Challenges and prospects in the EU: Quality of life and public services Chapter 6

67 Introduction Social policy must always pay attention to young people as a social group, now and into the future. This is despite their being a diverse group with very different issues depending on their location and economic and social circumstances. The need for attention is due to their vulnerability during transition to adulthood and their particular needs at this time. For a long time after 2008, policymaking at EU and national levels concentrated on the impact of the economic crisis on the well-being of young people (in this chapter, defined as people aged 12–24). The economic crisis is over in Europe; young people affected by it have grown up and many have returned to work. However, not everybody is benefiting from the improved economic situation. While young people are not a disadvantaged group overall, there are significant inequalities between groups of young people in terms of quality of life. Many current policy initiatives, such as the Youth Guarantee, target young people not included in the labour market or in education. However, inequalities between young people are prominent in other areas too, the most important being social inclusion, health and mental well-being and access to services. Eurofound’s report Inequalities in the access of young people to information and support services (2019) looks in detail at the most common social and health issues for young people before providing evidence on which groups face the most difficulties in accessing social and health services, what the main barriers to access are and how service providers prove successful in overcoming these barriers. The most important findings of that report are outlined in this chapter, starting with a short summary of the main social and health issues affecting young people in Europe, as well as an outline of findings and trends surrounding young people’s mental health in EU countries. The main focus of the chapter is access to services for young people. First, a summary of the types of services available and the problems they address is provided. Then new analysis is included on young people’s access to health services, with particular attention to inequalities in access by different groups, based on results from the EQLS 2016. The final section, based on case studies and consultation with service providers, outlines strategies for policymakers to address these inequalities and provide better access to support and health services for all groups of young people. Social and health issues affecting young people The number of young people in Europe is on the decline, both in absolute and relative terms, affected both by birth rates and migration flows. Due to the latter, some receiving countries (e.g. Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) have been able to maintain their youth populations, while many others (e.g. Poland, Romania and Slovakia) have lost over 5% in the past 15 years. Nearly one-third of young people (29% of those aged 12–17 and 31% of those aged 18–24) are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, while around 9% of both these age groups experience severe material deprivation (Eurostat [ilc_peps01], [ilc_mddd11]). A small proportion of young people experience the most severe economic hardship: homelessness. Worryingly, youth homelessness has increased in recent years in some countries that provide statistics on this issue, such as Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands (Feantsa, 2018). Young people who lack strong family ties and those with mental health issues are most at risk of becoming homeless. Despite the perceived importance of friendship networks for young people, family is the most important source of support. According to data from the EQLS 2016, even over the age of 18, 72% of young people (aged 18–24) turn to a family member when seeking advice or when feeling down and needing someone to talk to – this is well above the proportion who would ask a friend (52%). The rate of young people feeling socially excluded has declined in the past five years but remains high in some countries, notably Belgium, Bulgaria and Cyprus. 6 Young people: Inequalities in access to health and social services