Youth Policies towards Inequalities in European Countries


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

2. How do existing policies address these challenges?

In this Flemish approach of both poverty and social vulnerability, the role of government intervention and the welfare sector is to help to bridge the cultural gap with an increased effort on classical integration strategies on the domain of employment and education policies. Therefore, Flanders initiates empowering, participative and preventive policy strategies, especially towards people in socially vulnerable situations, to enhance their participation in educational systems and the labour market. In Belgian anti-poverty politics, this empowering dimension is understood as the stimulation of an individual process of personal growth and adaptation of poor and socially excluded (young) people (Roets et al., 2012) and translated into a range of remediation strategies and pedagogical practices such as personal advice, training, job brokerage, budget guidance, voluntary work, casemanagement, educational support. However, despite this focus on support and all these efforts, the most vulnerable (young) people are often not reached by such initiatives, which are largely based on the image of the ideal client that participates maximally in the services provided. As citizens, (young) people in socially vulnerable situations, have the right to be offered support (and care), but they do not always fit the support models that make an appeal to the service user’s responsibility. The reference to (em)power(ing)-oriented approaches runs the risk of increasing the vulnerability of people in socially vulnerable situations, as it has been widely observed that socially vulnerable people (poor, minority, marginal, disabled and chronically ill people) might already bear heavy caring responsibilities, but that they also have the fewest social resources and might not be the best risk managers.

However, we see a dual policy strategy emerging: on the one hand empowering support is provided to enhance active participation in educational systems and the labour market, on the other hand, the use of repressive interventions is increasing and the conditionality of rights is also explicitly integrated in the Flemish anti-poverty policy plan (2010-2014), that states that full participation to society is necessary to benefit from all fundamental social rights. As such, we perceive a shift from a welfare state towards a responsibilisation state.

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

Inspired by a Capability Approach, we raise the question how these empowering, participative and preventive policy strategies relate to the experiences and concerns of the youngsters they address. To which extent are these policies and practices informed by the perspective of the youngsters? Who is reached by the participative initiatives and who stays out the picture? How are the social diversity and contradictions brought in? Which democracy model do these practices reflect? Do these participative platforms create the space to speak, or also to be heard? We want to suggest that good practices and social innovation should go beyond an organizational top down perspective, and should by inspired by a participative process with youngsters that enables to take their perspective and the diversity of society serious in the democratic dialogue. As such, capability-friendly policies require a careful interpretation and a comprehensive embracing of the perspective of the youngsters and ask to include their perspective in the wider public debate, what is rather absent at the level of policy making at this point.

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