Type of event: online webinar for external participants and EESC's members
Number of participants: 79
Demographic background: 45/79 women, 20-30 years' average age.
On 30 June 2021, the youth webinar explored the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health and employability of young people. Young people have been one of the most affected groups by the economic and social crisis from the pandemic of COVID-19. During the last year, young people from all over the European Union have lost their jobs or have seen their living and working conditions worsen, they have seen their teaching shift between on/offline models, their social interactions restricted, and their capacity to work/travel between regions disrupted. Furthermore, the sanitary measures broke-down their social, cultural, and economic lives and expectations, which together with the institutional pressure contributed to a dramatic rise in disclosures of mental health issues prior to the COVID-19. As an official event of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the outcomes of this webinar will feed into the conference, EESCs Opinions and other EESC activities.
During the keynote speeches, the speakers agreed that the pandemic has hit young people particularly hard. They stressed that young people must be empowered to set the agenda and be involved in meaningful legislative processes and consultation processes. All social actors, including youth organisations, young activists and interest groups, young people with disabilities, rural youth, marginalized, minorities and other vulnerable groups, should have the ability to influence policy-making processes. This can only be achieved by mandatory youth consultation and with consistent and adequate funding to organisations. The first speaker 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, because almost 12% stopped working either due to job loss or working hours reduced to zero. As nearly 2/3 of young people may be affected by mental health and wellbeing issues, this may magnify pre-existing inequalities. This period of poor mental health and access to jobs may have lasting effects on young people's well-being far beyond the lockdown if we continue with less than 1% of all national economic policy measures across the EU targeting youth specifically.
Radost Zaharieva (European Public Health Alliance) explained 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. Poverty and youth social exclusion based on age, gender, ethnicity, social, administrative and legal status created greater exposure to precariousness, poor living conditions and lower access to social protection and essential health and preventive services, including mental health prevention. Recent studies have shown that lockdowns had increased the levels of stress and anxiety due to loss of jobs and income, and school closures have increased social isolation, loss of motivation and reduced participation in social life.
Neža Repanšek (Slovenian National Youth Council) urged changes, so that youth develop their skills in order to meet their needs, enable them to successfully integrate into the labour market, motivate them for lifelong learning and provide conditions for the solution of living and working conditions. 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. Speakers also mention the necessity to develop legislation to regulate teleworking and new rights for young people working and studying at the same time.
Katja Čič (International Youth Health Organization) recalled that the question of long-term effects on young people's mental health remains and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. It is essential for national governments to adopt comprehensive mental health strategies and cooperate closely with all relevant stakeholders, health workers, teacher, educators and youth. Helena Ripollés (Equipo Europa) stressed 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.
E. Main Recommendations
- Youth Employability and Participation:
- To protect young people's rights and address existing vulnerabilities from the long-term impact of this crisis, there must be effective policy measures aiming to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on society and economy, whilst meeting the needs of young people. Such measures must be based on inclusive youth participation in all stages of policy making.
- To prioritise quality job creation, ensure effective control over violations of labour law in all member states and strive to change legislation to provide social security for all.
- To provide financial assistance to precarious young workers, self-employed, and youngsters who have lost their jobs, livelihoods and suffer income losses. At least 7% of the Recovery and Resilience Funds resources should be allocated to prioritise youth policies, and focus on quality jobs, strengthening social protection systems, and supporting the youth sector. A reinforced Youth Guarantee must be implemented at the national level.
- To address the policy making with accurate research data, there must be an intersectional dimension in public policies and disaggregated data on youth and other vulnerable groups.
- To strengthen young people's democratic participation, autonomy and to create dialogue in youth spaces, ensure all young people access quality employment, social protection and income support. Prioritising investment in social, health and human rights protection, focusing on the most vulnerable groups, socially excluded and marginalised communities.
- To achieve a greener and more digital recovery in the European Union, it is fundamental that the Conference on the Future of Europe puts youth into focus and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) brings a comprehensive solution and the youth concerns be included in the priorities of the National Recovery Plans.
- To consult with them the measures aimed at youth and how to allocate more funds to policies for children and youth, an official structured dialogue should be established with youth organisations and National Youth Coordinators during the preparation and implementation of the National Recovery Plans.
- To provide targeted and accessible training initiatives and educational programmes (also non-formal education) that would help young people to get the education and skills they need for improving their economic and social situation. Young people from vulnerable and socially excluded groups, which have lower access to educational and training opportunities, require specific political attention.
- Youth Mental Health:
- To guarantee a fair and equal recovery between women and men in their employment and educational prospects, gender sensitive mental health prevention measures and training has to be prioritised in policy responses aiming to mitigate the pandemic’s public health and socio-economic consequences
- To invest in mental health literacy and provide training and resources to professionals working with youth, it is necessary to support the right to disconnect among youngsters, learners and educators.
- To adapt education systems, it is important to provide more counselling services and career guidance through public services or peer-to-peer counselling, but also through schools, universities and training centres in order to support young people through the transition from education to employment.
- To ensure access to information and quality youth-focused mental health services, it is important to recognise the link between mental health and well-being with other socio-economic factors, such as unemployment, housing insecurity, and social vulnerabilities.
- To commit and provide access to quality formal and informal youth-focused mental health services in every educational institution, youth centres, job centre, cultural centres and other non-medical service points. To this end more funding needs to be engaged in national budgets.
 OECD: "Supporting young people’s mental health through the COVID-19 crisis" 2021 https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/supporting-young-people-s-mental-health-through-the-covid-19-crisis-84e143e5/#figure-d1e314
 Moxon, D., Bacalso, C, and Șerban, A (2021), Beyond the pandemic: The impact of COVID-19 on young people in Europe (YFJ). https://www.youthforum.org/sites/default/files/publication-pdfs/European%20Youth%20Forum%20Report%20v1.2.pdf