The European Youth Forum Report “Social inclusion and young people – excluding youth: a threat to our future” highlights that the European social model is no longer protecting young people, and they are now at higher risk of social exclusion and 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/regions – but welfare reforms as a response to the crisis have been directly targeted at youth. When it comes to finding a place to live, or accessing healthcare, young people also face obstacles.
The report 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 people’s 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.
Young people often find themselves victims of prejudice and discrimination on the labour market based on their age. As highlighted in a European Youth Forum study on multiple discrimination and young people in Europe, 50.5% of respondents experienced discrimination in searching for a remunerated job. When looking for a remunerated job, 18% of respondents declared that they had experienced discrimination because of ‘young age’ (being 18-24 years and 25-29 years old, respectively 18.2% and 8.8% of respondents).
Discrimination against young people in Europe is rife. Not only has austerity disproportionately affected youth – with cuts to education budgets implemented in twenty countries/regions – 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 countries; 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 homelessness 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.
As in other fields, young people are often victims of multiple discrimination. Landlords often refuse to rent to young people based on their age or because they are receiving benefits or are on a low income. A European Youth Forum study on multiple discrimination and young people highlights that: “When looking for a flat/housing/accommodation, most cases of discrimination (6.2%) occurred on the basis of age - being 18-24 years old -, ethnic origin (5.2%), social origin (3.6%) and sexual orientation (3.6%). 52.9% of respondents declared that discrimination occurred on each ground on different occasions (multiple discrimination), while 19.1% perceived it was caused by the interplay of more than one ground (...) Respondents reported that they were discriminated against because of their young age, mainly because they were not trusted and were considered unreliable tenants. In some cases the landlords explicitly said that they wanted to rent to young professionals over 30 or to married couples.” One crucial improvement at the European level would be to conclude the negotiations on the Equal Treatment Directive to tackle multi-discrimination against young people in access to housing based on age and resources conditions.
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.