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The world has moved from one crisis to another over the past three years. How are people in OECD countries feeling about this instability – and how well do they think their government supports them?
The OECD’s third Risks that Matter (RTM) survey set out to answer these tough questions. In 2022, we asked 27 000 people aged 15 to 64, in 27 OECD countries, what they thought about the economy’s health and the risks they felt they were facing. We asked about their satisfaction with their government’s social protection systems and how they think public policies can do better. RTM is the only international survey focused on perceptions of, and preferences about, social protection.
Concerns about household finances have become more widespread since the last wave of RTM. On average, 75% of respondents reported being somewhat or very concerned about their household’s finances and economic well-being when looking ahead through 2024, up eight percentage points since the 2020 RTM survey.
Nine out of ten respondents indicated they were concerned about inflation and the cost of living
To some extent, these worries reflect economic uncertainty around the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and the likelihood that real wages may continue to fall in many countries for the foreseeable future. Nine out of ten respondents indicated they were concerned about inflation and the cost of living, while nearly seven out of ten respondents said they were worried about paying all expenses and making ends meet when looking ahead over the next couple of years. Such economic worries are especially high among parents of dependent children, younger people and low-income households.
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People also reported concerns about accessing good-quality healthcare. Nearly 70% of respondents, on average, identified this as their top concern, and 56% of respondents, on average, reported worrying about securing good-quality long-term care for elderly relatives.
Source: OECD Risks that Matter Survey
Alongside these widespread concerns, respondents said they were sceptical about the support their governments could offer. While a number of respondents said that they could access good-quality and affordable public services (particularly for education, health, and public safety), most expressed dissatisfaction with other aspects of the social safety net.
Only about 30% of people said they were satisfied with their access to housing, disability/incapacity-related support and long-term care for elders, on average across countries, and 46% of respondents reported that they didn’t think they could easily receive public benefits if they needed them. Among the latter, 77% doubted that the benefit application process would be quick or easy.
Across countries, around four in ten (43%) felt that they were not receiving a fair share of public benefits
Three-quarters of respondents said that their government should be doing more or much more to ensure their economic and social security and well-being, on average. This is linked both to feelings of economic insecurity and to levels of social expenditures: more people called for greater government support in countries where a higher share of respondents were worried about paying for essentials, and more respondents were worried about paying for essentials in countries where the social safety net was more limited.
Across countries, around four in ten (43%) felt that they were not receiving a fair share of public benefits, given the taxes and contributions they pay, and 60% of respondents said that they wanted their governments to tax the rich more in order to support the poor.
Strong distributional preferences emerge as well. Across countries, around four in ten (43%) felt that they were not receiving a fair share of public benefits, given the taxes and contributions they pay, and 60% of respondents said that they wanted their governments to tax the rich more in order to support the poor.
When asked to think about where they would like government to spend more resources – bearing in mind the taxes and social contributions their household would have to pay and the benefits they would likely receive – 74% of respondents said their government should increase spending on health, 71% called for more spending on pensions, and 69% said more should be spent on long-term care services for older people. Interestingly, when asked about current events, climate change emerged as a high priority issue, with 59% of respondents, on average, calling for government to prioritise this.
Source: OECD Risks that Matter Survey
The desire for increased health care funding – not least in the long-term care sector – is part of a longer term trend, appearing as a key priority in both the 2018 and the 2020 RTM surveys.
Support for greater government spending fell when people were asked to consider it in terms of a specific cost: an additional 2% of their own income in taxes or social contributions. Nevertheless, 43% of respondents said that they would spend some of their income in additional taxes for better provision and access to health services, whereas 37% were willing to do so for better old-age pensions, and 30% for better long-term services for older people.
Perceptions of risks and desires for policy intervention can be influenced by many factors and vary across countries. In this context, the RTM survey provides a useful measurement tool for countries interested in understanding how their social protection systems are perceived by their citizens.
Risks that Matter can help governments better understand how to ensure that social policies and benefits have the desired effects and that they are understood by the public. This can help government spending have optimal impact and be seen and felt by all.
To learn more, check out the OECD Risks That Matter Survey
The OECD Risks that Matter (RTM) survey is a cross-national survey examining people’s perceptions of the social and economic risks they face, how well they think their government addresses those risks, and what preferences they have for social protection going forward. This is the most extensive global survey of perceptions of, and preferences for, social protection.