Employment

'It’s laughable to think young people always have support networks'

The Covid-19 crisis has hit young people hard, with pandemic-driven job losses affecting them most and even more set to be put at risk as the eviction ban lifts. One young Londoner spoke to The Big Issue about how he was just getting by before lockdown pushed him further into poverty – and what he wants to see from the upcoming Spending Review

Kyle*, 23, has been receiving support from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint through the Covid-19 crisis. After work dried up in his security role for football stadiums – with shifts already tough to come by – he was left trying to make ends meet off a small amount of Universal Credit, which he first applied for in 2018. But unexpectedly receiving furlough pay meant his UC payments were drastically cut and he was forced to cut back further on essentials.  

I wasn’t doing too well before the pandemic. Work was every so often – I’d get a shift once every other week which can be quite stressful when you’re struggling to find other work. I’ve never been able to find a job that can give me guaranteed shifts, I’ve been stuck on zero-hour contracts all my life.

I was okay at the start of lockdown, I was able to pick up a few shifts through my company’s new contract. But there was so much travelling – it was extremely expensive and tiring, a two hour journey each way with a nine-hour shift in between. After three shifts I realised I couldn’t afford to keep on working. Partly because of the impact on my Universal Credit payments and because my mum is classed as vulnerable. It meant I had to choose between putting her at risk or bringing in money to be able to support myself. Because the work wasn’t guaranteed anyway, I went with the former.

I was furloughed for two months. I didn’t get a say in the matter, I just started receiving the payments – which meant having to accept that my next Universal Credit payment would be £225 less than normal. It just meant more stress, which is constant. No matter what I try to do to dig myself out of this hole, I end up digging myself deeper and my mental health has suffered.

Having no access to the internet outside of my phone is a big problem I’m facing. Because there are no libraries open near me, I can’t access a computer and so there’s no way for me to upload a CV from the USB drive I keep it on.

I have to really cut back on food to make ends meet day to day and my electricity bill is a serious source of worry. I worry about how much I’m using because I’m in the house all the time and have nothing else to do. I can play my Xbox, that’s what I’ve got to pass the time and enjoy myself. I can watch films on my phone but then I constantly have to charge it which still uses electricity.

I know I use more electricity than the company currently has me paying every month so I’m worried about that debt building up, especially heading into the winter months, while I’m still worried about affording food.

It’s laughable that people think of young people as always having family support networks to fall back on. I looked after my dad from the age of 12 to 17 before he died and still have no one to rely on but myself.

We need affordable housing to be a priority from the Government. I know people who have most of their housing paid, but they have to use the rest of their benefits to cover the remainder of their rent.

And Universal Credit needs an overhaul. The five-week wait needs to go and the rate for under-25s has to be brought up to match up with what older people get. I’m on a lower benefit but I pay the same prices as them. Everything is going up in cost, why isn’t my money?

Taking 63p per pound earned through work out of Universal Credit is a policy that absolutely needs to change. They could lower it, maybe to 40 per cent which is a bit more reasonable, or go back to allowing 16 hours of work a week. If not it means we’re punished for working.

Centrepoint helped me out with a bursary at the start of the pandemic and I’m living in one of their properties. They’ve helped me out as much as they can. But the help that anyone can give me can only go so far given the circumstances. There just isn’t enough money to go around and it is such a struggle to get by.

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, said the charity has seen a steep rise in the number of young people facing unemployment.

He told The Big Issue: “Under 25s have seen a temporary increase in the amount of Universal Credit they can claim to help them cope with the pandemic but this extra money is time limited, after which young people will return to a benefits rate which is almost 20% lower than for over 25s.

“To avoid the real risk of more young people becoming homeless the government must retain this year’s extra funding for Universal Credit, and in the longer term should show their commitment to young people living without family support by equalizing benefit rates with those of over-25s.”

The Big Issue is committed to helping protect jobs and keep people in their homes, working alongside Ride Out Recession Alliance partners Centrepoint, Shelter, Nationwide Foundation, Unilever and many more. We need your ideas too. Tell us your experiences, ideas and plans at rora@bigissue.com.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Millions of Brits think their jobs are 'meaningless.' Could a four-day working work week fix that?
Four-day working week

Millions of Brits think their jobs are 'meaningless.' Could a four-day working work week fix that?

'What are we going to do?': Misery for commuters as train strikes continue
Train strikes

'What are we going to do?': Misery for commuters as train strikes continue

British farmers demand universal basic income to prevent bankruptcy in wake of Brexit
Farmer mental health
Universal Basic Income

British farmers demand universal basic income to prevent bankruptcy in wake of Brexit

Rolling driver walkouts and crippling shut downs: Will the Tube and train strikes ever end?
Rail strikes

Rolling driver walkouts and crippling shut downs: Will the Tube and train strikes ever end?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know