OECD survey reveals many people unhappy with public services and benefits

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This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Many people in OECD countries believe public services and social benefits are inadequate and hard to reach. More than half say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, and two-thirds believe others get more than they deserve. Nearly three out of four people say they want their government to do more to protect their social and economic security.

These are among the findings of a new OECD survey, “Risks that Matter”, which asked over 22,000 people aged 18 to 70 years old in 21 countries about their worries and concerns and how well they think their government helps them tackle social and economic risks.

This nationally representative survey finds that falling ill and not being able to make ends meet are often at the top of people’s lists of immediate concerns. Making ends meet is a particularly common worry for those on low incomes and in countries that were hit hard by the financial crisis. Older people are most often worried about their health, while younger people are frequently concerned with securing adequate housing. When asked about the longer-term, across all countries, getting by in old age is the most commonly cited worry.

The survey reveals a dissatisfaction with current social policy. Only a minority are satisfied with access to services like health care, housing, and long-term care. Many believe the government would not be able to provide a proper safety net if they lost their income due to job loss, illness or old age. More than half think they would not be able to easily access public benefits if they needed them.

“This is a wake-up call for policy makers,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “OECD countries have some of the most advanced and generous social protection systems in the world. They spend, on average, more than one-fifth of their GDP on social policies. Yet, too many people feel they cannot count fully on their government when they need help. A better understanding of the factors driving this perception and why people feel they are struggling is essential to making social protection more effective and efficient. We must restore trust and confidence in government, and promote equality of opportunity.”

In every country surveyed except Canada, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, most people say that their government does not incorporate the views of people like them when designing social policy. In a number of countries, including Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia, this share rises to more than two-thirds of respondents. This sense of not being part of the policy debate increases at higher levels of education and income, while feelings of injustice are stronger among those from high-income households.

Public perceptions of fairness are worrying. More than half of respondents say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, a share that rises to three quarters or more in Chile, Greece, Israel and Mexico. At the same time, people are calling for more help from government. In almost all countries, more than half of respondents say they want the government to do more for their economic and social security. This is especially the case for older respondents and those on low incomes.

Across countries, people are worried about financial security in old age, and most are willing to pay more to support public pension systems. An average of almost 40% say they would be willing to pay an extra 2% of their own income in taxes for better health care and pensions. Respondents in Ireland are the most likely to say they would be happy to pay more in tax for better health care (51%), followed by Portugal (49%), Greece and Chile (both 48%). Respondents in Israel (49%), Chile (51%) and Lithuania (53%) are the most likely to say they would be prepared to pay an extra 2% more in tax for better pensions.

In every country surveyed, more than half of respondents say the government should tax the rich more than they currently do, in order to support the poor. In Greece, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, the share rises to 75% or more.

The survey also asked people about their views on education, housing, job security and long-term care.

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