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Youth unemployment lingers at 18% amid cuts to programmes and education

In 2013 Finland's government launched a "youth guarantee" to tackle joblessness among young people aged 15 to 24. The programme is still running, but on a small fraction of its original funding.

Isabella Taipale
Isabella Taipale Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle

The youth guarantee unveiled by Jyrki Katainen's cabinet in 2013 was touted as a primary goal of the Finnish government to prevent young people's social exclusion. The programme initially received 60 million euros in funding, and a supplementary young adults' skills programme raised this amount to 112 million euros in 2014-2016.

The principle of the youth guarantee was that people under the age of 25, as well as recent graduates under 30, would be guaranteed employment, a place to study, on-the-job training or rehabilitation within three months of becoming unemployed. Back then the unemployment rate among young people aged 15 to 24 was 19.8 percent.

The latest March 2018 figures from Statistics Finland show that the trend of the unemployment rate among young people has barely improved in the last five years, as it now stands at 18.6 percent. This percentage is considerably higher than the 8.4 percent unemployment trend for the entire population that has grabbed headlines recently for its steady improvement.

Finland's youth unemployment also exceeds the Euro area average, which was 17.7 percent as of January 2018.

The youth guarantee is still in effect, in principle, but funding for the programme has been whittled down to a fraction of its former glory. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government has earmarked just 10 million for the "youth guarantee transitioning to a social guarantee" over the entire four-year term of his cabinet.

"Young people need more support"

Twenty-five-year-old Helsinki resident Isabella Taipale has been unemployed ever since she finished her University of Applied Sciences studies in 2016. She says she has struggled to make ends meet and has wrestled with the state benefit administrator Kela to receive social assistance. She has taken part in on-the-job training at Helsinki's Deaconess Institute and is now studying towards an entrance exam there. She says she has received help, but many of her peers haven't been as fortunate.

"Soon we'll start hearing all of the eloquent election speeches about how there will be no cuts to education and so on. In the end, the majority of young people like me that don't study or work will be subject to activation model cuts. Young people in Finland need more support and services to find jobs," she says.

Jaana Lähteenmaa, adjunct professor of youth research at Tampere University, says that the youth guarantee was conceived to do just that, but its practical implementation has been problematic.

"The youth guarantee was a good idea, but it hasn't been able to live up to its promise to deliver a viable option within three months. During the economic slump, the roads into the labour markets became even more blocked and there was no way the TE employment offices could possibly serve all of the young people accordingly," she says.

Gov't parties would prefer broader "social guarantee"

The youth guarantee was back in the news last week when Finland's opposition parties led an interpellation in the Finnish Parliament to discuss the status of under-30s in Finland.

The Greens and Social Democrats both called for the youth guarantee programme to be extended, but the Blue Reform party, which holds the purse strings for the programme, says it would prefer to "move the guarantee in a more communal direction".

"I would like to see one permanent forum with more assertive and straightforward goals. There are all manner of projects stewarded by different organisations that focus on children and young people at the moment. They should be synthesized into one," says Blue Reform MP Tiina Elovaara, the current chair of the youth guarantee advisory board.

The long shadow of cuts to education

Since coming to power in 2015, Finland's current centre-right government has gone back on its pre-election vows to not touch education funding, cutting basic funding to the country’s universities by approximately 500 million euros.

Isabella Taipale says the cuts have been made apparent in many young people's lives.

"There should be more study places available. It would redeem the situation for many young people, if we could just get a hold on something," she says.

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