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A great challenge for the next Commission: how to tackle youth poverty in a more efficient way

pdf mise en ligne :23 10 2014 ( NEA say… n° 05 )

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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.
Eurostat data show that in August 2014, the youth (under 25) unemployment rate was 21.6 % in the EU-28 and 23.3 % in the euro area. The lowest rate was observed in Germany (7.6%) and the highest in Spain (53.7 %), in Greece (51.5 % in June 2014) and in Italy (42.2 %).
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.

The paper tries to explain that unemployment rate is important and it says something about youth poverty but it is not the only element which should be considered when dealing with this issue. Many factors lead to youth poverty and one of those is social exclusion. This is a crucial problem because it perpetrates the negative cycle of poverty, discrimination and disadvantage. Discrimination based on gender, socio-economic status, ethnic origin and disabilities continues to be widespread. People coming from low income families, do not have access to good education and services. The most vulnerable groups are immigrants, single parents, and people with disabilities. What is known is that the lack of access to resources from early childhood leads to reduced access to rights, resources and opportunities in education and labour market. This is why looking to unemployment rate and trying to tackle only this variable is not enough if we really desire to fight poverty. This fight can only be won by tackling related problems, such as access to affordable housing, to social services, to education and training and, in the end, also access to decent jobs.

Better services are at the basis of empowerment
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.

Access to education and training
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.

The issue of mismatching and lack of skills is created by rigid and unreformed educational systems and also by the lack of communication and cooperation between employers and educational institutions. There are some positive steps towards better communication in some cases but this is not the trend.

Employment and labour market
T
his 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.

Another core issue is represented by training or internships which are often unpaid, do not lead to stable employment and they are not even recognised as proper work by subsequent employers.
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.

On the 8th of October, during the European employment summit, heads of State and Government declared their support of the Youth Guarantee as the framework for the European efforts to improve the situation of youth in employment.  This policy includes modernisation of vocational training, strengthening of public employment services, greater support for apprenticeships and traineeships and also financial incentives for job creation and business start-ups. Certainly these are all good initiatives but the result will depend on how they will be implemented.

Participation and empowerment
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.

The EU and youth poverty
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.

The European Commission, as part of the Youth Employment Package of December 2012, asked Member States (MS) to “ensure all young Europeans receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or traineeship, within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed”. This is known as the “Youth Guarantee”. Member States which had a youth unemployment rate superior to 25% prepared Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans in December 2013-January 2014 and they received support from the European Social Fund. These were assessed, in the framework of the European Semester, by the Commission and the Employment Committee and Country specific recommendations on the Youth Guarantee were given to the States. Some MS have modified their legislation, others have introduced new policy instruments to enforce the measures already in place to tackle youth poverty and unemployment. There is also a Franco-German initiative which aims at accelerating the introduction of reforms and erasing barriers to the transfer of available European funds in order to use them promptly. The idea is also that of involving the European Investment Bank (EIB) through bridge-financing the MS’ investments. The EIB would be later reimbursed from the Youth Employment Initiative.

Notwithstanding these important initiatives, the risk is that European Social Fund is used only in support of employment.  The European Structural and Investment Funds should be used to tackle youth poverty in an integrated way by concentrating on the inclusion of socially vulnerable youth, all the policies and correlated funds of the EU should be youth-oriented.
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.
 

(Ana Daniela Sanda)
 
To know more: 
 

EAPNs report on Youth Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europehttp://www.eapn.eu/en
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 Structural and Investment Funds http://ec.europa.eu/contracts_grants/funds_en.htm
European Parliament “Youth guarantee: getting young Europeans back to work” http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room

Statement on the results of the European employment summit (Milan, 8 Ocboer) by LászlóAndor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-704_fr.htm