European Union member states were all compelled by the Covid-19 pandemic to implement urgent reforms to their welfare systems. According to a study of social protection during the Covid-19 pandemic, conducted by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), the independent research and training centre of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), 24 out of the 27 EU member states have increased the amount or duration of unemployment or income support benefits, or broadened the eligibility conditions for such aid. Meanwhile 20 member states have changed the conditions for sickness benefits and parental leave, in most cases by reducing the waiting period for access to benefits. The crisis has thus highlighted the need for structural improvements. In a statement, Liina Carr, ETUC’s confederal secretary, says: “Europe’s welfare systems have fallen behind the pace of change in the economy over decades and the Covid crisis badly exposed the huge gaps that were created.” ETUC believes however that the momentum created by these many emergency measures should lead to permanent and more comprehensive reforms providing decent social protection for all workers.
The reforms enacted during the health emergency have been beneficial, but they were only temporary measures, with some having already been withdrawn, and tended to favour employees who already had access to social protection systems, leaving non-standard and self-employed workers largely out in the cold.