Gütersloh, October 27, 2015. Children and young people have been hit the hardest by the European economic and debt crisis. In the EU, some 26 million children and young people – or 27.9 per cent of the population under 18 – are threatened by poverty or social exclusion. The future prospects of the 5.4 million young people who are neither employed nor in education or training are similarly bleak. The social justice gap in Europe runs most strongly between north and south and between young and old. These are the findings of the Social Justice Index, with which the Bertelsmann Stiftung annually assesses the development of social justice in the 28 EU countries. The UK is ranked 13th in this index.
5.4 million young people neither employed nor in education or training
In Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal alone, the number of children and young people who are threatened by poverty or social exclusion has increased by 1.2 million since 2007, from 6.4 to 7.6 million. They live in households with less than 60 per cent of the median income, suffer from serious material deprivation or grow up in effectively non-earning households.
Moreover, many EU citizens between 20 and 24 years of age find themselves in precarious circumstances. In this age group, 5.4 million (17.8 per cent) are neither employed nor in education or training. The number has risen in 25 EU member states since 2008, in some cases substantially. Only in Germany and Sweden has the outlook for this age group improved in recent years. In contrast, the southern European countries registered the most negative development: in Spain, the share of 20- to 24-year-olds who are neither employed nor in education or training climbed from 16.6 to 24.8 per cent, while in Italy it even soared from 21.6 to 32 per cent.
Growing gulf between the generations
Observed over the longer term, the gap between the generations is also widening throughout Europe. While the share of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion has increased from 26.4 to 27.9 per cent on average in the EU since 2007, the corresponding share of the population of 65 years of age and over has dropped from 24.4 to 17.8 per cent. The main reason: in the course of the crisis, retirement benefits and old-age pensions either did not decline or did not shrink as strongly as did incomes in the younger population.
This contrasting development between young and old is exacerbated by three Europe-wide trends: growing public debt is burdening the younger generations especially, future investments in education and also research and development are stagnating, and ageing populations are putting increasing pressure on the financial viability of social security systems. For example, the debt level in EU member states relative to their economic output has increased from 63 per cent in 2008 to 88 per cent.
Bertelsmann Stiftung chairman Aart De Geus warned of the further consequences: "We cannot afford to lose a generation in Europe, either socially or economically. The EU and its member states must make special efforts to sustainably improve opportunities for young people." He also drew attention to the EU's existing Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative, and called for the systematic implementation and adequate funding of these sensible initiatives in the member states. Although slight upward trends can be seen in the labour market in many EU countries, these do not by any means constitute a comprehensive turnaround in matters of social justice after years of decline.
Wide social gap between young and old in United Kingdom
The United Kingdom achieves no better than 13th place in the overall Social Justice Index. On the positive side, the relatively well-functioning labor market (rank 5) must be emphasized in light of the comparatively high employment rate (71.9%) and a recent drop in youth and long-term joblessness. Here, the respective rates are only marginally higher than the precrisis levels. The downside of this successful development is that real wages have declined since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. This negatively affects young people first and foremost. Accordingly, since 2007, the share of children and youth at risk of poverty and social exclusion has climbed to 32.6% (rank 21), while among older people it has sunk to 18.1%. Thus, as in other EU member states, the social gap between young and old has clearly grown.
By contrast, the United Kingdom receives high marks in the area of health. The fact that the NHS broadly ensures fair access to health care for the population is reflected in the low rate of citizens (1.6%, rank 9) who complain of inadequate medical care due to high cost, long distances, or long waiting periods. The average Briton can also expect to live 64.6 years in full health (rank 6), or some three years longer than the average EU citizen.
With the EU Social Justice Index, the Bertelsmann Stiftung annually investigates the respective opportunities for social participation in the 28 EU member states on the basis of 35 criteria. The index examines six different dimensions of social justice: poverty, education, the labour market, health, intergenerational justice, and social cohesion and non-discrimination. End of data collection: 25 August.