Policy recommendations for active participation of disadvantaged young people in society, at national, local and European level
Brave New YOU–Reloaded aims at closing the existing gaps between different communities by building trust among diverse groups of young people as well as supporting these youngsters to become active agenda-setters and actors for change at the local and European level.
In particular, the project explores the reasons behind the lack of participation of disadvantaged and less represented young people in communities around Europe and proposes concrete solutions to enhance their participation. Disadvantaged young people have been at the core of the project, discussing solutions and implementing local initiatives. They have been supported by youth workers and youth organisations who provided capacity building activities, helped them to identify and deconstruct hateful narratives, and build more inclusive ones for their communities.
The project gathered 11 partners from 10 countries around Europe working with diverse groups of young people in disadvantaged areas on a local level, or representing them and providing space for their participation on an international level.
Inclusion of disadvantaged youth in Europe: current state in the partners’ countries
According to the latest data published by Eurostat in 2020, almost one third of young people between 18 and 24 years old (29.2%) were at risk of social exclusion. The long-term negative impacts of social exclusion are well known: political and social isolation, poor living conditions, unhealthy lifestyles, mental health issues, unemployment, etc. Everywhere in Europe, young people are a vulnerable group when it comes to social exclusion and poverty. In 2019, in Estonia the poverty rate was the highest among young people aged 18-24 (5.8%). Additionally, 23.3% of young people between 18 and 24 years old were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. In Sweden, around 26% of people in the age group 20-24, have a “low economic standard” and the figure is twice as high among young people born outside of Sweden. In Portugal, 26,6% of young people aged 18-24 were at risk of poverty and exclusion in 2019.
Although reliable data regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social exclusion is not yet available, many countries expect an increase in the rates.
Youth work can provide opportunities to mitigate the risk of social exclusion amongst young people. The EU Youth Strategy recognises its importance.
Data collection and analysis
We conducted four thematic focus groups with a total of 12 youth workers from the partner organisations. We discussed their experiences of reaching out and working with disadvantaged youth, the challenges they experienced as well as the different existing forms of cooperation with local authorities and other stakeholders. These focus groups were a valuable source of information. Additionally, we wanted to hear directly from young people therefore we created a survey to collect their input and asked the local partners to disseminate it among their network. In total, we collected 142 answers from young people, who participated in the BNY project or similar initiatives, with a majority of respondents identifying as being part of a minority (such as LGBTQ+ youngsters or with a migration background), or living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. The policy recommendations below are based on both the views collected from the youth workers and young people and echo existing recommendations such as the Council of Europe Recommendation on Access of Young People from Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods to Social Rights (2015), the Final Declaration of the 3rd European Youth Work Convention and the Council of Europe Recommendation on Youth Work (2017).
Policy Recommendations for the local and national level
- Participants to the consultation have raised their concern regarding the scarce funding and logistical support provided by local authorities to non-profit organisations and youth centers working closely with disadvantaged youth. These financial resources often depend on the political landscape. The cooperation established with decision-makers or political groups in power may change after an election which causes a lot of uncertainties for organisations depending on these funds. Therefore, we demand local governments to secure funds and ensure continuity in funding as well as set up an adequate fiscal framework for youth organisations. These public investments should also aim at mobilising private funds.
- We demand local authorities to establish an open and long-lasting dialogue with non-profit organisations through the creation of co-managed bodies responsible for defining the priorities, allocation of funding and monitoring the implementation of the programmes.
- The difficulty of the administrative procedures is one of the main reasons why people are unable to access financial aid. This is especially true for people living in disadvantaged conditions, who are usually those needing it the most. Public authorities must ensure the creation of simplified processes, support systems and services that guarantee their outreach towards disadvantaged individuals that would not otherwise receive enough information to be able to access the same. These services should be provided in schools, universities, volunteering and community centres, etc.
- The lack of recognition of civil society in general, youth work, non-formal education and their providers as well as youth workers, is directly connected to a lack of sustainable funds. Local authorities expect quick quantifiable results while meaningful impact in the field of youth work requires sustainable and sustained efforts. This view puts youth workers and their organisations under pressure and undermines their performances. We ask local authorities to recognize the overarching important role that youth work has in building social cohesion by putting youth work at the core of their local strategies and priorities.
- Youth workers should be remunerated in accordance with their competences, responsibilities and the added value of their work for the community. We demand national governments to improve the status of youth workers and set fair wages for youth workers that reflect the aforementioned relevance of their work for the community. A national salary scale should be co-created together with trade unions and youth workers’ representatives. Additionally, we argue for more investment in capacity building of youth workers and measures encouraging the exchange of expertise between youth workers and other professionals working with young disadvantaged people.
- To empower disadvantaged young people, it is fundamental to provide safe spaces for discussion with professional support where they can meet peers, exchange their experiences, discuss solutions and organise themselves. Additionally, participants have also raised the need for common spaces where people from different backgrounds could meet to discuss or do activities together. These common spaces are beneficial for creating a sense of community, deconstructing stereotypes and building trust and understanding. We call on local authorities to facilitate the co-creation and co-management of such spaces by providing free community venues or centres with systemic and continuous funding and provide the equipment needed by local organisations or groups willing to organise such meetings. This measure will enhance trust building between groups of different backgrounds.
- Once they have organised themselves, young people groups and in particular disadvantaged youth groups often face substantial difficulties implementing their initiatives and ideas. We call on local authorities to set up funds and capacity building programmes to actively support initiatives that aim at community cohesion, mutual understanding, fighting hateful narratives and promoting inclusion and access to social rights. We also ask authorities to involve disadvantaged youth in decision-making processes that affect their lives through consultations and meetings with them. Good practices include the establishment of local or regional youth councils, or other youth consultative bodies allowing all young people, whether or not they belong to an organisation, to have a say in the policies that impact their lives, their future and the future of their communities.
- Urban segregation is a common phenomenon in many European cities. It refers to the “unequal distribution of different social groups in the urban space, based mainly on occupation, income and education, as well as on gender and ethnicity”. Segregated areas tend to be less economically developed and with time become places known as dangerous and avoided by the rest of the population. Their inhabitants, including young people, experience stigmatisation. We demand local authorities to develop and implement concrete policies, together with youth organisations, to end urban segregation that negatively affects disadvantaged youth and invest in building social cohesion by supporting youth organisations and their initiatives.
- According to Eurostat in 2018, 49,2 % of young people aged between 15 and 24 were living in rural areas which are often less developed in terms of services than urban areas. Partner organisations reported difficulties working with rural youth in particular due to a lack of digital and physical accessibility, as well as the lack of information. To provide the same opportunities to rural youth and those living in urban segregated areas, youth workers and their organisations often try to bring the activities closer to rural youth. We demand local authorities to invest in good quality, frequent and affordable and public transport between rural or remote areas and urban centres. These will have a significant impact on young people’s lives, allowing them to actively participate in all kinds of activities, meet their urban counterparts, enhance social cohesion, and become active citizens. Furthermore, we call on local authorities to logistically and financially support mobile youth work.
- Data is essential to understand a phenomenon. Therefore we demand local and national authorities to promote and fund studies and research addressing the issues faced by disadvantaged youth.
- The negative impact that intersectional discriminations have on the mental health of the people who suffer them is widely recognised. Moreover, when those discriminations are experienced at a young age, they can leave irreparable damages that can undermine personal development. Scientific studies have shown us that when a child experiences high levels of stress for a long period, that can be caused by being exposed to discriminations, it can have a significant negative effect on the child’s brain development and result in lifelong effects on learning, behaviour, physical and mental health. However we observe a lack of public structures that provide psychological support to help mitigate these effects. We call on local and national authorities to invest in free mental health support centers and free counseling, but also in mental health resources for schools, youth organisations and other public and private education institutions. Additionally, we recommend that youth workers working closely with disadvantaged youth gain free access to counseling.
- Education can play a significant role in deconstructing stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Human rights, diversity and inclusion should be transversal topics addressed in school curricula from an early age. We demand the revision of school curricula to include the above-mentioned topics and follow the principles and methodologies of non-formal education that should be included within the formal educational curricula. Moreover, we ask that teachers-training programmes and other training programmes of professionals working closely with disadvantaged youth incorporate notions and approaches of human rights and life skills such as intercultural dialogue, gender equality, mediation, etc.
- Political figures and their parties have a great responsibility when it comes to countering hateful narratives as they draw media attention and are heard by large segments of the population. We call on all political parties and their representatives to commit to responsibly use their visibility and act for the welfare of all. Additionally, we call on national authorities to take the lead in tackling hateful narratives by actively engaging and investing in campaigns to raise awareness and educate, create fact-checking systems for political narratives, raise awareness of the potential harmful impact of social media and condemn fake news.
Policy Recommendations at the European level
- Youth work in Europe needs increased structural investment, especially to enhance the financial sustainability of youth organisations and allow them to develop longer-term programmes that promote cooperation instead of the current competitive system. Complex administrative requirements are often a burden for youth organisations, therefore we demand the development of long-term transparent and simplified funding mechanisms.
- As the European Youth Work Convention is the central platform for discussing the latest developments in youth work practice and youth policy in Europe, we support the idea put forward by the 3rd European Convention on Youth Work about developing a European Charter to inspire good governance at all levels when creating funding mechanisms for youth work.
- Young people all over Europe deserve high quality non-formal education and a recognition of their learning. Non-formal learning is a process that benefits young people and provides them with the opportunities to develop competences and skills that are complementary to those acquired through formal education. Recognition of this learning process with tools such as YouthPass and badges is important in terms of making young people's work visible. We call on the European Union and the Council of Europe to implement policies that recognise and validate non-formal learning, especially in the labour market.
- To ensure high quality non-formal education, it is essential to invest in building educators’ capacity. We call on the European Union to enable and actively support the creation of spaces for peer learning where youth workers and trainers can meet and exchange good practices, such as a European Network of Youth Work Providers.
- We believe that young people deserve to have a say in policies impacting, directly or indirectly, their lives. We welcome the Council’s resolution on establishing guidelines on the governance of the EU Youth Dialogue. However, we think that the involvement of disadvantaged groups has not been sufficiently addressed. We call on the Council and the Member states to put in place other mechanisms in order to involve the most marginalised young people and therefore expand the scope of the EU Youth Dialogue. To guarantee good governance, it is fundamentally necessary to ensure the participation of all, and therefore implement measures targeting disadvantaged groups and the civil society organisations representing them.
- Discrimination based on age, sexual and gender identity, nationality, race, religious beliefs, or disability causes personal and collective trauma, affects mental health and undermines personal development. We regret that this aspect is not sufficiently highlighted in the different non-discrimination policies of the EU, such as the Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025. Moreover, we call on EU Member States to find consensus to approve the proposal made by the European Commission in 2008 for Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment outside the labour market, irrespective of age, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief. Additionally, we call on the European Commission to propose concrete to support victims of discrimination and in particular young people.
- Data is essential to understand a phenomenon, develop and implement evidence-based policies to overcome the ongoing problem but also to monitor progress. Therefore we demand the EU to allocate substantive funds to encourage youth work research at the national level, in particular to have empirical evidence about the benefits of youth work for the empowerment of young people and social cohesion.
Forde, A.T., Crookes, D.M., Suglia, S.F., & Demmer, R.T. (2019). The weathering hypothesis as an explanation for racial disparities in health: a systematic review. Annals of Epidemiology, 33, 1-18.e3
Final Declaration of the 3rd European Youth Work Convention. Signposts for the future, Bonn, 10 December 2020