28th May 2023

EU minimum income schemes leaving young people behind

  • In the Netherlands, people aged over 21 received €1,052 per month — and those under 21 received only €260 per month (Photo: Pexels)
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The last resort failsafe measure for citizens who cannot make ends meet, the so-called minimum income, still turns its back on some groups in various European countries — such as young people.

This type of social policy, designed to alleviate poverty and encourage people to return to the labour market, falls within the competence of the member states.

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  • The incoming Spanish EU presidency will monitor the minimum-income schemes - but has no plans to improve them for young people in Spain (Photo: Paula Soler)

So far the European Commission has stressed that it would be overstepping its powers to issue a directive binding on all member states.

Therefore, the ball is still in the court of each of the EU-27, and the differences between them are notorious in the social inclusion of the young.

Young people (15 to 29 year-olds) generally suffer a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion than those aged between 30 and 64.

Their unemployment rate is also much higher: on average, as of February 2023, it was 14.5 percent — compared to 6.6 percent for the overall population.

Covid-19 only worsened their situation, to the extent of a possible 'pandemic scar', notes a position paper published by the European Youth Forum, a platform which represents over 100 youth organisations across Europe.

In EU countries such as Cyprus, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Spain, the eligibility criteria to receive this support excludes some in this lower-end age group, which makes them more dependent on family support and hinders accessing accommodation and achieving independence.

"Often young people also receive less support if they are living at home with their parents, [...] restricting their possibility to transition to an independent life (e.g. living on their own, starting a family…)," the EYF notes.

In practice, they are either excluded by minimum age requirements, or have their support reduced. This is the case in the Netherlands, where in 2020, childless people over 21 received €1,052 per month, while those under 21 received only €260 per month.

"It is crucial that countries ensure the social inclusion of young people by providing them with adequate (minimum) income support," reads a report from the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) commissioned by the commission.

From their analysis, two aspects are worth noting.

The first is that only the ESPN representatives in Germany, France and Luxembourg mentioned any domestic national debates on access to the minimum income for young people.

'Young' is getting...older

Secondly, that "young people" at the European level are no longer those aged between 15 and 24, but those aged between 15 and 29.

"School-to-work transitions and sustainable labour market integration are now taking longer, because of the changing nature of work, extended periods spent in education and changes in the skills demand," highlights the document.

Under the current eligibility criteria, those under the age of 23 are excluded from these schemes in Spain.

However, the rules imposed on those aged 23 to 30 also make it difficult for young people to access a minimum income.

In addition to first being classified as 'vulnerable', the rules require an applicant to have paid contributions for at least 12 months in the previous three years, as well as to have lived outside the family home for a minimum of three years prior to the application. Yet, the average age of living independently in Spain was 29.8 years in 2021.

"At these ages there are few emancipated young people with work experience, but even so it is a group that suffers extreme precariousness", according to a report by the Spanish Youth Council.

Despite the context (low wages, high unemployment and a glut of temporary jobs), making these schemes more accessible to young people is not be on the Spanish agenda. As was underlined by its minister of inclusion, social security and migrations, José Luis Escrivá, during an event organised by the think tank on Thursday (April 20).

During the Spanish presidency of the EU, starting in July, the priorities will be slightly different: monitoring the council's recommendations on minimum-income schemes, and trying to improve them in terms of adequacy, coverage and inclusion.

Asked by EUobserver whether he was considering extending these eligibility criteria, minister Escrivá said that although the issue had been discussed at the national level, it was dropped.

"It was not the purpose of these schemes," he replied, adding that other policies should support young people.

And yet, the Spanish Ombudsman has drawn attention to the possible "unconstitutionality" of these schemes — saying they could discriminate against young people, whose unemployment reached almost three-out-of-every-ten Spaniards in February 2023.

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