Unequal access to essential services in Europe

There are marked variations in people's access to essential services in Europe, hampering their ability to participate fully in society, according to a new study published by the European Commission.

The study draws on 2009–2010 data included in the EU-SILC (Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) for four areas: healthcare, public transport, banking and postal services, and childcare. In each case it defines access in terms of both affordability and the convenience of the location from which services are provided.

Key findings

  • There were marked variations in access – or apparent access – between member states as well as between social groups within countries. Access is a particular problem in the lower-income countries.
  • Across the EU as a whole, 29.6 per cent of people aged 16 and over reported an unmet need for health treatment on the grounds of cost. This figure rose to 44.4 per cent for those at risk of poverty, and 52.2 per cent of those who were materially deprived. For the UK, by contrast, all the percentages were below 1 per cent.
  • 15.2 per cent of people in the EU reported difficulty accessing public transport – 17.7 per cent of those in the lowest income quintile, compared with 12.6 per cent for those in the highest.
  • 20.9 per cent of people experienced difficulty in accessing banking or postal services – 18.4 of those in urban locations, and 29.6 per cent in rural areas. For those at risk of the poverty the overall percentage was higher, at 24.2 per cent.
  • 16.0 per cent of all children under 12 received no childcare, either formal or informal. This figure rose to 22.1 per cent of those at risk of poverty and 21.6 per cent of those who were materially deprived. There is 'reasonably clear' evidence from the data, the study says, that in many countries women with young children have less access to childcare, and accordingly to paid employment, if they have a low income and/or a low level of education.

Source: Terry Ward and Erhan Ozdemir, Disparities in Access to Essential Services, Research Note 8/2012, European Social Observatory (Brussels)
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