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The current governing document for Swedish youth policy is the government's bill 'With youth in focus – a policy for good living conditions, power and influence' (Med fokus på unga – en politik för goda levnadsvillkor, makt och inflytande). Key parts of the bill were decided by the Parliament in 2014.
The youth policy bill from 2014, 'With youth in focus – a policy for good living conditions, power and influence' consists of following main elements:
- an overview of the current needs of young people between 13 and 25 years of age
- new objective for all government decisions and actions concerning young people
- descriptions on the scope, implementation and monitoring of youth policy
- an action programme for the years 2014–2017
- a chapter on young people who lack secondary education
- an impact analysis of the proposals.
Current action programme for 2021-2024
In March 2021, a renewed action programme for 2021-2024 was presented in the Government Communication 2020/21:105. The action programme includes 100 government initiatives within the four priorities that the communication has defined. The priorities are young people's mental well-being, social and labour market inclusion of young people, meaningfull leisure activies for all young people and young people's participation in society.
Key political objectives
The national youth policy objective in Sweden is:
'All young people should have access to good living conditions, power to shape their own lives and influence over the development of the society'.
This goal concerns all government decisions and actions concerning youth. The Parliament has approved this objective and the scope – that youth policy should be cross-sectorial and address issues such as education, employment, private economy, housing, health, power, culture and leisure.
Youth perspective based on human rights
What more, according to the bill, all government decisions and actions that affect young people between 13 and 25 years of age ought to have a youth perspective. A youth perspective is based on the human rights and states that young people are to be seen and treated as a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds and different conditions. It also states that young people’s independency is to be supported and that all youth should have the possibility of influence and participation.
It is important to note that in Sweden municipalities have considerable autonomy on how youth policy is implemented. The national youth policy is compulsory for ministries and central government agencies, but only advisory at the local level.
The Government and the Ministry of Culture
The Government has the overall responsibility for the youth policy to be implemented and evaluated.
The Ministry of Culture is in charge of youth policy. The ministry is responsible for preparing the parts of the central government budget concerning youth policy.
The Division for Civil Society and National Minorities is placed under the Ministry of Culture. One of the tasks for the division is to coordinate and develop youth policy issues, including the cross-sectoral youth policy objectives and follow-up of youth policy. The division is also responsible for the Swedish Agency for youth and civil Society, MUCF).
The Swedish Agency for youth and civil society
The Swedish Agency for youth and civil society (Myndigheten för ungdoms- och civilsamhällesfrågor, MUCF) shall ensure that the objectives of youth policy are achieved by:
- presenting, gathering and disseminating knowledge,
- contributing to the coordination of government efforts concerning youth policy,
- cooperating with government authorities, municipalities, regions and civil society organisations, and
- distributing state grants to civil society organisations.
The Government has given the agency specific tasks concerning the implementation of youth policy:
- to contribute to the establishment of young people in working life and society, and
- to ensure that young people have meaningful and developing leisure activities.
Other government agencies
Various government agencies share the responsibility over the actions in the Youth policy action programme.
The Swedish youth policy has since 1950s evolved from mainly supporting youth organisations to take a holistic approach to young people's living conditions, power and influence.
- The first youth policy bill, 'Youth policy' (Ungdomspolitik) was submitted to the Parliament in 1994.
- The second youth policy bill, 'On youth issues –Youth Policy for democracy, justice, and confidence in the future' (På ungdomars villkor – Ungdomspolitik för demokrati, rättvisa och framtidstro) was submitted to the Parliament in 1999.
- The third youth policy bill 'Power to Decide – the Right to Welfare' (Makt att bestämma – rätt till välfärd) was presented to the Parliament in 2004.
- In addition to the third youth policy bill, the Government presented a strategy for youth policy in 2009.
- The fourth and current youth policy bill, 'Focus on young people – a policy for good living conditions, power and influence' (Med fokus på unga – en politik för goda levnadsvillkor, makt och inflytande) was presented to the Parliament in 2014.
- A renewed action programme for 2021-2024 (Ungdomspolitisk skrivelse Skr 2020/21:105) was presented in March 2021.
Changes in the youth policy content will be summarised below, starting with a description of the 2004 youth policy bill, continuing with comments on changes in the 2009 youth policy strategy and ending with comments on changes in the 2014 youth policy bill.
2004 'Power to decide - the Right to Welfare'
The most prominent feature of the year 2004 youth policy bill is that it stated that youth policies shall be integrated into the activities of all policy sectors relevant to young people's living conditions. According to the bill, the national youth policy should also aim at highlighting and reducing existing differences in young people's living conditions. The bill proposed two new overall objectives for the national youth policy:
- young people should have real access to welfare
- young people should have real access to power.
These two overarching objectives formed the basis for the actions and for the monitoring of young people's living conditions. The bill aimed at strengthening the coordination between policy areas so that the actions of those would better contribute to the objectives of the national youth policy.
The Government proposed five main areas for the coordination and for a more effective cross-sectoral monitoring of youth policy:
- learning and personal development
- health and vulnerability
- influence and representation
- culture and leisure.
The policies within these areas were building on each policy sector's own objectives, in order to integrate youth policy in other relevant policy areas. The bill thereby clarified the responsibility of each policy sector for the implementation and for the follow-up of the youth policy objectives, in the context of the sector's regular activities.
The bill also provided that the Government would annually in the budget prioritise one or more issues where the need for action is particularly important in order to improve young people's living conditions.
The bill even included the Government's ambitions for the development of youth policy in the municipalities and in international cooperation. Furthermore, the bill contained a government's proposal for an addition in the Education Act by introducing an explicit municipal responsibility to stay informed about the situation of young people aged 16–20 years who are not in education and have not completed secondary school or equivalent education.
The bill entered into force in 2005, by a parliament's decision.
2009 'A Strategy for Youth Policy'
According to the Government, the strategy should be seen as a part of the follow-up of the year 2004 youth policy bill. The strategy included slightly revised starting points for the youth policy. Besides that, strategic challenges identified as keys for achieving the youth policy overall objectives and a new action program for youth policy were presented. The overall objectives of the national youth policy remained almost intact. The word 'power' in the second objective (young people should have real access to power) was though substituted by 'influence':
- all young people should have real access to welfare
- all young people should have real access to influence.
The explanation for substituting 'power' with 'influence' was that power brings with it responsibilities, and that minors under 18 years may not have formal responsibilities in relation to power.
The five main areas in order to facilitate monitoring and analysis of young people's living conditions were also slightly revised into:
- education and learning
- work and livelihood
- health and vulnerability
- influence and representation
- culture and leisure
The 2009 strategy identified general challenges within three areas; the demographic trend, the on-going economic crisis and changing attitudes and values among youth.
The demographic trend challenge was that of the baby boomers, born around 1990s and their transition from school to work. At the time, Sweden was in the worst economic crisis since the early 1990s.
Value differences between younger and elder citizens was identified as a risk that might lead to a decrease in respect for representative democracy.
Besides these general challenges, the Government also identified the following:
- The Swedish school system. The key challenge was that students' results needed to be improved in both primary and secondary schools.
- A need for facilitating young people's transition from school to work.
- A need for promoting mental well-being, as especially girls and young women were suffering of mental health issuses in higher grade than before.
- A need for increasing youth participation, so that young people will gain equal opportunities with citizens of age for active participation in democratic processes.
- A need for creating better conditions for cultural and leisure activities by, with and for young people.
The Government presented subsequently a number of actions to meet the challenges described.
2014 'With youth in focus – a policy for good living conditions, power and influence'
The starting point for the 2014 youth policy bill was that the system for control and monitoring of the youth policy had in many ways worked well. But, according to a review by the Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret), the system had been criticized for failing to supply enough knowledge, and not adequately reaching out to local governments.
What more, studies had shown that young people's living conditions in many respects still remained problematic and, in some cases, had worsened since the previous bill was presented in 2004. For example, the proportion of young people suffering of mental health issues had not decreased during the period. School results still showed great challenges as pupils' results had continued to fall. Unemployment rates among young people still remained high. Young people were underrepresented in decision making bodies and were not granted the opportunity to influence locally in any significant way.
Therefore, according to the 2014 youth policy bill, there was a need for revisions. The monitoring system needed to be simplified and strengthened, in order to bring about a more long-term and strategic work. The revisions should also aim for raising the quality and efficiency of government actions, directed both at young people and at local authorities.
Against this background, the bill presented a proposal for a new overall youth policy objective and a revised system of governance, implementation and monitoring of youth policy. The bill also presented a youth policy action programme for the years 2014–2017. Finally, the bill presented proposals for actions in order to develop work with young people who neither work nor study.