Social security developments and trends in Europe – new ISSA report

Social security developments and trends in Europe – new ISSA report

The new report from the International Social Security Association (ISSA) outlines the major developments and trends for social security in Europe, including recent reform efforts. The report was presented at the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe in Porto, Portugal.

Social security developments and trends – Europe 2024 describes how countries in Europe, despite having comprehensive and robust social security systems, have been obliged to address complex challenges related to population ageing, changes in the world of work and family dynamics. Interesting trends that are highlighted include that social security is increasingly designed for a life-course perspective, and with a more holistic view between the various branches of social security.

“This report demonstrates how Europe continues to innovate and reform to strengthen social security, support people throughout their lives and build resilient societies”, says Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano, ISSA Secretary General.

Reforming social security in Europe

Recent reforms in Europe are driven by the need to ensure sustainable and adaptable social security systems considering population ageing. Many of reforms are around pensions, some system-wide and some focussing on second pillar pensions. With populations growing older, there have been reforms to increase pensionable ages and incentivise people to work longer. At the same time, there are measures addressing the gender pension gap and examples of early pension reforms focussing on people in low-skilled or physically demanding jobs. There have also been several reforms to strengthen health care in general, mental health care and long-term care services. In addition, the European Union’s Work Life-Balance Directive has driven the introduction or extension of parental benefits in many countries.

A life-course approach

Taking a life-course approach to social security increasingly marks the approach of governments and institutions across Europe. Family structures and career patterns are changing, and social security needs to support people in new circumstances and through their transitions between different phases of their lives. There is an increasing focus on helping people of working age into jobs and staying attached to the labour market, and on the other hand, on ensuring safe and healthy working environments. These issues link to the previous point of ensuring people can stay longer in productive employment, which benefits the individual as much as it does society.

Innovation and digitalization

Across the board there is a focus on innovation and digitalization to ensure customer-centric services and higher service quality. The increasing process automation and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) marks a transformative leap for institutions to optimize social security operations and enhance decision-making processes. As service delivery becomes more and more digital, there is also a focus on digital inclusion, to make sure that users have both the necessary access and skills required. On the other hand, digitalization is not only about reaching out to users, but also transforming the way social security institutions work, make decisions and manage their responsibilities.

Expanding coverage

Although social security coverage in Europe is strong, important efforts are also being made to close coverage gaps, especially for certain groups, such as migrants, women, self-employed workers, and people engaged in digital platform work and other new forms of employment. The European Union has been driving initiatives to ensure the social protection for platform workers and the self-employed, and this is being translated into initiatives and reforms at national level.  There are also several important initiatives to make universal health coverage a reality.

Building resilient social security

Last but not least, this relates to the important task of building more resilient social security and societies. The COVID-19 pandemic was a stress-test for Europe, as for other regions, and social security played a crucial role in the societal response. Since then, several major economic, geopolitical, climate and environmental challenges have emerged and grown, social security institutions are focussed on building resilience and crisis response capacity, through striking the delicate balance between affordability, adequacy and sustainability, reinforcing revenues, optimising investment returns and supporting labour markets.

Interactive format

The report will inform the discussions during the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe, which takes place in Porto, Portugal, 16–18 April 2024. It is presented as an e-publication that enables readers to navigate the content with ease, and with access to a wealth of information and resources on the specific topics covered in the report. In addition, a print-friendly pdf-version is also available.