I actually feel a bit old writing this piece. But making social protection work for the youth is a very interesting and highly relevant topic that we must address when we talk about expanding social protection.
With the changing demographic landscape in Asia and the Pacific, the regional youth population is growing. What we officially call the youth includes young women and men between the ages of 15 and 24, estimated to be over 700 million and accounting for 60% of the world’s youth. This age group, though, in some countries has been extended to those up to 30 years old.
Young people in Asia face challenges in their aspirations to become more productive members of society. In some developing economies, a large number of young women and men are unemployed and/or employed in the informal sector. Young women and men in poor households often are deprived of access to resources to complete their education and find decent jobs. When disasters hit, they are also affected by setbacks including disruption in income-generating activities, and are increasingly exposed to illness. Young mothers in poor households also face the same challenges as older mothers in child-rearing and securing basic services for their children.
So how can social protection work for the youth? Which social protection programs can be targeted for the youth?
When we asked some young people why they think social protection is important, they mentioned it can help improve access to jobs and services as well as quality of life. Some linked social protection’s importance to income security for poverty reduction, reducing exposure to risks, increased access to education, and health and increased productivity. In essence, all these answers are correctly linked to social protection. The three major categories of social protection—social assistance, social insurance and labor market programs—are all important for the youth.
First, social assistance—particularly programs that provide stipends or allowances and scholarships for secondary and tertiary students—help increase the youth’s access to education services. Health assistance targeted to poor families also benefit youth household members. Victims of disasters, including youth, benefit from food- or cash-for-work programs.
Second, social insurance—such as workers insurance, health insurance, and social security systems to provide savings and pensions in old age—reduces the youth’s exposure to life risks and helps protect them from falling into debt and poverty in the event of illness, and/or accidents.
Third, labor market programs—including skills development and jobs matching programs are targeted for unemployed youth and young job seekers—help increase young peoples’ job readiness and open opportunities of getting decent employment. Big programs targeting the youth are already being implemented in Bangladesh and the Philippines.
As the future movers and shakers of our nations, it is very important that we include youth as beneficiaries when we design social protection investments. However, what we have so far is not enough. Governments and the private sector alike need to invest more in providing social protection for the youth, particularly to increase youth’s access to health and education and decent jobs.
For social protection to become truly inclusive, social protection must meet the needs of younger women and men. Have any ideas? Share with us your thoughts by leaving a comment below.