Social Justice

Go without Netflix and avocado toast? Young people say they can't afford essentials let alone luxuries

"I can’t speak for all young people but, for me, it’s definitely about asking what essentials I can afford."

Young people/ Cost of living crisis/ Image of Sophie and Luyanda

Young people like Sophie and Luyanda face worries about their future amid the cost of living crisis. Image: supplied

Young people get a lot of flack. Earlier this year Kirstie Allsop wrote a, let’s say controversial, article claiming young people could afford to get on the property ladder if they gave up luxuries like Netflix, their gym membership and avocado toast. 

And the conversation isn’t going away. Prue Leith wrote in the Spectator last week: “Generation Z only want to do jobs that will protect their mental health, i.e. ones that aren’t too much like hard work.” We get it: young people should buck up their act and stop complaining, right?

The reality is that life is bleak for many young people. More than four fifths (82 per cent) of low-income adults aged 18 to 24 have gone without essentials this year, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

Deloitte revealed half of UK Gen Zs and millennials use all their monthly income on living costs, while two in five have taken on a side hustle to make ends meet. It’s gone beyond giving up the luxuries now: young people are having to choose between food, bills and rent. 

Sabrina, a 27-year-old from Worcestershire, said: “When I got my first big electricity bill in April, that’s when it hit me that we really are struggling. I’ve been filled with a sense of dread and I don’t feel very optimistic about my future right now.”

Sabrina has already cancelled Netflix and Amazon Prime. Half a million people canned their video streaming services in the second quarter of 2022, according to market research firm Kantar. Young people were the most likely age group to give up their subscriptions. 

She has stopped treating herself at the supermarket, and she thinks twice before going out with friends because she’s not sure if she can afford the food or travel costs. And it’s now gone beyond that. 

“I have essential products that I have to buy: my medical prescriptions, my period products. I have to think: ‘Can I afford to buy this brand or should I really be buying this brand and feeling uncomfortable?’ I can’t speak for all young people but, for me, it’s definitely about asking what essentials I can afford.”

Sabrina, 27, was filled with “dread” when she saw her energy bill. Image: Supplied

Last year, Sabrina was diagnosed with a condition called prolactinoma, a noncancerous tumour of the pituitary gland. This means she will be on medication for the next two years at least. It causes low energy, headaches, neck ache, nausea, and Sabrina sometimes struggles to work. She is currently employed part time, but she will have to increase her hours to full time to afford her bills in the cost of living crisis.

“I can’t afford to put my health first,” she said, “Whether I’m ready or not, I’m going to have to increase my hours. I don’t have a choice. Even to hear myself say that is hard, because I always tell people to put their health first. But I can’t in my situation.”

Half of 16- to 25-year-olds have gone to bed hungry in the last 12 months because they couldn’t afford food, according to Centrepoint. 

Frankie, a homeless 21-year-old, said: “I’m one of them. I’ve gone to bed hungry multiple times a week, both sides of the pandemic. It was tricky for me. I was in recovery from addiction, and you need your strength for going through that.”

Young people were forced to make sacrifices in the pandemic that no generation has before them. They gave up socialising, graduations and months of their lives. 

Loneliness particularly affected young people aged 13 to 24 – with nearly nine in 10 (88 per cent) telling charity Mind that feeling lonely made their mental health worse. More than half (53 per cent) said thinking about jobs or their family’s financial situation made their mental health worse – making them even more likely than people on benefits to worry about money. 

Sophie, an 18-year-old based in London, said she is very aware of her financial situation as the cost of living soars. “I’m going to university next and I’m very aware that buying things is going to be much harder,” she said. “It’s very much on our horizon.”

Luyanda, 17, agreed, adding: “Even a chocolate bar increasing from £1 to £1.50, that has an impact. On a bigger level, buying a house is so much more expensive now than it was 10 years ago, even five years ago, or even before the pandemic. We’re very aware of that. I’m not sure when I’ll ever be able to buy a house.”

Sabrina added: “I’m considering moving in with my mum, which is a position I never thought I would be in. That’s very much on the cards. With rent increases, council tax increases, everything is increasing. It’s definitely something that we’re having conversations about at the minute. We didn’t think we would need to be having that conversation.”

Sophie and Luyanda have received support from  Voyage Youth, a social justice charity that aims to empower marginalised young Black people to become future leaders. Sophie said: “A lot of the opportunities that I have received have come from Voyage.”

Sabrina has also had charitable support in overcoming barriers to employment. She said: “There’s certain resources out there, such as the Young Women’s Trust, helping women enhance their employability skills and empower young women into working and finding employment, but that’s not something I was aware of a year or two ago.”

They worry that the government is not providing vulnerable young people with the support they need, nor are ministers doing enough to platform the services that are out there to help people. “The government should be bringing more attention to these services,” Sabrina said. “So many services out there just aren’t getting good visibility.

“These charities are doing so much to help in the local communities and in the wider community. But if the government isn’t connecting with that and speaking with the people that these situations are affecting, there’s always going to be a disconnect. That’s my view. There’s a massive disconnect between our government and us.”

Charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Centrepoint are calling on the government to increase universal credit for all people “to ensure that our social security system always, at a minimum, enables people to afford the essentials when they fall on hard times”.

The Young Women’s Trust is also urging the government to increase minimum wage, improve employment rights and increase investment in mental health services. 

Sabrina added: “I have a roof over my head. It may look like I’m doing okay, but myself and so many other working class people out there are really struggling. A lot of people might want to turn a blind eye to what’s going on. Maybe it’s not affecting some people, but for a lot of working class people, the cost of living crisis is really affecting us. And we need to do something about it.”

If you are a young person struggling with your bills, there are places you can go to get support:

  • Charitable grants offer financial support to people who are struggling – and the money doesn’t need to be paid back. You can find out what grants might be available to you using Turn2Us’ grant search. Turn2Us helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact them, they’ll check what’s available to you.
  • Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture, support you through food and fuel poverty. There are local welfare assistance schemes, also known as crisis support. Find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder. 
  • Scottish Welfare Fund is offered in Scotland to provide a safety net for people on low incomes. These include crisis grants and community care grants.
  • The Young Women’s Trust offers free coaching sessions and support for young people looking to find employment. 
  • YoungMinds offers support for young people struggling with their mental health.
  • The Finance Support Service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. 
  • Citizens Advice offers information and services to help people who are struggling with a range of issues such as the cost of living. Contact your local Citizens Advice for help. They can also advise you as to what financial support is available from the government to help you with the cost of childcare. 
  • Food banks support people who cannot afford the essentials. Many food banks are run by the Trussell Trust and you can find your local one on their website. For advice and support you can also call one of the charity’s national helplines.

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