Cuts now, jobs later - Europe is abandoning a generation

At last, politicians are talking about youth unemployment, but their efforts don't go far enough.

Can Europe afford to ignore the needs of its younger generation? Youth disillusionment and unemployment are notable features of this economic era. In some EU youth unemployment is over thirty per cent. What are national politicians and supranational bodies doing about this? Recently we have heard a few weak promises about future policies. Yet austerity measures continue to reduce state spending and therefore employment and growth.

On 14 June, labour and finance ministers from Germany, Spain, France, and Italy met in Rome for a meeting titled "Jobs for Youth: Building Opportunities, Opening Paths". The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, praised the conference for gathering the ministers in charge of state finances and budgets alongside their colleagues responsible for employment. Economic growth and job opportunities should be created through inter-governmental (and international) cooperation.

This shouldn't be any kind of political novelty, yet Letta suggested that "this is a distinctive day", and "a pride for us that Rome is the European capital city against youth unemployment". (Indeed, Rome is unfortunately the capital city of many actual young job seekers.)

The policy behind this "Jobs for Youth" plan is to promote small and medium businesses, in part through the European Investment Bank. Though it may have some effect in the long run, little was said on how to help people now. In fact, Italy's finance minister Fabrizio Saccomanni made clear there would be no turning away from austerity when he said: "the consolidation of states' finances is a prerequisite for policies against unemployment". The EU approach is that austerity and growth can be part of the same policy.

How this would contribute to the well-being of a fearful (and feared) European youth is not clear. The voices of young Europeans remain unheard. Unsurprisingly, some young people will vote for extremist and anti-establishment forces, and even reject the ideal of a European Union. One should wonder if "people" really are at the centre of the European elites' outlook.

The German prime minister, Angela Merkel, recently told the BBC that "mobility" is key, however unfair it might seem. Young Europeans should move where the jobs are. But how many European countries have flourishing job markets and high demand for labour? And which sectors of the economy? What should be done to help the "jobless" areas that will be deprived of a young and skilled workforce? Merkel's advice also misses the fact that migration for employment already takes place.

Increased migration and support for small businesses won't solve the problem alone. The young people of Europe need more than that to realise their dream of a better society, and to feel part of the EU project. For that, a range of public spending is needed, but instead many countries are reducing their funding of social security and education. A poor, young and angry labour force is a problem for any economic system, and it's hardly a route to prosperity for the European continent.

Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London

On your Fahrrad: The German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Getty.)

Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.