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Youth Beyond a Ministry

Javier Carbonell Castañer, Kilian Wirthwein Vega, Andrea Henry

6 mins - 4 de Diciembre de 2023, 16:45

Among the novelties of the new government is the creation of a Ministry of Youth and Childhood and the creation of a legislative commission for Youth and Childhood in Congress. These ministries would formalise Pedro Sánchez’s announcement to “prioritise policies dedicated to young people”. This is very good news, but it is not enough. The creation of a ministry dedicated exclusively to youth can be a very important step towards helping to solve the structural problems facing young people; however, they also carry the great risk of conceiving youth policies as a silo, as just another public policy issue. However, this is not the case. Youth problems are common to all areas of public policy and a cross-cutting policy is needed to deal with them.

Young people are affected, among others, by three major issues: housing, the labour market, and mental health – none of which can be understood separately. According to the Emancipation Observatory of the Spanish Youth Council, by 2022 only 15.9% of the Spanish youth population had managed to become financially independent from their parents, and the average age of emancipation was 30.3 years. In other words, young people in Spain are emancipated when they are no longer young. It is not possible to solve the housing problem without talking about redistribution of wealth, since housing is the main asset of Spanish households and, according to the Spain 2050 Report, in recent decades, the average wealth of people aged 65 has more than doubled compared to the average wealth of people aged 35. At present, 65-year-olds have five times more wealth than 35-year-olds, which means that housing policy cannot be understood separately from fiscal policy.

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The second hurdle is that of the labour market. Not only are young Spaniards the leaders in youth unemployment in the EU, but getting a job is no longer a guarantee of stability. In our country, 23.4% of young workers are poor, which means that working does not allow them to rise above the poverty line. The creation of decent young jobs cannot be understood apart from the policies of digitalisation, energy transition, and, above all, the improvement of opportunities in the ‘Empty Spain’.

The third injury, directly related to the two previous ones, is mental health, which affects young people, causing this group to suffer from anxiety, stress, or depression to a greater extent than the rest of the population. For young people, suicide has become the leading cause of death, ahead of traffic accidents. Although the lack of psychologists and health professionals in our country is well known, these professionals can only intervene from a psychological approach, but not from an approach that fights against the social causes of this increase in mental health problems. The uncertainty caused by economic precariousness, the impossibility of becoming independent and making one’s own decisions, the concatenation of crises during training periods and the lack of decent job prospects are, to a large extent, the causes of the increase in mental health problems over the last decade in our country.

It is clear that these causes cannot be solved by the Ministry of Youth and Childhood alone. These are major cross-cutting social problems that need cross-cutting solutions. That is why Sira Rego’s ministry is as much a ministry for young people as the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Housing, or the Ministry of Health, among others.

This makes it necessary to treat youth policies not as an issue, but as a perspective. It is crucial to apply a youth perspective to all government policies at different levels. In the same way that gender equality is not limited to a single aspect or ministry but is a perspective to be applied at all levels of government, the youth perspective asks how all policies to be adopted affect young people. In the report “Vulnerable Youth and Democracy in Spain”, carried out for the European Foundation for Progressive Studies, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Madrid and the Felipe González Foundation, we explain that the implementation of this perspective can only be achieved in two ways.

The first is to include young people in decision-making. Applying a youth perspective requires moving away from the decorative level and creating mechanisms for young people’s voices to be heard and to have effective institutional representation. Currently, it is common to consult young people only at the end of the legislative process, but not in the development and design of the legislative process. There are a variety of ways to include these young voices, but the simplest would be to regularly consult the Spanish Youth Council, which is the body whose purpose is to serve as a channel for meeting, dialogue, participation, and advice on public policies in the field of youth and to defend the interests of young people as a whole. Therefore, they should be asked for a mandatory report when drafting regulatory projects that affect young people.

The second is through the enactment of a youth law that formalises the application of the “Youth Test” designed by the European Youth Forum to assess the implementation and impact of public policies on young people. This law could contain, at the very least, a provision that would make the drafting of an impact report on youth in the General State Budgets mandatory, in a similar way to what is already done for children or gender. In this way, the distribution of state funding would always take into account the situation of young people.

In short, the creation of the Ministry of Youth and Children is an opportunity for young people. We believe that the best way to use this opportunity is to institutionalise the youth perspective in all areas of government action, so that an effective response can be given to the problems of Spanish youth. We cannot afford to miss this new opportunity to provide answers to young people. 
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