Tackling youth exclusion and unemployment: Civil society organisations have their role to play

New research on long-term unemployed or precariously employed young people reveals the very different opportunities they face, depending in which country they live. The YOUNEX research project emphasises that civil society organisations (CSOs) are effectively dealing with problems in this field, and should be more closely involved in the design and implementation of related public policies.

The project adopted an integrated approach to examining the effects of being excluded from society and politics on young people. It looked at the institutional and policy context on the labour market and unemployment; analysed the role of civil society organisations as mediators in this domain; and lastly, surveyed long-term unemployed youth and young people in unstable employment. This threefold approach provides practical insights into the potential routes for social and political integration of young unemployed people.

For the analysis of institutional approaches to unemployment, a number of indicators were developed under the five broad headings of: unemployment regulations, labour market regulations, structures for general public political involvement, specific opportunities for the unemployed and related issues.

The individual indicators for the institutional approaches to unemployment included aspects such as the availability of education and skills training, levels of unemployment or disability benefits, sanctions for failing to take up work, labour market regulations, rules on dismissal or redundancy, the roles of trade unions and other social welfare organisations, the relationship between national and local authorities, access to political rights, such as voting, access to childcare and the existence of anti-discrimination legislation.

Unemployment regulations are highly inclusive in France and Sweden and highly exclusive in Poland and Italy (with Switzerland and Germany displaying an intermediate situation). The analysis of labour market regulations shows a high level of flexibility in Switzerland and Sweden, and of rigidity in Italy (with Poland, Germany and France taking an intermediate position). The analysis of unemployment-specific opportunities shows high levels of openness in Switzerland and Germany and high levels of closure for Italy (with France, Sweden and Poland in between).

Addressing unemployment, or a lack of secure employment, is not just a matter of providing unemployment benefits and social aid. Labour market regulations as well as related policy issues, such as education and childcare, and assistance from CSOs, should also be taken into account.

At the local level, CSOs play a mediating role between government (at the national, regional or local level) and young people who are (potentially) at the margin of society. CSOs support the integration of unemployed youth in two ways: by fostering their engagement and raising public or political awareness of issues like unemployment, and by delivering services related to welfare provisions.

For example, CSOs can fill gaps, providing services where welfare state provisions are more poorly developed; they can work with local government to stimulate policy solutions; and they can offer concrete opportunities for improving social cohesion by engaging with young unemployed or excluded people, and increasing public awareness about their position.

Thus, CSOs have a privileged role and access to much practical knowledge. However, YOUNEX found that relatively few policy makers tap the knowledge of CSOs during the policy making process.

What should be done?

YOUNEX offers some practical insights aimed at helping both political and social organisations improve their policies on youth inclusion:

  • Deal with unemployment or lack of social inclusion at all levels - international, national and regional - and include all relevant stakeholders.
  • Coordinate policies on youth unemployment across Europe. At present, national and local governments adopt different approaches to deal with this issue.
  • Foster more active participation among young people in politics and society. In fact, the YOUNEX project found that long-term unemployed youth tended to be more active in political and societal associations, and that this engagement enhanced their social inclusion.
  • Make CSOs essential partners for policy change. They complement or substitute state provisions and have extensive knowledge of situations on the ground regarding unemployment. They should be involved in the design as well as the implementation of related policies.
  • Problems of unemployment are best solved at the local level because local actors have better knowledge of the specific situation and local realities. At the same time, closer collaboration between actors at local, national and European levels could yield a more effective approach to youth unemployment and improve responses to their exclusion, because this improves coordination of efforts.

YOUNEX - Youth, unemployment, and exclusion in Europe: a multidimensional approach to understanding the conditions and prospects for social and political integration of young unemployed (duration: 1/5/2008 – 31/8/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 3 “Major trends in society and their implications”, Research area 3.2 “Societal trends and lifestyles”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).

See: http://www.younex.unige.ch/

Contact: Marco Giugni, Marco.Giugni@unige.ch