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, Social Justice Index: European economic and debt crisis: Children and young people are hardest hit

In the EU, some 26 million children and young people are threatened by poverty or social exclusion. The social justice gap in Europe runs most strongly between north and south and between young and old. These are the central findings of our Social Justice Index 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.

Social Justice in the EU: The Scandinavian countries are top of the list. In contrast some of the Southern European states are at the bottom of the raking.

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.

"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."
Aart De Geus, chairman of the Executive Board of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Aart De Geus 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.

Please find the complete Social Justice Index 2015 on the right side. A summary can be found here.

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