Peter Matjašič is President of the European Youth Forum and will be a guest speaker at the EU Youth Conference in Dublin, 11 March
The numbers are clear: youth unemployment is over twice that of the adult population, with one in five young people unemployed in Europe. Young people are 4 times more likely to be in precarious work, 21% are living at risk of poverty compared to 16% average population and 14 million young people are currently not in employment, education or training (NEETs) with figures continue to rise.
This shows how dramatic the vulnerability of young people is in Europe today and why the focus of the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion is so timely. Young people today are the most educated generation ever, familiar with new technologies, more mobile and open to new opportunities, but they face a higher risk of social exclusion than their parents.
Young people constitute an integral part of European societies and we need to make sure to avoid having a ‘lost generation’.
The EU Youth Conference is just the final phase of a wide consultation that touched upon all 27 EU Member States, thanks to the work of the National Working Groups and youth organisations.
The results of these consultations speak for themselves: young people feel and often are discriminated because of their age; some groups of young people face multiple discrimination on the ground of ethnic origin, migrant status, religion and/or sexual orientation. Many experience harassment and bullying on a daily basis at school, they are discriminated in social and health care services and feel overlooked or negatively stereotyped in their community and in society in general. Young people feel they are not granted the rights and opportunities they deserve.
The cost of all this is becoming unbearable: social inclusion of all young people needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner based on the real needs and barriers faced by them. Young people when consulted think free-of-charge quality education for all as well as more scholarships to support youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and effective policies to combat discrimination and bullying at school could be part of the solution. Also, they call for minimum standards for employment: a minimum income, equal access to social protection systems and to quality public healthcare as well as the adoption of anti-discrimination regulation at EU level.
Youth organisations play a fundamental role in the active inclusion of all young people, reaching out to those who are often beyond the reach of many public services. They give youth a voice, a role in the community and counteract the isolation that is associated with social exclusion. But youth organisations alone cannot solve all problems associated with social exclusion of young people. We need strong political commitment at all levels, from local and national to European.
We need integrated actions that are able to structurally tackle the problem, decrease inequalities and promote youth autonomy through employment and social inclusion policies. We need effective coordination of policies in the areas of equality, non-discrimination, employment, education, social welfare and youth. Youth mainstreaming and cross-sectorial cooperation between ministries and different levels of government is an absolute necessity to promote the social inclusion of young people.
Above all, if we are to overcome the exclusion of young people, concrete effective investment in young people is urgent: in their education, in enabling their autonomy, in allowing them to enter and remain in the labour market and in quality jobs, and in ensuring that they can successfully combine their professional and private lives.
This is why the European Youth Forum calls for more funding and a guaranteed right to equal access to quality education, both formal and non-formal, for all young people. We call for supporting the transition from education to quality jobs through policies and measures that ensure decent conditions for young people in the labour market, promote autonomy and fight precariousness. Finally, we call upon the EU to adopt the necessary legal tools to fight discrimination and social exclusion, to adopt an Anti-Discrimination Directive campaign at EU level.
Recently, all 27 EU Employment Ministers endorsed the youth guarantee scheme, a long-lasting demand of the European Youth Forum and one of the priorities of the Irish Presidency. After this important first step, we need immediate steps to follow to turn the inclusion of young people from rhetoric into reality.
We need to mainstream ‘youth’ in all the policy areas that concern them to bring consistency in European policies and achieve coordinated strategies for the inclusion of young people in society. Europe Union and Member States need to urgently take action to improve the situation of young people in Europe, need to invest in youth and make youth a priority now!