in increasingly turbulent contexts, combining conventional and innovative solutions.

The efficacy of conventional solutions to ensure the sustainability of social security systems is being challenged by ongoing and worsening global trends that affect the region. Emerging economic, geopolitical, environmental and labour market risks reduce fiscal space while simultaneously increasing the demand for benefits.

To confront demographic ageing, countries in Europe are raising retirement ages and encouraging longer careers, while also implementing policies to cushion the impact of reforms and ensure their public acceptance.

To better ensure long-term financial sustainability, social security systems in Europe have sought to increase revenues by strengthening contribution and tax collection and compliance capacities at the national level and across borders.

Countries in the region are seeking to optimize investment returns for both individual accounts and pooled funds, while also pursuing more sustainable investment opportunities, with an emphasis on environmentally and socially responsible investments, to ensure more resilient economies and societies over the long term.

To improve the resilience of workers and social security systems in the face of rapid labour market transformations, governments and social security institutions across Europe are finding new ways to support low-income workers, facilitate employment, support job transitions, cater for career volatility and transitions and accommodate new forms of work.

The negative socioeconomic impacts of climate change, extreme weather events and natural disasters have placed European social security systems under greater strain. Social security systems will be key to achieving a just transition to greener economies.



This report is the result of the collective efforts of the professional staff of the Social Security Development branch of the General Secretariat of the International Social Security Association. Staff were assigned responsibility for authoring specific chapters and sections for this report.

I am indebted to Shea McClanahan for the Introduction, the chapters Social security coverage for all and Promoting resilience and sustainability in uncertain times, and the overall coordination of the report; Ernesto Brodersohn for Transforming social security management; Yukun Zhu, Nathalie De Wulf and Dmitri Karasyov for Social security coverage for all; Bernd Treichel, Nathalie De Wulf, Guillaume Filhon, Dmitri Karasyov, Paul Mondoa Ngomba and Yukun Zhu for Protecting and supporting people during a changing life course; and Feyaad Khan and Paul Mondoa Ngomba for Promoting resilience and sustainability in uncertain times. The chapter on Highlights of legal reforms was prepared by Kelly Stetter with input from Megan Gerecke and Harry Kirkman. Claudia Ambrosio developed the Facts and trends for the respective chapters.

The report benefitted from comments from Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano, Jens Schremmer, Sigve Bjorstad and others.

Raúl Ruggia-Frick
Director, Social Security Development

Life course