Austerity in the UK: Spotlight on young people

Austerity insight - young people

"I WANT US TO BE TREATED LIKE HUMAN BEINGS! Young people are delicate, even when they appear to be acting like little shits!"

By Sharon Telfer

Key facts

  • There were nearly one million more 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK in 2010 than in 2000.
  • Youth unemployment is at a record high and three times higher than unemployment for older adults.
  • 10 per cent of young adults are not in work or full-time education.
  • The lower people’s qualifications, the higher their risk of unemployment. This risk has risen over the past decade.
  • After 19, the likelihood of getting qualifications drops significantly.
  • 16- to 19-year-olds not in full-time education are at greater risk of poverty than any age group except the youngest. .
  • 52% of 16- to 24-year-olds in poverty do not live with their parents.

What do we know?

Youth unemployment at record high

Nearly 1 million more 16- to 24-year-olds were living in the UK in 2010 than in 2000. But fewer were in paid work.

  • 42% (3 million) were full-time students
  • 12% (850,000) worked part-time
  • 4% (280,000) were unemployed, looking for part-time jobs
  • 26% (1.9 million) were economically inactive

Youth unemployment has risen continuously since 2004. By 2011 it was two-thirds higher than 2001. At a record high, it's three times higher than that of other adults. Competition for jobs is tougher. Of 25- to 50-year-olds:

  • 38% had Level 4 or above qualifications in 2010, compared with 28% in 2000
  • 20% had below Level 2 qualifications in 2010, compared with 27% in 2000

More likely to live in low-income households

2.1 million young adults aged 16–24 were living in low-income households in 2011. 38% were workless.

Those aged 16–19 were more likely to live in low-income households than older adults.

  • 960,000 16- to 19-year-olds lived in low-income households
  • 28 per cent in secondary education – 420,000 – lived in poverty
  • 33 per cent not in secondary education – 515,000 – lived in poverty, the highest rate for any age group

Of those aged 20–24, 30 per cent – around 1.2 million – lived in low-income households. That's ten percentage points higher than older groups.

Educational differences start very young and widen

An 'attainment gap' emerges before school. It continues through childhood. By 16 and older, it is considerable.

  • Tests at age 3 show a significant gap between more affluent children and the poorest fifth
  • Lower-achieving but more affluent children overtake the highest low-income achievers by age 7
  • Poorer children are half as likely to go to university as their more affluent peers

Across ethnic groups, white young people do less well than their peers from many minorities. But the performance and treatment of black Caribbean and Traveller children raise serious concerns.

For minority ethnic groups poverty is twice as likely, despite improved qualifications.

Poorer higher education students were already more likely to drop out, defer, switch, repeat or restart courses before tuition fees and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance applied.

But the aspirations of disadvantaged young people are high.

Disabled young people face greater disadvantage

Disabled young people share the ambitions of their non-disabled peers. But these were already frustrated before cuts to benefits and services:

  • educational and employment outcomes are significantly worse for disabled young people
  • the gap between disabled and non-disabled young people widens with age

Childhood poverty continues into adulthood

Childhood poverty is linked with lower educational attainment, higher unemployment and low earnings in adulthood.

Early disadvantage remained unchanged in the poorest neighbourhoods despite years of initiatives.

What can we do?

Listen to young people

Then: Disabled young people had strong views about society (2001).

Now: Young people set out the changes they feel would help their housing choices.

Provide better choice of housing

Then: Young people worked with professionals on preventing youth homelessness and supporting those affected (2007).

Now: 27 initiatives provide practical examples of improving housing for young people.

Involve parents in education

Then: Many poor parents deal effectively with adversity (2007).

Now: Parents' involvement in schooling can improve children’s results. Mentoring is also promising.

Rethink the labour market

Then: Personal Advisers were essential in helping people find and keep work under the New Deals (2000).

Now: JRF explores what policies on skills and jobs could reduce poverty and inequality. JRF and JRHT provide paid internships.

Young adults born in 1970 faced a growing 'poverty penalty' compared with those born in 1958, including: fewer opportunities for those leaving school at 16; a growing gap between those with or without good qualifications; declining psychological health. In times of recession and austerity, these trends have deepened.

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