The EU has designated 2022 the European Year of Youth, an opportunity to significantly contribute to a better future for young people. This recognition aligns with the objectives of the 2019-2027 European Union Youth Strategy and the European Youth Goals.
Much can be done at a local level, and Eurocities members have proven that they can work with young people as well as foster their participation in the decision-making process.
In this interview, Nikita Sanaullah, Policy Advisor on Social Affairs at Eurocities, explains how local authorities can engage with future generations and help them tackle the challenges ahead.
What does this year’s designation mean for young people?
“The European Year of Youth is a significant step in acknowledging the rights of young people and the important contributions that they make to our cities. Ultimately, it is also a recognition by the EU institutions that Europe’s youth have suffered greatly during the pandemic.
As the health situation escalated, young people lost their jobs three times faster than older workers. The loss of income has hit young people’s path to autonomy and independence. Some of them were forced to quit university, for example, while others could no longer afford rent and had to move back in with family.
Two-thirds of students have reported learning less due to online/distance learning. Perhaps most alarmingly, nearly two out of every three young people are showing signs of being affected by mental health and wellbeing issues – showing that the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on younger generations.
Even before the pandemic began, young people were the age group at the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion in Europe. The unemployment rate for this group was double that of the general population, and clearly, the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.
By bringing youth to the top of the political agenda, policymakers are recognising that we need to act now to confront these serious challenges. Investing in young people is extremely important if we are to foster cohesion in our societies.”
What opportunities does the European Year of Youth present?
“It is a chance to mobilise young people to collect fresh ideas, engage with them and encourage them to share their experiences.
Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to work together both at a local and European level, to promote an exchange about how to best tackle some of the challenges that young people face, to find a common ground. In short: it’s an opportunity to make progress.”
How would you describe a young urban European?
“Being a young urban person is both a fascinating experience and an incredible challenge. Many different services and opportunities exist in the city for young people. But at the same time, we see that cities face the most significant challenges like unemployment and poverty which also affect young people.
There are many opportunities that cities can bring to young people. It is fundamental that to do so municipalities provide targeted support to better meet their needs.”
I want to talk about motivation and worries, something that changes from generation to generation. Today’s youth is much more aware of issues such as environmental threats or gender equality.
“It’s also a question of what today’s younger generations have been through. My generation, the millennials, have undergone two major shocks to our economy—the 2008 financial and economic crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
So it does not come as a surprise that this generation is very conscious of the social and economic impact that these crises have had on our society. Austerity, recessions, and crises have had an effect on young people’s rights over time. The youth unemployment rate in the EU, which is the highest of any group, is a direct legacy of the 2008 monetary crisis.
Climate anxiety is very apparent as a significant issue for young people. They recognise that this is something that they’re going to face throughout their lifetime. The exciting thing about being a young person in the urban space is that we see much activism around this in cities. Discussions are happening at the political level on environmentalism and climate change and young people want to take part in them.
However, the crucial challenges are employment and financial stability. The reality is that most young people in Europe are unable to find quality jobs. About 46% of youth are in temporary forms of work, as EU data show, so they have no financial security and are not really able to invest in their future. We see that more young people are renting because they cannot afford to buy a home, for example.
These social issues play on youth’s minds because they can see that even though they’re working, just like their parents’ generation was, financially the situation is a lot harder.”
What can local authorities do to protect the youth? How can they contribute to tackling future generations’ challenges?
“The most important thing that cities can do – and many of them are already doing so – is recognising that young people are not a homogeneous group. First of all, youth covers several age groups. Some definitions of youth go from 15 until under 35 years old. So needs vary significantly and ‘younger’ youth tend to be more vulnerable.
But the word youth also encompasses different groups of people, so it’s imperative to understand that just because you’re young, it doesn’t mean that you share the same needs as other groups.
For example, young people with disabilities, young people who come from minorities, young people who have a refugee/migrant status, young people who are LGBTQ+… so there’s many different types of young people and all these different groups have different needs. We have to be very conscious that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to youth.”
Can the European youth goals be addressed from a local point of view?
“Their goals are really linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the European Pillars of Social Rights. They’re not fundamentally different from plans shared by the rest of the population. But again, it’s about focusing on young people’s specific needs, recognising that they are a group that faces particular challenges in our society at this moment.
It’s also essential to engage with young people directly. Nobody who can tell you their needs better than young people themselves. One way to do this is to engage with youth organisations. National youth councils, for instance, are already very active in shaping youth policies in their countries.”
How can cities engage with youth organisations?
“I think there’s a lot of great youth organisations out there. Bear in mind that these associations are already well-established at the local level, so they’re good at understanding different groups and, in general, what young people are dealing with.
Sports clubs, the scouts, various climate-related movements, national youth councils with local branches in the capital and other cities —they’re all an excellent starting point for municipalities that want to engage more with young people and work on policies that most influence their lives.”
Eurocities aims to increase the involvement of young people in all our events in 2022, especially in our Social Affairs Forum. The network has a dedicated working group for children and young people where city authorities meet to discuss and learn how to improve their work with young people, to foster their participation, well-being and inclusion in our cities and society at large.
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