Social and Economic Inclusion

The welfare system that lies at the heart of the European social model should protect and promote the economic and social well-being of all its citizens. In reality however, young people face many barriers that prevent them from fully enjoying the social rights that allow them to live with dignity and free from poverty. The European Youth Forum works at the European level to help young people realise these rights, by advocating for policies that improve young people’s access to social protection, quality jobs, and other rights like housing and access to mental health services. 

Young people’s social and economic inclusion has become an important priority for the European Youth Forum and its Member Organisations over the last decade. Many of the challenges young people face today are a direct legacy of the 2008 financial and economic crisis which saw youth unemployment, poverty and social exclusion skyrocket across Europe. Since the crisis, young people are increasingly trapped in a cycle of precarious work that offers little stability or security, such as temporary work or unpaid internships. Moreover, discriminatory social welfare eligibility criteria penalise young people simply because of their age or limited work experience, preventing them from accessing certain benefits. Ensuring young people can access these social rights is crucial for allowing them to live independently and to support their inclusion into society. 

Building on the lessons from the 2008 crisis, today we work to reverse the impacts of austerity measures and the relaxation of labour legislation that has allowed precarious work to proliferate among youth. At the same time we seek to address the impacts of emerging megatrends set to radically shift the way Europe’s labour markets and social welfare mechanism function. As the effects of globalisation, climate change, demographic changes, and technological advancements are changing the future of work, the European Youth Forum advocates for forward-looking, youth inclusive social and economic policies that ensure no young person is left behind.

  • Apprenticeships
  • Future of work
  • Internships
  • Quality jobs
  • Quality standards
  • Social and economic inclusion
  • Social protection
  • Social rights
  • Youth employment
  • Youth Guarantee

Human Rights frameworks, on both a global and a European level, guarantee that social inclusion in its various aspects, is an inalienable and universal right of all people. 

Nevertheless, over one in every four young Europeans  is at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Social inclusion is about society ensuring the realisation of young people’s economic and social rights. 

This includes the right to education, the right to decent work, the right to social protection, protection of and assistance to the family, the right to decent housing, to mental and physical health, and an adequate standard of living.

Key Policy Messages

  • The European Youth Forum promotes youth autonomy and inclusion, and strives for all young people, including those belonging to marginalised and vulnerable groups, to have access to all their social rights.

The transition phase for young people from education to the labour market has become increasingly difficult. Youth are disproportionately affected by unemployment and face structural challenges in finding quality, stable employment, and to earn decent income. Young people need to be better supported when the increasingly infrequent ‘traditional’ route to autonomy – finishing education and finding a job – is not available. 

Young people’s autonomy and inclusion is dependent foremost on their social background and the education they were able to receive, but also later on their access to a quality job. For this to occur, investment in job creation as well as policies that support employers in hiring young people are essential. But in the cases where young people are unemployed, a safety net must be ensured. Across most EU countries, young people are often unable to claim unemployment benefits, as their limited work history means they are ineligible for contribution based systems. As a consequence, unemployed young people have to rely on minimum income which – when such assistance exists – tends to be with age-based exceptions or in reduced amounts for youth compared to the rest of the adult population.

The European Youth Forum therefore advocates for public investment in inclusive and tailored services to support young people’s transition from education to the labour market, through schemes such as the Youth Guarantee. Introduced in 2013 in response to very high youth unemployment rates in the EU, the Youth Guarantee aims to ensure that all young people receive an offer of employment, education or training within 4 months of becoming unemployed or leaving school. The European Youth Forum advocates to ensure that support under the Youth Guarantee reaches those who need it most, that youth organisations are meaningfully involved in its management and that offers provided under the Youth Guarantee are of good quality.

Key Policy Messages

  • The European Youth Forum advocates for young people’s right to quality transitions from education to employment, also in the context of the Youth Guarantee.

The youth unemployment boom following the 2008 financial and economic crisis  has had a profound effect on young people and the societies in which they live. Young people are experiencing increased levels of poverty and social exclusion, the highest, in fact, of any age group in Europe, and there is a widening economic gap between older and younger generations.

Since the onset of the 2008 crisis, access to the labour market has become more difficult for young people as investment in entry-level job creation has decreased. As  a result of the long term impacts of austerity measures and the relaxation of labour standards to stimulate employment after the crisis, the availability of stable, quality jobs with adequate wages, access to social protection, or even basic workers rights like paid sick leave  for young workers has also significantly diminished. The right to decent work and protection against unemployment are fundamental human rights. Being able to find quality work is essential for young people to participate fully in society, ensure autonomy and to avoid the pitfalls of poverty and social exclusion.

Although there is increasing focus on the fact that there are so many unemployed young people in Europe, far less attention is given to the fact that young people are more likely to be in low-quality and precarious jobs even when they find work. Nearly 50% of young people in 2019 were in temporary forms of work for example. Moreover, many young people across Europe experience earning a youth minimum wage, a form of age-based discrimination that violates their rights to equal pay for equal work. The proliferation of precarious work among youth not only affects their economic security, it also has severe implications for their housing security, mental health, and wellbeing.  The position of the Youth Forum is clear: young people in Europe have the right to quality and stable employment.

Key Policy Messages

  • The European Youth Forum advocates for young people’s right to quality and stable employment. Young people’s labour and social rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

Internships have become increasingly common in the last few decades, offering learning opportunities in the workplace for young people like more traditional apprenticeships. However, too often internships and apprenticeships provide poor working conditions with low or no pay and limited learning content. They can also lead to the replacement of quality entry level jobs for young people and there is a risk that young people become trapped in these positions, unable to find a permanent job.

The European Youth Forum has therefore campaigned for quality internships and apprenticeships for over a decade, including through the adoption of the European quality charter on internships & apprenticeships, calling on all the providers of internships and apprenticeships to commit to quality standards and to apply a clear and coherent code of conduct. By working with partners, the European Youth Forum has been able to encourage organisations and institutions like the European Parliament to ban unpaid internships and ensure they provide good working conditions to interns.

Key Policy Messages

  • Internships and apprenticeships should be learning experiences and should never replace a paid job. To achieve this, they should comply with minimum quality standards.

Four global megatrends are beginning to transform the world of work and shift its role and value in our lives: globalisation, the climate crisis, demographic changes and technological advancements. These changes bring with them new challenges and emerging questions on topics such as social protection, labour rights and the organisation of work in society. 

For example, advancements in digitalisation, robotisation, and automation are taking place at an unprecedented rate, leading to a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. As technology begins to replace humans in performing certain tasks, millions of jobs risk disappearing. It is currently unclear whether new technology will create as many new jobs as it will destroy. It is estimated that 20-40% of jobs specifically undertaken by young people will no longer be performed by humans in the future. Therefore, job scarcity and worker displacement are likely to grow, particularly among youth, while competition over a limited set of jobs and poorer working conditions increases.

The future of work will bring significant challenges but managing them is not impossible. Youth-specific, inclusive and forward-looking policy interventions are crucial to ensure that young people are not left behind. Policies must consider the changing role and value of work in our lives and what young people want these to be. Young people’s vision for work is underpinned by certain key values such as the right of every person to an income, the importance of work-life balance, having a fulfilling job, and the ability to contribute to society in ways other than through employment.

Key Policy Messages

  • The European Youth Forum strives for a future of work that is youth inclusive.
  • As megatrends shape the future of work and bring new challenges for young people, policy interventions must be youth-specific, inclusive and forward-looking.

Key Documents and Resources