The future of our youngest generations?

Posted on 22. May 2014

by Estefanía Almenta


One of the five headline targets of the Europe 2020 headline indicators is to reduce poverty by lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2020. According to EUROSTAT, in 2012, 124.5 million people, or 24.8 % of the population, in the EU-28 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE), compared with 24.3 % in 2011. It could be argued that this is not a significant increase given the drastic cutbacks. However, the AROPE figure for the EU-28 average, calculated as a weighted average of national results, masks substantial variation between Member States. At one extreme, the Member States with the highest AROPE rates were Bulgaria (49.3 %), Romania (41.7%), Latvia (36.6%), Greece (34.6%), Lithuania (32.5 %), Hungary and Croatia (both around 32.0 %). At the other extreme, the lowest rate was scored in the Netherlands (15.0 %), Czech Republic (15.4%) and Finland (17.2 %).

In the case of Spain, the AROPE rate was 28.2%, 3.4 points above the EU-28 average. A closer look at these statistics reveals that the most vulnerable age groups are children (33.8%) and active-age people (29.7%), while the risk of poverty or social exclusion faced by people aged 65 or more is lower (16.6%). This means that, in 2012, 1 out of 3 children in Spain were below the poverty threshold, in a situation of severe material deprivation, or living in a household with very low work intensity. Sadly, this situation has only worsened in the last year. According to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost” (2014: 67), Spain has the second highest rate of childhood poverty in the EU (exceeded only by Romania and followed by Bulgaria and Greece).

This is just one example, taken from official statistics, to illustrate that austerity measures imply a risk of disregarding the basic needs of defenceless individuals – especially children – consequently ruining the prospects of future generations. The question that arises here is how can we protect the future of our youngest generations?

During her keynote speech at the Ronda Forum on Education and Entrepreneurship, Dr Lieve Fransen, Director for Social Policies and Europe 2020 at the European Commission mentioned the Social Investment Package, she said: “We can do better with the same money,” and I couldn’t agree more.  What I doubt, and it really worries me, is if we can still do better with much less money. It worries me because governments often fail at responding to local problems with the recourses available.

So my question to her was: “How are austerity measures compatible with improving youth perspectives and achieving Europe 2020 goals?” She replied: “Your question is the question that’s been raised by everybody all the time. […] Some countries, and sometimes under advice from others, especially the Commission and sometimes the IMF, have not necessarily always done the cuts in the most intelligent way.”

She explained how some Ministers of Finance had implemented cutbacks without having a dialogue with Ministers responsible for social protection such as Education, Health and Housing. Therefore, she proposed an integrated dialogue, not only at a national level, but also at a European level, since the instruments developed in the European context have been urgency instruments to stabilize the euro and save the banks. “That was and remains important, because if that was not saved, the impact would have been even worse. But that was and is a short-term strategy, and now social investment has to be improved in a number of countries.” After this, Dr Fransen mentioned the upcoming assessment of the Europe 2020 strategy, highlighting this was an opportunity for European citizens to make their voices heard so that their suggestions are taken into account when redesigning Europe 2020 goals.

Given that the topic of the Ronda Forum was Education and Entrepreneurship, my proposal towards the question how we can protect the future of our youngest generations is to call attention to the potential of young social entrepreneurs, as they can catalyze innovative ideas to solve social problems. Social entrepreneurship has proven to be more effective when acting on small communities. The best known examples are related to microcredit ventures but social entrepreneurs also aim at providing healthcare, education or catering services. In this sense, more public resources can be dedicated to helping young social entrepreneurs to develop their business, as a way to promote self-employment (therefore reducing youth unemployment) and to foster the improvement of the poorest districts.