The level of social expenditure varies between European countries. Each country has its own social protection system, reflecting the unique economic, social and political conditions. A country's social expenditure may vary, for example, depending on the level of wealth, the general standard of health and the number of unemployed people. The countries with the highest social expenditure are found mainly in Northern and Western Europe.
Comparison between Switzerland and the main European countries
Compared with the five most populated countries in Europe, Switzerland's social expenditure is relatively high when expressed in terms of per capita. Slightly higher than that in Germany and France, it is considerably higher than that of Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain in particular.
Social expenditure can also be measured as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The percentage share of social benefits in the GDP indicates the weight of social benefits in relation to the country's economy. When expressed in these terms, Switzerland's social expenditure is lower than in four of the five countries considered: this can be partially explained by Switzerland's high level of GDP per capita.
Nonetheless, social benefits in Switzerland reached a record level in 2016 (25.8% of the GDP). In Germany, they remained relatively stable between 2003 and 2016, whereas in France and Italy they have continued to increase since the 2009 economic crisis. The decrease recorded in 2016 in the United Kingdom and Spain also coincides with the economic recovery.
Social expenditure by function
The many social benefits provided in Switzerland and other European countries can be classified by the type or risk or need that they cover: to do this, a social protection classification by function is used.
In monetary terms, the old age and healthcare functions are the most important in Switzerland and in the five European countries observed. The differences in the distribution of expenditure by function reflect the demographic, economic and socio-political particularities of each country.
Social protection funding sources
Social protection expenditure is funded by different sources. Roughly two-thirds of social protection receipts are represented by the social contributions of employers and protected persons. The role of public contributions is less important in Switzerland than in the five European countries compared here.
Other statistics on financial flows of social protection
Statistical sources and concepts