Social Investment Returns over the Life Course: WellSIre engagement in high-level policy debates on the EU Social Pillar

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WELLSIRE engagement in high-level policy debates on the EU Social Pillar and the future of EU welfare states: a newly published report ‘Social Investment Returns over the Life Course’ commissioned by the Belgian Presidency of the EU

Engagement with high-level policy debates on the EU Social Pillar 

The WellSIRe research output has had, and will continue to have, visible implications for EU policymaking. This month, our researchers published the working paper ‘Social Investment Returns over the Life Course’, prepared at the request of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (see below for a summary). WellSIRe researchers were commissioned to carry out this study in preparation for the joint ECOFIN-EPSCO meeting of the 12th March 2024, where ministers of economic and financial affairs joined ministers of employment and social affairs in a debate on social investments and reforms for resilient economies.  

WellSIRe findings have been presented at several high-level conferences, directly contributing to the current policy debate at the EU level on governance arrangements of the EU Semester and the Social Pillar. On 8th November 2023, Anton Hemerijck, Ilze Plavgo and Brian Burgoon presented their findings at a conference on Social Investment and EU fiscal rules, in the presence of the Spanish and Belgian Ministers of Social Affairs, the EU Commissioner for Jobs and Skills, the Chair of the EMPL committee of the EP, and other EU policy makers. On 9th January 2024, the same team gave a talk at the Informal Working Group on Social Investment (IWGSI), which gathered all EU 27 Member states representatives, the Council ECOFIN EPSCO committees, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. The chair of the IWGSI, Francesco Corti, was a research fellow within the WellSIRe project before becoming the Advisor to the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Affairs and Health.  

On 15-16 April 2024, at the High-level Conference on the European Pillar of Social Rights in La Hulpe, the EU institutions, social partners, and civil society signed the La Hulpe Declaration on the Future of the European Pillar of Social Rights. WellSIRe researchers were invited and were represented by team member Ilze Plavgo. The La Hulpe Declaration sets the future social agenda for the 2024-2029 period, reaffirms the EU social policy compass for years to come, and underlines the concept of social investment as part of the agenda. Finally on 21 May 2024, Ilze Plavgo joined a group of selected experts and stakeholders in the informal roundtable “Social Europe in the new EU Economic Governance Framework: Integrating Social Investment & Social Policy Actors”, in preparation for the EPSCO June Council meeting. Further engagement of the WellSIRe team in this policy debate is expected. 

Summary of the working paper ‘Social Investment Returns over the Life Course’ 

The principal objective of this contribution is to provide an operational definition of social investment and to assess the well-being returns of social investment welfare provision in a comparative European perspective. The empirical part of the report starts with a macro trend analysis of welfare state performance in Europe. This is followed by micro-level analyses drawing on nationally representative longitudinal household survey data from 25 European countries to assess how policies jointly affect individuals’ employment chances and poverty risks. The analyses focus on policy complementarities of two typical social investment policies – early childhood education and care (ECEC) and active labour market policies (ALMP) – in combination with social protection benefits, with results showing that the effects are reinforced when policy efforts are combined, and weakened when they work in silos. Next, the report presents country-specific findings from a case study of Germany due to a recently observed policy shift to promoting female employment through social investment reforms. This section pays particular attention to changes in the risk of poverty among women and lone parents. Finally, the last empirical section shifts the empirical focus from material well-being returns on social investment to subjective well-being returns. Drawing on the European Quality of Life Survey from 23 EU member states, the estimates suggest that the availability of good quality and affordable childcare is related to higher levels of life satisfaction for young families, and that access to lifelong learning and flexible retirement reinforces subjective well-being satisfaction for older workers. 


Full citation and link to the working paper:  

Hemerijck, A., Plavgo, I., Burgoon, B., Fernandes, D., Pöyliö, H., and Lehmus-Sun, A. (2024). ‘Social Investment Returns over the Life Course’. EUI, RSC, Working Paper 2024/14. Prepared at the request of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  


Written by: Ilze Plavgo, 21.05.2024