Welfare systems should be fair and promote solidarity between generations

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Left outside: Young people are being discriminated against because of their age more than ever before. [Francisco Osorio/Flickr]

In a Europe with a growing gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots”, we are witnessing that welfare systems are creating what they should overcome: inequality. The purpose of a welfare system is to act as a safety net for everyone, but this is no longer happening, writes Allan Päll.

Allan Päll is Secretary General of the European Youth Forum.

It is on the foundation of equality that our socio-economic development is based. It means that as societies, we don’t leave people behind and we see potential in everyone. It means that we take common responsibility for those who are denied an adequate standard of living. That we are at the forefront of providing equality of opportunity that is independent of social or economic bias. The social model in Europe must protect the well-being of all people.

This is one of the founding values of the EU. But it is currently not the reality in far too many European countries. Some say we are in post-crisis economy.  Others, including young people, would wonder if “post” is actually the present, a horrid dream that we can’t shake off. Some countries have not seen a good day since the crisis. And young people have seen a fast erosion of their social rights. Social exclusion is rising, income inequality has increased by 4%, only exacerbating the intergenerational divide, a divide which is so damaging to imagining a better future.

Time and time again, young people lose when government books are balanced.  We must face the fact that decision makers have tricked young people. We witness age-based discrimination like never before, whether it be through a lower minimum wage, or age-based cuts to access to benefits. Such discrimination stunts young people’s ability to lead the autonomous, independent lives that they have the right to.

And what is independence? It is not a privilege or luxury that we ask for. It is about having access to the basics, without discrimination. It is about seeing young people as a positive force, as a whole generation that contributes to our society, and ultimately keeps our social model intact.

If we insist on talking about balancing the books, governments should understand one simple truth: independent young people that become independent while they are still young, not in their mid-thirties, are good for the bottom line. It is not about unnecessary expenditure but a question of investing wisely: it is basically just cheaper to prevent problems. But if you don’t do that, if you lose a generation, it becomes a vicious circle of ever increasing pressure on the sustainability of the social model.

Of course, the immediate and knock-on effects on the individual young person are a serious concern. Young people being shut out of the labour market means a whole segment of society not contributing to the economy – leading to lower tax revenues and, ultimately, a significant decrease in the financing of the very welfare systems which should support them. This leads to sluggish economic growth – a situation that will only get worse as Europe’s population ages. Add to this the loss of skills development and innovation and we have a recipe for a European economy that is far from ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth.

We hear all the time that ‘young people are the future’. Let’s be honest, that is just utter nonsense, kicking the can down the road mentality. We are here now! If you really care about the future, you must invest now!  In a resolution adopted recently by the European Youth Forum we call for a raft of measures to ensure the right kind of investment in order to fix the broken European welfare system.

We call for adequate minimum income schemes; we call for young people to have a say on pension reform. Pension reform should engender intergenerational fairness making sure neither generation has to bear the brunt of pension reforms when public budgets are tight.

We call for youth-friendly healthcare services, including universal free access to healthcare and measures to increase young people’s knowledge on mental health issues; we call for sufficient support to ensure that young people have access to good quality housing and they are not discriminated against when trying to find somewhere to live – and, linked to this, we want to see concerted effort put into combating youth homelessness, which is on the rise.

We call for greater effort to reduce the gender gap with measures such as fully paid parental leave and targeted actions supporting single-parent families to be adopted.

These measures will not only mean that welfare systems are updated and adapted to reflect the reality for young people’s life paths today, they will also contribute to ensuring the sustainability of the very European social model that we all take for granted, yet is slowly eroding away under our feet. We call on governments and the EU to listen and act, because social rights are at the very foundation of our societies.

The European Youth Forum will launch, at its YO!Fest, an integral part of the European Youth Event, taking place at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 20-21 May, a ground-breaking study on the social inclusion of young people.

The European Youth Forum will launch, at its YO!Fest, an integral part of the European Youth Event, taking place at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 20-21 May 2016, a groundbreaking study on the social inclusion of young people. EURACTIV is a Media Partner of this event. 

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