Broader policy approaches to the social inclusion of young people

The impact of the economic downturn on young people has been a key topic of the European policy debate in recent years, with particular emphasis on employment. Yet, the adverse impact on young people goes far beyond their employment situation and affects their social inclusion generally. One of the most tangible signs of this is that almost 30% of young people aged 15–29 across EU are now at risk of poverty and social exclusion, the highest risk of any age group.

Young people continue to struggle in many aspects of their lives: in making a successful transition from education to employment and more broadly into independent, fulfilling adulthood. Eurofound’s report Social inclusion of young people includes an investigation of initiatives for a broader policy approach to the social inclusion of young people in 11 EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Types of policies and measures

When looking at the policies and measures countries can put in place to alleviate the problems facing young people and enhance broader social inclusion, it is clear that efforts can be channelled into policies that aim to either strengthen the individual situation of young people or try to address more structural issues.

The first set of policies can be categorised as individualising measures that address individual capabilities to cope better with labour market and societal demands. The more structure-oriented policies address the socioeconomic aspects or the institutional set-up of youth transitions or the conditions under which young people enter the labour market and societal life.

Individualising measures

The individualising measures are considerably more diverse and more visible in Member States in terms of their mechanisms and approach, but nonetheless have a common focus on individual capacity-building, skills development, and access to services and support. Many of the individualising schemes combine elements of training and personal development that might traditionally need to be accessed from multiple sources or be beyond the reach of young people experiencing social exclusion.

They include measures to develop life skills, alongside volunteering or work experience gained through community projects. A number of the measures offer alternative education on a more formalised basis, often leading to a qualification, with the elements designed to reinforce and validate prior attainment.

Individual action planning is a further core element of these measures, irrespective of their educational or wider personal development focus, with young people empowered to take greater control over shaping their goals, accessing support and reviewing progress. Many of the individualising schemes also include practical help and support to unlock barriers that might otherwise block participation in mainstream opportunities, such as childcare, therapeutic support, or access to housing and finance.

Structure-related measures

With regard to the structure-related measures, which are less prominent across Member States, there is a cluster of examples concerned with the adjustment of local planning and decision-making structures, to strengthen young people’s participation in democratic life. Other primarily structure-related measures include financial assistance to ‘unlock’ barriers to the social inclusion of young people, and measures to provide professional training and development to build the capacities and competences of adults who interact with young people.

Preventive or compensatory measures

Another useful way to review policies is to look at whether they are preventive or compensatory in nature. Preventive policies tend to be oriented towards larger populations of young people, and tend to focus on their participation and empowerment rather than addressing specific social problems. Preventive measures can also include actions to challenge negative attitudes towards and perceptions of young people, and the creation of opportunities for civic and social engagement, such as through environmental or community projects.

The compensatory measures are more often those targeted at already excluded groups. Analysis shows that the compensatory nature of the measures is quite strongly determined by their intended target groups; for example, young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), for whom a risky transition has already happened. These types of policies may also address longstanding issues related to ill health. In summary, the actions needed across the cycle from prevention to compensation clearly reflect the level of need or the social disadvantage faced by young people.

Improving social inclusion

It is essential to call for more attention to be paid at EU level to the social exclusion of young people, beyond the issue of unemployment. In fact, while youth unemployment remains a clear emergency in the EU, evidence shows that many young Europeans are exposed to social exclusion much more broadly – in terms of access to education, access to housing, as well as social and political participation.

The report shows that there are indeed policies and measures of a broader nature in place, but much more can be done to mainstream the issue of social inclusion of young people into general EU and Member State policies for social inclusion, employment and access to public services of general interest.

Eurofound Research Manager Anna Ludwinek will present the findings of the report at the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum taking place from 26 to 28 October 2015 in Paris.

Eurofound’s assessment of the broader policy approaches to the social inclusion of young people across 11 EU Member States features in its recently published report Social inclusion of young people. Chapter 4 of the report presents more detailed findings on policy measures.

The 11 country reports are available on demand from Eurofound. Email Anna Ludwinek: alu@eurofound.europa.eu

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