Laruffa, Francesco (2014). 'Social Policies Contrasting Young People's Vulnerability in Southern Europe. A Capability Approach Perspective.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

(Without references)

One of the major challenges to the Social Europe today is the vulnerable situation of young people in Southern Europe (focus on Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain). This goes beyond young people's exclusion and unfavorable inclusion in the labor market and involves many aspects of their lives such as health, access to housing, education, poverty, family formation and 'capacity to aspire'.

Furthermore, young's social question entails issues of both inter-generational and intra-generational justice. Concerning the first dimension, it seems that young people in Europe are – among other social groups – the 'outsiders' of a dualization process and the 'new social risk group'. The structural disadvantage of young people is particularly big in Southern European countries where not only they are badly off in the labor market but also the welfare state is especially ungenerous towards them. This in turn relates to the second dimension. Indeed, the family remains the most important source of welfare in these countries which implies that different social groups face different opportunities and constraints during the crucial transition to adulthood which will then shape their future life chances.


The capability approach (CA) seems the most appropriate framework to assess young people's vulnerability given that this multidimensional phenomenon directly affects young people's agency and freedom to implement their life project. In other words, young people in Southern Europe lack the capabilities to 'lead the lives they have reasons to value'.

From this perspective, the double objective of this research is (1) to use the CA as normative framework to design social policies contrasting young people's vulnerability and supporting their transition to adulthood and (2) to evaluate against this yardstick existing social policies.


In order to develop some possible guidelines to welfare reform in Southern Europe in a capability-enhancing way, the first step is to assess from a CA perspective the different theoretical frameworks, regimes of justification and the 'informational basis' of the main reform projects (e.g. neoliberal workfare, social investment, learnfare).

Special attention will be paid to the social investment strategy which has been adopted by the European Commission as a guideline to reform national welfare states and which represents a promising alternative to austerity. Indeed, the social investment has some potential in terms of capability-enhancement because of its stress on improving people's education and health, on gender equality and women's emancipation, on fighting against the intergenerational transmission of social disadvantage and child poverty, etc.. However, the fundamental problem of the social investment is its instrumental logic. In fact, its final aim is economic growth. The economic rationale of the social investment has important negative consequences such as the reduction of human beings to human capital, the instrumental conception of education and of children who are seen as 'workers-of-the-future', the lack of consideration of less productive people such as those with 'multiple problems and needs' and the assumption that work is  always and automatically source of human wellbeing and social inclusion, neglecting recognition to other important human activities beyond work such as care. Finally, this strategy has been developed in a technocratic way without involving in the formulation of the policies the people that will be affected by them. This means treating welfare state reform as a purely 'book-keeping' issue, neglecting its political and ethical relevance and the need for democratic deliberation on it.


Then, in a second step, the CA will be used to develop some general guidelines to welfare reform for the young in Southern Europe. In order to do that it will be proposed a list of capabilities (which will remain open to discussion) for the young people in Southern Europe. The purpose is avoiding a top-down and technocratic approach to the policy-formation process. The list should be developed considering the existent literature on the topic and through in-depth interviews with young people. The aim is double: understanding young people's needs and values and promoting their 'capability for voice'. Indeed, voice – as well as the conception of the life one has reason to value –  is not a given but need to be promoted.

In particular, I will focus on the following groups of young people: NEETs (who may lack the 'capacity to aspire' – among others), skilled unemployed or in precarious job (who lack the 'capability for work' despite their human capital thus showing the insufficiency of investing in skills without creating good job opportunities), disabled (who challenge the idea implicit in the concept of human capital that the only source of value of a person lies in her productive capacity), mothers with small children (who may lack the capability for the work/care balance).


The policy analysis of existing programs for the support of young people will focus on the regional level. There are many reasons for this. First, in recent time it is possible to observe an increase in importance of regions as political actors in the EU, especially in providing social services. The process of welfare state decentralization does not follow only a retrenchment logic but also the idea that local actors may be better-equipped in developing capacitating social policies to respond to the new social risks than the state. Furthermore, at regional level there is a lot of policy innovation because of the possibility to integrate different social policies and local economic development policies.

Second, the 'new regionalism' is linked to an increase in territorial inequalities which make important to look at the regional scale. In fact, differences among European countries can be largely explained by variations in the levels of regional inequalities within countries. In particular, Southern European countries are characterized by high levels of regional inequalities, so that they are an interest case to study in a regional perspective. Moreover, it seems that in explaining social vulnerability the 'place where people live matters more than social class' which confirms the existence of 'regional capabilities' that regional social and economic policies can address.

Finally, it is at local level that policy implementation takes place making possible an analysis based on 'real rights' and capabilities.