Contemporary issues in youth policy

From a youth perspective, social inclusion is the process of individual’s self-realisation within a society, acceptance and recognition of one’s potential by social institutions, integration (through study, employment, volunteer work or other forms of participation) in the web of social relations in a community. In present-day European societies, the concept is relevant to all young people as youth is the life stage when young people make the transition from family dependence to autonomy within the larger society under rapidly evolving circumstances. It has a particular meaning to those young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and live in precarious conditions. For them, social inclusion involves breaking various barriers in order to acquire their social rights as full members of society.

According to Eurostat, the rate of young people aged 16-29 years at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU was 28%, or 21.8 million young people, with women at slightly higher risk than men. For statistical purposes, social exclusion is based on three indicators: the at-risk-of-poverty rate, the severe material deprivation rate and the share of households with very low work intensity. People at risk of poverty or social exclusion are defined as people who are in at least one (but possibly two or all three) of these situations.

Social inclusion faces various challenges:

  • The process has many stages forming a continuum from total isolation to active inclusion. Social exclusion is a state of isolation, rapture in the social bonds between the individual and society. The other pole is the empowerment of the individual by society for active participation in social life. Young people may enter the process at different points and move toward both poles – either marginalisation or achievement of autonomy and well-being.

  • Social inclusion is multi-dimensional and affects various life domains: economic, political, cultural, social. The integrating processes do not act independently of one another. The successful passage of young people through the educational system provides them with crucial resources such as knowledge, skills, and attitudes for their social inclusion in other life domains. Poverty allows social disadvantages to concentrate in the affected group who might slip towards social exclusion.

  • A complex array of factors such as gender, health, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation acts to enable or constrain social integration. Similarly youth social exclusion has both current and long-term consequences which make it a priority topic for youth policy in Europe. The socio-economic crisis from 2008 threatens to turn present day youth in some European societies into a lost generation if adequate actions are not taken to address the causes of social exclusion and empower youth agency for full citizenship.

The Council of Europe produced two recommendations directly relevant to the topic of inclusion the first focuses on access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights and the second covers young people’s access to rights and is accompanied by extensive guidance.

Recommended resources

Council of Europe: Recommendation CM/Rec (2016)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on young people's access to rights

Council of Europe: Recommendation CM/Rec(2015)3 on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights

Markovic et al: Finding a place in modern Europe and the accompanying consultation and knowledge gathering process

Siyka Kovacheva: Youth partnership policy sheet on social inclusion


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018 and
includes text taken from Kovacheva, S., 2014, EU-CoE youth partnership policy sheet on Social Inclusion

Young people’s views Young people’s views

Youth Goal #3 “Inclusive Societies”, calls for Europe to:

Enable and ensure the inclusion of all young people in society

The goal identifies that “young people in Europe are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Many do not have access to their social rights. Many continue to face multiple discrimination, experience prejudice and hate crimes. New migratory phenomena brought several social and inclusion challenges. Therefore, it is crucial to work towards the fulfillment of the rights of all young people in Europe, including the most marginalised and excluded”.