Social protection expenditure in the European Union (EU) stood at 28.2% of GDP in 2016, slightly down compared with 28.4% in 2015, according to data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. In 2016, the two main sources of funding of social protection at EU level were social contributions, making up 55% of total receipts, and general government contributions from taxes at 40%.
The EU average continued to mask major disparities between Member States. In 2016, social protection expenditure represented at least 30% of GDP in France (34%), Finland and Denmark (both 32%) as well as in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands (all 30%). In contrast, social protection expenditure stood below 20% of GDP in Romania, Latvia and Lithuania (all 15%), Ireland (16%), Estonia and Malta (both 17%), Bulgaria and Slovakia (both 18%) as well as Czechia, Cyprus and Hungary (all 19%).
Social protection expenditure per capita varies substantially across Member States
In 2016, social protection expenditure per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards), which eliminates price level differences between countries, showed large differences between EU Member States. After Luxembourg (see country note), the highest expenditure per capita were recorded in Austria, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and France (all around 11 thousand PPS).
Social protection expenditures in the Baltic States during 2011-2016
Expenditure, % of GDP/ per capita Benefits by function, %
2011 2015 2016 Family/children Unemploym. Sickness Old age Housing
Estonia 15.6 16.1 16.6 / 3.8 13.0 2.9 41.3 41.8 1.1
Latvia 15.3 14.9 15.2 /2.9 11.1 4.7 34.1 49.0 1.2
Lithuania 17.0 15.6 15.4/3.6 7.8 3.3 40.8 45.9 2.3
In contrast, the lowest expenditure per capita were registered in Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia (under 3 thousand PPS).
Highest share for old age and survivors benefits in Greece, Portugal and Italy
On average in the EU, old age & survivors benefits accounted for nearly 46% of total social benefits in 2016 and made up the major part of social protection benefits in nearly all Member States. The share of old age and survivors benefits in the total was highest in Greece (65%), Portugal and Italy (both 58%), Cyprus and Poland (both 56%), while it was lowest in Ireland (34%), Germany (39%), Luxembourg (40%), Estonia and the United Kingdom (both 42%).
Sickness/health care and disability benefits accounted for 37% of total social benefits on average in the EU in 2016. Amongst Member States, the share of these benefits ranged from 23% in Cyprus and 26% in Greece to over 40% in Croatia (44%), Ireland and Germany (both 43%), the Netherlands (42%) as well as Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania (all 41%).
Family and children benefits accounted for slightly less than 9% of total social benefits on average in the EU in 2016, unemployment benefits for nearly 5% and housing and social exclusion benefits for 4%. The share of family benefits in the total ranged from 4% in Greece and in the Netherlands to over 15% in Luxembourg. Unemployment benefits varied between less than 1% in both Romania and Poland to 10% in Ireland.
Housing and social exclusion benefits ranged from less than 1% in Poland, Greece and Portugal to 8% in Cyprus and 7% in both Denmark and the United Kingdom.