Fall in EU social protection spending

Social protection spending in the European Union fell between 2009 and 2011 – from 29.7 per cent of GDP overall to 29.1 per cent, according to data from Eurostat, the EU statistical office. But it remained significantly higher than the level in 2008 (26.8 per cent), before the full impact of the global economic recession.

Social protection expenditure includes social benefits, administration costs and other spending linked to social protection schemes.

Key points

  • The increase in spending observed between 2008 and 2009 was mainly a result of the economic crisis, in particular the strong growth of unemployment benefits, while GDP fell. The fall between 2009 and 2011 was due to social protection spending growing more slowly than GDP.
  • The EU average continued to mask major disparities between member states. Social protection spending as a percentage of GDP in 2011 was as high as 34.3 per cent in Denmark, but as low as 15.1 per cent in Latvia.
  • According to Eurostat, these disparities reflect differences in living standards: but they are also indicative of the diversity of national social protection systems and of the demographic, economic, social and institutional structures specific to each member state.
  • Social protection spending in the UK was somewhat below the EU average in 2011 – 27.3 per cent of GDP, against the average of 29.1 per cent. It also increased less compared with other EU states over the period 2008–2011.
  • The UK is notable for the very low percentage of social protection spending devoted to unemployment benefits – just 2.6 per cent of GDP, compared with the EU average of 5.6 per cent.

Source: Press release 21 November 2013, Eurostat (European Union)
LinksEurostat press release

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Publication date: 
Nov 21 2013