On the 15th of October the Intergroup on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights of the European Parliament organised a round table discussion to assess the past policies and reflect on what is needed for the future. The Commissioner for the Euro and Social Dialogue, Vladis Dombrovskis, was involved in this discussion, a positive sign that in the future we will see more dialogue between the Commission and Parliament with regard to these issues. That was also the occasion to present a paper published by European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) on youth poverty and social exclusion which tries to deliver a picture of the phenomenon.EAPN proposes an integrated approach to tackle youth poverty which should not be focused only on the employment rate. Now, almost one third of young Europeans risk poverty and social exclusion and this situation needs an integrated response.
Young people are the ones mostly hit by the crisis since they cannot manage to enter the job market. In the most of cases who has never been employed does not have access to unemployment benefits, or minimum income and often is specifically excluded by age restrictions established by national laws. The picture is even more complicated because of the “in work poverty” phenomenon which forces people to continue living within their families, although they have a job. This creates a situation of hidden youth poverty and an increased financial burden for the families.
Young people cannot afford to pay high rental prices and they do not have access to loans, since they cannot offer solid guarantees requested by banks. Therefore social housing needs to address the needs of those who are at risk of becoming homeless. It is true that, due to the crisis, appropriate funds are not available but in the cities there is a growing number of unoccupied houses coupled with an increasing number of people who do not have a place to stay.
Another core problem is that of access to affordable services such as child care services, since many young women are mothers, and also access to personalised counselling and support for employment. Many young people do not have any source of income and they cannot benefit from social assistance because they have never had a job or because there are age limitations established by law.
Education and training should give students and young people the skills needed in order to face the labour market but there are several problems which obstacle this normal course of things such as unequal access, segregation, drop-out, lack of skills and mismatch.
Primary and secondary education is free but there are still inherent costs for clothes, books and transport. These are real concerns for those families which live in difficult circumstances and sometimes children may drop-out from school in order to help their parents. The report sustains that also providing training to young people without adequate income support is an incomplete solution. Therefore helping the parents and families with adequate social benefits and services can really represent a cost-effective solution to youth poverty.
This is probably the sector which gives more visibility to young peoples’ problems and usually policies concentrate solely on the labour market, without dealing with other problems which cause high unemployment rates. Still, the problem is real, since young people suffer from long term unemployment, underemployment, low wages, part-time and precarious jobs and also undeclared work more than the other categories.
We have briefly presented the problems related to the lack of social protection. In some cases, in order to receive social protection, young people are forced to accept jobs which are proposed by employment services, even if “they are of low quality, and/or unsustainable”. The more affected ones are women and migrants, so they face a double discrimination.
Low wages and employment insecurity make it impossible for youth to make plans, have an autonomous life and create a family. They are often engaged in non-declared work which does not give them any sort of social protection and sometimes contributes to the erosion of skills and low self-esteem. Many of them are in the condition known as NEET (not in employment, education or training).
The report calls for adequate support and training for young people to find good jobs. It also stress the need for employers to foster inclusion and non-discrimination on recruitment. Part of the solution should also be that of job creation in the new industries, but also the promotion and financing of quality internships.
Participation to social activities and involvement in the decision-making process can solve many of the problems listed in this paper but young people face the lack of participative structures in general and they tend to feel undervalued and rejected with consequences as depression and low self-esteem.
Governments should try to involve young people in the identification of the best policy mix for their problems because they are the ones who better know which are the problems and they surely have ideas on which should be the best solution.
At the EU level there are policies which target youth but they do not concentrate on inclusion and there are inclusion policies which do not target youth and their needs. At European Commission level youth policies fall within the competence of DG Education and Culture, while initiatives targeting labour market are under the competence of DG Development, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Erasmus + programme is under DG Education and Culture but has some fields of action, such as education, employment and social inclusion which are dealt by DG Development. There is little coordination among them and also it is not clear which DG is accountable for these issues.
Europe 2020 strategy and also the European Semester deal with youth only through employment and education targets.
There is a common agreement on an integrated action needed at EU level which has to deal with youth poverty and social exclusion and not only with unemployment. This strategy should not be split between institutions and documents which are not coordinated, so a harmonization of the efforts is required. Another recommendation is that of considering young people as a specific group in the poverty reduction efforts under Europe 2020. The target should be reached also by monitoring the results of the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans. Follow-up support to young people who benefitted from the plans should be put in place and the provisions of the Guarantee should be complemented by access to adequate income, quality services, as well as participation mechanisms.
Last, but not least, “youth” should be a thematic priority in the Social Investment package.
This is what the EU can do in order to help young people escaping from poverty but we should not forget that Member States have the primary responsibility to take care of their young people because they represent a resource and not only a burden for the society.
Unemployment statistics: Eurostat http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu
National Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1090&langId=en
European Parliament “Youth guarantee: getting young Europeans back to work” http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room