European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. Written by Alan Borgars
In the six years since what has been termed as the ‘Great Recession’ struck due to the recklessness and greed of major banks and investment companies, youth unemployment has remained stubbornly high across much of Europe, especially the ‘PIIGS’ nations of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain but also in Britain, where an economic recovery is being disproved by falling wages, more people being forced into self-employment, more people taking part-time work despite wanting full-time work, and of course, workfare.
Young people with disabilities are finding it particularly hard in this recession, not only with employment but also independence and day-to-day survival and well-being. People on the autistic spectrum, like myself, are especially vulnerable to the effects of austerity-and often we are isolated and unable to turn to anyone for help when necessary and in good time. While the unemployment rate for young people in Britain (those under 25) is 20-25%, it is even higher still for young people with disabilities, who are also more likely than average to suffer from one or more mental health problems e.g. depression.
Given that Mahtma Gandhi famously once said that ‘you can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens’, our government should be investing far more in disability services than it is at present-far from helping people with disabilities, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is responsible for at least 20,000 premature deaths of people with disabilities and/or mental health problems eligible to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and other disability/out-of-work benefits, and many of them will have been young people just trying to find work when little or no work is available for them. Also, people with disabilities have been particularly hard done by workfare schemes at such places as Tesco and Poundland, as stories from the Boycott Workfare website (www.boycottworkfare.org) demonstrate. In other European nations, young people with disabilities have seen support reduced or lost altogether, which particularly in rural areas greatly impedes their opportunities for work and decent living, as shown by reports from Greece,Hungary and Portugal.
The greedy, selfish culture of free-market capitalism that has been heavily promoted by the European Union, especially since the Lisbon Treaty even in the wake of the financial crisis, bears much responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. Employers simply looking to increase politics often fail to see the potential within people with disabilities due to their lack of understanding about disability (or outright prejudice towards people with disabilities), and support to help people with disabilities find work has lost significant funding. Meanwhile, benefits are being slashed and in the UK, the Independent Living Fund (ILF) faces effective closure when it has been a lifeline for many young people with disabilities.
I believe a new narrative across Europe is needed to help our most vulnerable people achieve their full potential, and grassroots activism on diversity is also needed.
About the author
Alan is a disability activist within the Green Party of England and Wales