Youth Policies towards Inequalities in European Countries

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United Kingdom

The situation of young people in UK and (innovative) policy answers

2. How do existing policies address these challenges?

Understandings of disadvantage: Policy tends to focus on certain dimensions of disadvantage and discard others, as policies tend to be focused on particular target groups. While understandings of disadvantage in the labour market have broadened as a result of the economic downturn, policy measures could take a more nuanced view of disadvantage. Disadvantage is currently very much measured and understood in terms of objective factors and the Informational Basis of Judgement of Justice does not seem to take into account of subjective factors, e.g. the ability to project oneself in the future, the capacity to aspire, etc. Blunt measures of disadvantage may also overlook those facing intersecting inequalities and barriers.

Tackling youth unemployment: Understandings of disadvantage in employment policy focus on: individual attributes and deficits, employability, and participation in any employment; rather than participation in ‘quality’ employment and wider issues such as wellbeing and satisfaction with life and the value attached to job outcomes. Policy does acknowledge the importance of ‘meaningful’ work. But how this is defined, and by whom, is not clear.

Participative processes: Engagement and co-productive activity is an important part of the asset based approach that has increasingly informed the development of Scottish Government policy. This research has identified national level mechanisms, platforms and champions that have been developed to increase the engagement and participation of young people in government policy making. There are also mechanisms built into programmes for feedback and evaluation, and some flexibility in programmes towards the needs of young people, although the extent to which service users can negotiate the content of a programme is limited. As such, generally the way in which young people can realise their capability for voice in the development and delivery of government policy is through formal channels. However, the findings from the research have highlighted reservations amongst key stakeholders as to whether the views of young people influence the overall direction of policy, and whether the views of those most disadvantaged are always heard because of barriers in the way that voices are sought. Questions can be raised about how inclusive are these processes, and do they privilege certain voices. In addition do these mechanisms, platforms and champions actually effect any change in the direction of policy.

Social innovation in policy making: This term ‘social innovation’ is not a term that many key stakeholders who participated in the research engaged with, and they were unsure of what it meant. Some policy examples were given, as well as funding streams that seek to encourage innovation. These examples of social innovation cited by participants have the common thread of being concerned with empowering service users. However the participants generally felt that there was not a systemic innovative approach in government. In the main, social innovation was seen to occur at the local level, with the presence of innovative activity in the third sector cited.

3. How to increase capability-friendly policies in Scotland?

The understandings of disadvantage and the policies and programmes used to address youth unemployment focus on the individual job seeker’s attributes and deficits, employability, and participation in any employment and wider issues such as wellbeing and satisfaction with life and the value attached to job outcomes. If employment policy is to take a Capability Approach, it should promote an individual’s freedom to choose the work they have reason to value, and participants in employment activation programmes should have a voice e.g. regarding the contents of a programme1.

With regard to young people’s capability for voice, consideration needs to be given to how to include the voices of the seldom heard young people. It also needs to be recognised that participating or being engaged does not necessarily mean that young people’s voices are being clearly heard. Young people need to feel able to express themselves and policy makers need to be receptive to their voices and opinions; give clear justifications for policies and practices; and feedback on comments. The role of alternative modes of expression could also be explored, as well as ways in which public authorities and other organisations could embed service user participation within their processes and structures. Questions need to be asked about the effectiveness of current participative processes, in order to understand young people’s capability for voice: How inclusive are these processes, and do they privilege certain voices? Do they allow, and give weight and significance to, alternative voices and modes of expression? Under what conditions does participation take place? Are decisions really made within such participative processes?

While generally it was felt that there was a lack of a systemic innovative approach in government, some examples were given. These examples of social innovation cited by participants have the common thread of being concerned with empowering service users. As such, social innovation appears to be a mechanism through which young people’s engagement and capability for voice could be developed. Bonvin (2013)2 in the introduction to the WP2 conceptual report argues to think about social innovation as something that “effectively contributes to the enhancement of the capabilities of disadvantaged young people”.

1 Bonvin, J.M. and Farvaque, N. (2007) ‘A capability approach to individualised and tailor-made activation’, in R. Van Berkel, R. and R. Valkenburg (eds.) Making it personal: individualisation activation services in the EU. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 45-65 ■ Bonvin, J.M. and Orton, M. (2009) ‘Activation policies and rganisational innovation: the added value of the capability approach’. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 29(11), pp. 565–574 ■ Lindsay, C., and McQuaid, R.W. (2010) ‘The Capability Approach - a Framework for Labour Market Information on Young Adults’, in, Larsen, C.W., Kipper, J. and Schmid, A. (eds.) Regional Monitoring Approaches for the Reduction and the Prevention of Youth Unemployment in Europe. Muenchen: Rainer Hampp Verlag, pp. 152-159 ■ Orton, M. (2011) ‘Flourishing lives: the capabilities approach as a framework for new thinking about employment, work and welfare in the 21st century’. Work, Employment and Society, 25(2), pp. 352-360.
2 Bonvin, J.M. (2013) ‘General introduction’, in, Inequality, Disadvantage, Social Innovation and Participation. SocIEtY, Deliverable 2.2: Final Conceptual Report

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