European welfare states are failing young people

European Youth ForumIn a report published last Saturday, the European Youth Forum highlights that the European social model is no longer protecting young people with young people now at higher risk of social exclusion and poverty1. It finds that European welfare states are outdated, not addressing the new forms of exclusion and insecurity that young people are facing, and urgently need reform.

The report, “Social inclusion and young people – excluding youth: a threat to our future”, was launched at a high level event today as part of the YO!Fest at the European Youth Event in Strasbourg.

In its report, the Youth Forum illustrates that Europe’s social model, which should provide a safety net for everyone, is broken. It highlights that welfare state interventions are no longer supporting young people, but are actually stopping them from achieving autonomy, with a grave impact not just on the individual young person but on European society as a whole. 

Unemployment continues to blight the young generation, with more than 4 million young people unemployed. Yet unemployment benefits – designed to be a safety net when job-less – are inaccessible to young people: in some countries – such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Greece and Portugal – less than 3% of youth are receiving them. This is because the system no longer works with the young peoples current path to independence: Young people today are increasingly facing long-term unemployment straight out of education, or are employed in internships or short-term work that does not allow them to contribute to the system and therefore cuts off their access to social protection. Even where young people are eligible for income support, the support given is not enough to keep them above the poverty line. In OECD countries, around 20% of young people live in poverty.

Discrimination against young people in Europe is rife. Not only has austerity disproportionately affected youth – with cuts to education budgets implemented in twenty countries/regions2 – but welfare reforms as a response to the crisis have been directly targeted at youth. In the UK, housing benefit has been cut entirely for under 21s; a lower ‘youth’ minimum wage is in place in eight European countries3; In France and Spain young people cannot receive social assistance before the age of 25 and 24 years old. And for many young people this discrimination is in multiple forms – young people with disabilities, or from ethnic minorities face double and triple barriers in achieving their independence. 

When it comes to finding a place to live, or accessing healthcare, young people also face obstacles. With affordable housing difficult to find, a “generation rent” has emerged and homelessness4 is growing among young Europeans. At the same time, certain groups of young people, for example LGBTI youth or migrants, are still unable to access healthcare services free from discrimination. 

Lora Lyubenova, board member of the European Youth Forum said

“Welfare systems across Europe are not providing the safety net for young people that they should. Poverty is a reality for way too many young Europeans and the traditional route from youth to adulthood is blocked by lack of access to good quality education, poor quality or no jobs and inaccessible or inadequate social protection. If young people are the future, then the EU, its policies and its investment need to back up that claim and invest in young people and in the future. If it does not, the European social project – and therefore peaceful and harmonised societies – will collapse. ”

The report highlights that these issues will only continue to grow if not addressed now. An ageing society in Europe will put further strain on public resources – and on young people that will need to take on increased care responsibilities – with young women more likely to be impacted; The rise of the so-called “sharing economy” has implications on worker’s rights to social security that could further push young people into a vulnerable state.  Equally, whilst self-employment can be a great outlet for entrepreneurial spirit and should be fostered, the protection of the self-employed worker is still not guaranteed across Europe despite the fact that EU and national leaders are promoting self-employment as a possible solution to the unemployment crisis. 

During its Council of Members in April 2016, the European Youth Forum adopted a resolution: Youth autonomy and inclusion, which calls for all young people’s social and economic rights to be realised

 1 28.2% of young people in Europe are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, compared to 24.5% for the whole population

2 in 2011 and/or 2012

3 Youth minimum wages exist in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom and Turkey.

4 In 2013, 7.7% of the EU young population (aged 15-29) faced severe housing deprivation. 

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