Webinar "Age of inequality: Youth in times of COVID-19" calls for youth participation

On 30 June, the Diversity Europe Group held a webinar under the banner of the Conference on the Future of Europe on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health and employability of young people. The event, entitled Age of inequality: Youth in times of COVID-19, was opened by group president Séamus Boland. The president stressed that young people must be empowered to set the agenda and be involved in meaningful legislative processes and debates. Mr Boland said that grassroots youth organisations need to be effectively involved and help with funding and training on youth advocacy. Building alliances between organisations is crucial.

The moderator Katrīna Leitāne (Diversity Europe Group and National Youth Council of Latvia) agreed that the pandemic has hit young people particularly hard. If we want young people to be Europe's future, to drive our green and digital recovery, it is critical that we make sure they have the resources to do so.

In the keynote speeches, Pete Chatzimichail (European Youth Forum) said that policy makers at all levels must act now to tackle the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and avoid a 'pandemic scar' on young people. João Pedro Videira (National Youth Council of Portugal) stressed that the Youth Guarantee must be bolstered to make sure that young people have opportunities to explore their career options and get decent and stable jobs in the future.

Later on, Radost Zaharieva (European Public Health Alliance) said that despite evidence demonstrating that young people are exposed to intersectional forms of inequality that affect their physical and mental health, current policy responses in the youth sector are not receiving sufficient funding to mitigate the pandemic's impact. Neža Repanšek (Diversity Europe Group and Slovenian National Youth Council) said by watching a simple bean seedling grow, we observe the remarkable ability of plants to adapt to their environment. If they cannot grow, we don't change the seed: we change the environment. After COVID-19, we must enable young people to grow.

Katja Čič (International Youth Health Organization) said that the question of long-term effects on young people's mental health remains and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Helena Ripollés (Equipo Europa) said that many grassroots organisations are combating youth unemployment and calling for improvements in public mental health systems. To have a real impact, these organisations need to be genuinely involved in decision-making processes.

The debate was followed by a discussion with questions from the audience, concluding that all social actors, including young people, minorities and other vulnerable groups, should have the power to influence policy-making processes. This can only be achieved by mandatory consultation and with more funding.