BBC Three’s Growing Up Poor highlighted two of the biggest problems facing young people from low-income backgrounds today, says Helen Barnard – the shortages of jobs and housing.
The six young people in the Growing Up Poor programmes were no angels, but I felt a lot of respect for them. Their choices and behaviour were sometimes admirable and sometimes unwise – fairly typical of people across the social spectrum (young and old). What was striking from last night’s episode was how little support they had to make good choices and, critically, recover from poor ones.
Craig and his mum suffered from challenges in both home-ownership and renting. Planning Minister Nick Boles recently pushed the issue up the agenda with his attack on NIMBYs and proposals to promote more building. However, there are big questions as to whether the Government’s plans will radically alter the shortage of homes or fix problems in the housing market. Growing Up Poor showed that the problems facing young people can be particularly acute. The idea that they should all simply stay at ‘home’ until they can afford their own place has been comprehensively undermined by our research as well as stories such as Craig’s.
The lack of jobs, especially for young people, is also a high-profile and hotly contested topic. Programmes like Growing Up Poor tend to unleash a barrage of Twitter fury, focusing on bad choices and ‘culture’. That often dovetails with politicians blaming a ‘culture of worklessness’ and talking about the need to raise aspirations. However, our research has questioned both of these ideas.
A recent JRF project investigating intergenerational worklessness found very little evidence of families with multiple generations out of work or a cultural resistance to employment.
Our education research programme showed that the problem for young people from low-income backgrounds often isn’t so much a lack of aspiration as too little understanding of how to fulfil their aspirations, discouragement and a fundamental lack of opportunities.
As was the case for the young men in Growing Up Poor, recently published JRF research has shown the major challenges facing young jobseekers, as well as what they need to do to maximise their chances:
We saw Franky trying incredibly hard to get work, and succeeding. However many others try equally hard without gaining anything. As he said, job hunting can be the more difficult path by far.
Much more action is needed on skills, childcare and other areas, but the fundamental problem of a lack of decent jobs needs to be tackled head on.