I thank the Chairman. It is a real privilege to be in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is the third time that I have been given the opportunity to be at the committee. The other occasions were during the previous legislative period. I would like to share with the committee some of the information and findings from our work at Eurofound. The good news for the members is that I will not speak about Brexit as I think they have had enough of that. The bad news is that I will bombard the members with a lot of information that may require us to jump a little from one topic to the next without time to go into all of them in depth.
I hope, however, that we can give more detail on some of them during the question and answer session.
As the Chairman mentioned, ours is the only EU agency based in Ireland and Ireland and Germany were the first two countries to have an EU agency. The agencies were established in 1975. We have since operated in Dublin where we have our headquarters. We have a small office in Brussels where we have a relatively large number of meetings but we have only a few rooms and facilities there. Our budget is €20 million per annum which some think is too small, while others think it is too big. Not counting external contractors, there are approximately 100 staff members contracted directly with Eurofound. One of the peculiarities of our agency is that we use a shamrock to symbolise our tripartite governance structure. The management board consists not only of the European Commission and the Irish Government which is represented by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection but also the two social partners, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. The same is true for each member state. There is also an independent expert appointed by the European Parliament.
Our mission is to provide knowledge and information to assist policymakers in the development of better social, employment and work-related policies. Our primary target group is the EU institutions: the Commission, the Parliament and the Council, but we also serve national governments or their social partners at different levels. Our strength is to provide comparative information. We carry out research, but we try to help member states to benchmark with each other to see where they perform well or not so well or where there is some room for improvement. A good example is probably the best known research work by Eurofound, the three Europe-wide surveys we conduct. The oldest is the European Working Conditions Survey which started in 1990 and is repeated every five years. It covers different dimensions of job quality, including the physical and social environments, the intensity at work, autonomy, skills, earning, etc. It involves 40,000 face to face interviews with workers in Europe. The second oldest is the European Quality of Life Survey which includes some elements of what we call quality of the societies. For this, we interview citizens, some of whom are working, while some are not. The third is the European Company Survey which is based on interviews with representatives of companies and work practices at company level.
I will give some highlights of the surveys relevant to Ireland. This is an optimistic and satisfied country in terms of quality of life. It has been through a serious crisis, but it is over and the country is scoring better than the EU average at this level. On average, in most dimensions of job quality, Ireland is doing well in respect of autonomy, physical demands and several other dimensions. In some aspects of quality of society Ireland is doing well, for example, the high level of engagement in community activities. There is a relatively low level of tension in society, while there are, more or less, average levels of trust in national institutions and above average levels of trust in European institutions. On the index, on a scale of 0 to 10, for happiness and 'ife satisfaction, Ireland scores high, similar to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The average countries are France and Spain, while at the bottom are the candidate countries, some old member states such as Greece and new member states such as Bulgaria. At the top are the usual suspects, the Nordic countries.
After the crisis people in Europe generally became more optimistic about their own future, but in response to the question about the future for their children and grandchildren there is a huge difference. Ireland scores relatively high compared with the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. There is a greater difference between it and Italy and France which are much more gloomy about their projections for their children's or grandchildren's future. This may, to an extent, reflect a perspective on the evolution of the economy, but other elements are also relevant.
In respect of quality of society, one element we consider important is engagement in community and civic activities. In all of these Ireland rates relatively well, for example, in volunteering. That was visible to me when I came to Ireland eight years ago. The EU average is 17% and Ireland is in the top group for involvement in volunteering and civic activities.
Another important element - it is a negative if it is very high - is tension between different groups in society. We measure tensions between rich and poor, management and labour, men and women, and between people from different racial and ethnic groups. The EU average is 41%, but Ireland scores among the lowest, at 21%, which is remarkable for a country which has one of the highest shares of foreign population living in it. There are some elements that can nuance this a little. We do not count the second generation which is very prominent in the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, where they may be counted as nationals once they obtain their passports. There is also the fact that most immigration here is relatively homogeneous. It is mostly European, with a Christian background from, for example, Poland, the United Kingdom and Lithuania which differs from countries with more Muslim immigration or a higher African population that would be more visible.
Another element that could be relevant is the relatively high number of highly qualified foreigners living in the country and working for high-tech companies such as Google, Facebook, pharmaceutical companies and others. However, this result is a very good sign.
The next slide focuses on trust and shows information sourced from the Eurobarometer surveys. The blue line shows the level of trust in the European Union among Irish citizens. Not surprisingly, trust decreased during the crisis and the period of the bailout . The red line shows that trust in the national Government also decreased. The graph does not show the 2018 figures but in 2018 the majority of Irish people surveyed expressed trust in the EU. The level of trust in and support for the EU in Ireland is among the highest, if not the highest, among the member states. The yellow "X" on the graph represents France and shows the level of trust French people have in the European Union. France has a very pro-European President at the moment but the picture is not so nice when one considers the whole population. The UK voted to leave the European Union so the level of trust in the EU was found to be lower in the UK. The figure for Italy is not much higher than the UK figure, which is not the lowest in the EU. Greece has the lowest level of trust in the EU, perhaps for good reason. The results are relevant to the debate on the future of Europe. Some people say the social contract is broken and we are giving power to an entity that we do not trust, and that is not good news.
Part of the discourse during the period of recovery after the crisis has been that if we want to recover trust, we must make visible that the EU is doing something for the people. This involves doing more in the social area, rather than focusing only on finance, the banking system and the eurozone. As the committee will be fully aware, the European Union came up with the European pillar of social rights, which consists of 20 principles. I do not intend to go through all of them, which fall under three headings, namely, equality opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion. These were proclaimed by the Heads of Government in Gothenburg. The Taoiseach was present and we also had the privilege of being there. We are now in the phase of implementing these principles. For example, a political agreement was reached recently on a proposal for a directive on work-life balance for parents and carers. This will require some adjustment, albeit not a huge one, in EU legislation to increase opportunities for work-life balance. Much of the implementation of the pillar falls on member states and the social partners. The European Union has certain competencies but it is in the remit of national governments to make most of the changes.
Another tool that is relevant to the EU process, and one with which members will be familiar, is the European semester. The country report for Ireland is very positive because the position here comparatively is very positive. Nevertheless, the report makes a number of country specific recommendations, three of which are referred to in the next slide. I have highlighted the one that is linked with the area in which Eurofound is working. This is a recommendation from the European Union to Ireland to ensure timely and effective implementation of the national development plan, including elements related to housing and affordable quality childcare. Has this recommendation come out of the blue or is it related to facts and objective figures? The next slide shows the findings of the European quality of life survey in respect of quality of public services. The graph shows a selection of public services, namely, the education system; childcare; healthcare; long-term care; the State pension; public transport; and social housing. The blue square represents the average satisfaction experienced by Europeans and the green column represents the satisfaction rate in Ireland. Where the blue square is displayed within the green column, it means the result in Ireland was better than the EU average. The graph shows that Irish citizens have a higher rate of satisfaction with education and the State pension system than the average European. In all other areas, the blue square is displayed above the green columns which means Irish citizens have a lower rate of satisfaction. The areas in which the gap between Ireland and the EU average was highest were public transport followed by the health services. In that regard, I know there have been some issues with nurses and doctors recently. These are followed by childcare, an area in which some recent reforms move in the right direction, and social housing. None of this will be a surprise to members because these are the issues Parliament is discussing.
The next slide, on the use and quality of social housing, shows the percentage of people renting social, municipal or non-profit housing. Rental is only one social housing model but it is among the most prominent. The graph shows that Ireland is not bad compared with the average, but the 8% figure for Ireland is much lower than for its neighbour, the UK, where the percentage is 20%. The figure in the Netherlands, at 26%, is even higher. The correlation between the percentage of social houses available for rent and perceived quality is shown. While it is not a perfect correlation, in countries that have a larger amount of social housing available to rent, people tend to rate the quality higher. In Ireland, the percentage is not especially high and the quality is considered good. The position in Ireland is not much different from the position in the UK. While there is a big difference in the number of social houses available for rent, the difference between the two countries in terms of quality is not significant.
While there is a problem with homelessness in Ireland, how does the country fare with regard to global insecurity in housing? We asked people how likely or unlikely it was that they would need to leave their accommodation within the next six months because they could no longer afford it. If we exclude the very unlikely, which means the people who feel pretty secure, we have an index showing some level of insecurity. However, Ireland, at 22, is ranked slightly lower than the European average of 24. If we consider different scenarios, insecurity is very low among people who own a house without a mortgage and a little higher among those who own a house with a mortgage. It is higher again for those renting municipal or social housing. Insecurity is highly concentrated in the cohort of people renting houses or apartments in the private market. Again, I am sure these findings will come as no surprise to members. Ireland has taken some measures that may not yet be reflected in this survey. However, it is important to bear in mind that the problem is concentrated in certain segments.
Childcare affordability is another area where Ireland scores below the EU average. The graph compares Ireland, which is the green column, and the European Union, which is the blue column. The first category shows those who find childcare costs very difficult. The percentage here is 11% and while it is not a high number, it is almost double the EU average of 6%. The next category is those who find childcare costs a little difficult and is again almost double the EU average. The opposite is the case in regard to those who find meeting the costs of childcare not difficult at all, where Ireland scores 35% against an EU average of 61%. Again, I am aware that some recent measures have been taken so maybe the position is moving in the right direction.
I want to add something which is not so much in the indices to which we normally pay attention but is relevant to the situation of Ireland, which is the mental health of young people. The light blue bar on the slide shows the risk to mental well-being, according to our survey. Ireland would be, more or less, average at 13%. The dark blue bar shows the actual reported chronic depression. One can see that Ireland is the highest in the EU according to the EUROSTAT health interview survey. If we dig a bit deeper and look in the same survey at the proportion of young people with severe or moderate depressive symptoms, we see it is mainly young women between 15 and 24, again shown by the blue bar. Women rate higher than men in all countries, as shown in the grey column, with Ireland again the highest. The committee is in a position to understand the reasons for this but we thought it was one of the indicators that was relevant.
I do not want to end my presentation in a depressing mode by talking about depression. The next slide shows the network of EU agencies. Eurofound is one of these and is, of course, based in Ireland. Ireland almost had another, the banking authority, but it went elsewhere. Some would say there are already too many agencies, with 48 spread all over the EU, and some are talking about mergers or synergies. On the other hand, new agencies are being created, with the latest likely to be approved in this legislative period of the European Parliament, the European labour authority or agency, whatever name is finally approved. The Council will then discuss where to locate that agency. I do not know if Ireland has an interest but I can say there are nice grounds in Loughlinstown that belong to the OPW; they are rented to Eurofound but there is enough room for another building. We talk a lot about synergies and having common and shared services. This will be an agency operating in the social and employment field, so, if Ireland wants, it could make a case for that, knowing that the highest likelihood is that this new agency will end up in a country that has no agency at all, that is, one of the newest member states such as Romania, Croatia or Latvia, for example. Almost all countries have volunteered to host the agency with the exception of the UK.
We have much more information available on our website and the committee can contact us at any time. There is a country page about Ireland with many indicators, not so much to inform Ireland but to inform other countries about the situation in Ireland. Of course, the committee is welcome to let us know its concerns and priorities and we are happy to assist in any way.