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Employment

Young people ‘in dire need of support’ in Covid recovery, warn MPs

The pandemic left young people “isolated, anxious and fearful of the future”, according to the the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs

Ministers must help young people out of rent arrears and put financial education on the curriculum to ease the “disproportionate” impact of Covid-19 on their wellbeing, a group of MPs has said.

Government support so far is “not enough” to mitigate their emotional, financial and employment worries as the country emerges from lockdown, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Youth Affairs said after gathering evidence from young people and expert organisations.

“Young people as a generation have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” said Lloyd Russell-Moyle, chair of the APPG and Labour Co-op MP for Kemptown, who said the economic and social impact of the pandemic on young people needs “urgent investigation”.

“What we have found is that young people are in dire need of support at almost every juncture,” he added. “We note the government’s goodwill in providing some support, but it is not enough. We believe that our recommendations will work to significantly reduce the hardships faced by so many as they struggle to make ends meet and decide what the next step should be.”

The MPs recommended the £20-per-week universal credit increase should be maintained until the economy fully recovers and for targeted support to lift young people out of debt. But the APPG warned the potential for a “sluggish” job market after lockdown could easily mean people will be forced to rely on the benefit well beyond the pandemic. 

Throughout the investigation, the politicians heard testimonies of young people struggling to make ends meet, and warned the government against assuming all employers had been topping up the pay packets of furloughed workers by 20 per cent to ensure they were paid full wages.

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Young people have been hit especially hard by this, they said, due to the high number of them already working low-paid, hourly waged and precarious jobs which rendered their pay “considerably reduced below realistic costs of living” during the Covid-19 crisis.

Someone aged 20 working full time on £6.45 an hour the national minimum wage would take home £833 each month if their employer was not topping up their wages by 20 per cent, according to the report, compared to £1,016 for those receiving full pay from the government and their employer.

Youth unemployment has increased by 13 per cent since 2019, the APPG report warned, meaning 109,000 more 16 to 25-year-olds are struggling for work.

Support measures such as the furlough scheme have been “welcome and for the most part effective”, the report said, but left people in precarious, seasonal and newly self-employed work to fall through the gaps.

Ending such measures too soon would hit young people’s prospects particularly hard, it added, and would “leave them stranded”. The furlough scheme is set to end in September.

“Covid-19 has inflicted serious damage on young people,” said Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England and Wales.

“Not only has it left them isolated, anxious and fearful of the future, it has created and exacerbated financial hardships and crushed employment opportunities. Young people cannot and will not be left to deal with this damage alone.

Even young tenants given rent holidays by landlords risked being pushed into poverty, they added, when they have to pay backdated rent. The number of young people turning to homelessness services increased by 60 per cent in lockdown, YMCA Downslink said.

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Young people also highlighted a lack of financial education in schools, according to the report, with 83 per cent of them telling the London Institute of Banking and Finance they were not getting the lessons on pensions, credit cards and mortgages they felt they needed.

The pressure put on young people by unemployment, financial hardship and isolation is driving a youth mental health crisis, charity Young Minds warned MPs, with most young people reporting loneliness, the loss of routine, worrying about finding a job and fear for the future were impacting their wellbeing. The job and cash prospects of young people were “inexorably interlinked” with their mental health, the MPs concluded.

“Wrap-around support is needed in order to restore young people’s confidence and ultimately strengthen their educational and employment potential,” Hatton added. 

“Investment in youth services is vital to alleviate the isolation, anxiety and family strain plaguing so many young people, while investment in educational experience and employment opportunities will ensure that young people enter the working world prepared to carve out a successful economic future.”

The government must maintain schemes to help young people into employment such as Kickstart and apprenticeship programmes until at least the Autumn Budget, the MPs said, as well as offering financial incentives to keep young workers employed in the long-term.  

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