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EU Policy. Minimum pay schemes freezing out Europe’s youth, says report

In countries such as Denmark, one must be older than 29 years old to benefit from this support.
In countries such as Denmark, one must be older than 29 years old to benefit from this support. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Paula Soler
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Young people face potential exclusion "by design" from access to minimum income schemes, says a new report, despite the latest available data showing that nearly one in five people aged 16 to 29 in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

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Minimum income schemes are a safety net of last resort, designed to ensure a decent standard of living for those in dire economic circumstances - yet young individuals are often either ineligible or subject to strict conditions, according to an analysis by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).

“When looking at these schemes, we do see that young people are quite discriminated,” Bianca Luna Fabris, ETUI’s researcher and co-author of the report, told Euronews, adding that “just because they are young, they can’t access these schemes”.

In Denmark, for example, only those aged 29 or more qualify; in Cyprus, it is 28, and in France and Luxembourg 25, although there are some exceptions.

According to a 2022 analysis by the EU Commission, the Danish social assistance system is paid out at six levels depending on the age group, ranging from €490 for people living at home with their parents to €2090 for those providing for children.

In other cases, as in Germany, Finland or Ireland, the cash benefit can be reduced depending on the age of the recipient, particularly for young adults who are considered to be dependents in their household of origin.

“There are a number of countries in which age is really the threshold, and it's given for granted that the family is always going to be there to give you a helping hand, but it's not really the case,” ETUI’s researcher claimed.

“This ignores the reality that many young people have children of their own, come from a disadvantaged background, or don't have a family support system to fall back on,” Laura de Bonfils, Social Platform’s secretary general, said in an email statement.

However, the age limit and the variation of benefits by age are only two of the institutional features of the schemes that may hinder young people's access to these benefits, the report notes.

Others include the unavailability altogether of such schemes in some European countries to young adults in education, training or apprenticeships - which could lead those still in education to drop out in search of a subsistence income.

“Minimum income schemes across the EU are failing those who rely on them most,” Bonfils said, stressing that for young people, the age group most at risk of poverty in the EU, precarious work and costly housing can mean access to support is vital to live a decent life.

The situation is even worse for young adults in Slovenia, Portugal and Italy, which have the strictest conditions for accessing the benefit, ETUI estimated.

“Being young shouldn’t mean being poor,” Natalia Kallio, board member at the European Youth Forum (EYF), an umbrella group representing youth organisations across the EU, told Euronews.

The EYF is calling on the European Commission to introduce an EU directive to reduce the wide national variations in adequacy, coverage and requirements, and to guarantee young people fair access to adequate safety nets.

Unlike a Council recommendation, the existing EU framework on minimum income, a directive is binding legislation for all member states that could set some common minimum standards for the 27 member states.

On 15 March 2023, the Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the EU executive to consider a directive on adequate minimum income while respecting the specificities of national social protection systems - but the Commission insists that this kind of social policy is outside its legal remit.

"According to the treaties, it is for the member states to define the fundamental principles of their social security systems," a Commission spokesperson told Euronews, stressing that the institution considered a recommendation to be the most effective and appropriate instrument in this case.

A recommendation leaves room for member states to consider their specific situations and national practices, with due respect to the design of their social protection systems and includes a call for EU countries to ensure that all persons lacking sufficient resources, including young adults, are covered by a minimum income set by law.

For ETUI’s Fabris, on the other hand, it is a question of political will, or lack of it.

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“There has to be an instrument that is not only cosmetic, but which actually makes sure that individuals, families, households, are really able to live decently,” she stressed.

Centre-right German MEP Dennis Radtke believes that ensuring the accessibility and adequacy of minimum income schemes for young people is key, and that EU countries can do more to tackle failure to take up these schemes.

"Member states need to facilitate access through simplified application procedures, remove unnecessary administrative obstacles and abolish unnecessary barriers such as age thresholds or restrictions based on education or unemployment status," the outgoing EPP MEP told Euronews.

The latest available figures from the Dublin-based EU agency Eurofound show that this benefit is not reaching those who might need it most, with non-take-up rates of 30-50%.

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