Young people say their prospects are dwindling and wellbeing suffering in the wake of the pandemic Opportunity must be widened to give more young people, especially the poorest, chance to succeed, says Health Foundation

24 August 2021

A survey of young people conducted by the Health Foundation* has revealed the extent to which young people feel their employment prospects and mental health have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. 

The Health Foundation carried out a survey of 2,000 young people in the UK (aged between 22 and 26)*, as part of its Young people’s future health inquiry, which is looking at ways to improve the long-term health of young people. The survey finds that opportunities – such as gaining the right skills or finding secure work – are narrowing for young people and that more support is needed to enable them to flourish. The independent charity says failure to take appropriate action now risks damaging young people’s long term health as well as their economic prospects. 

Based on the findings of the Foundation’s recent COVID-19 impact inquiry report which highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain groups, the charity says the issues raised in the survey are likely to hit those living in the poorest parts of the country more severely.  

Of the young people surveyed, 86% said the pandemic had negatively impacted their opportunity to achieve the right skills and qualifications for their chosen career. 86% also felt that it had impacted their ability to develop the right relationships and networking opportunities to help enter or progress in the working environment. This is significant because the majority (73%) agreed that ‘those with personal networks and connections have an advantage’ when it comes to finding a job.  

The majority of respondents (54%) said that most of the jobs they had seen recently that they were interested in were temporary or contract positions. 35% felt that it would be difficult to find secure work that is fairly paid and has scope for career growth and development in the next six months.   

But while the survey findings suggest that the pandemic has placed greater pressure on young people, many felt that there is now less support available than prior to the pandemic. When asked about if their families were able to help with living costs, or whether they were able to live at home to avoid paying rent, 76% said that this type of financial support they received from family had been negatively impacted.  

While 80% of those surveyed agreed that the pandemic has made young people’s mental health worse, the findings highlighted that there is less support available for those experiencing mental health issues. 80% said the pandemic had a negative impact on the availability of emotional support and 69% agreed that it had become harder to access mental health support. 

And housing was another key area that young people felt had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. 81% agreed that most young people today can’t afford to move out of home while 43% said that it will be difficult for them to obtain high quality, affordable housing in the next 6 months. 

In light of the survey findings, the Health Foundation is calling on the government to prioritise young people across all areas of decision making as part of the pandemic recovery – particularly those living in the poorest areas of the country. This should include: 

  • Providing more support for young people to secure good jobs and increasing the number of post-school apprenticeships to ensure that all young people are engaged in either education or good-quality work or training. It is also crucial to ensure employment schemes provide mental health support that is targeted at at-risk groups such as younger people. 
  • Making fundamental changes to housing policy to enable all young people to exercise choice and control over their housing situation. This includes providing realistic help with rental costs for the young people who need it through the benefits system such as removing the 5-week wait for universal credit, maintaining the local housing allowance to a level that enables people to afford housing within the cheapest 30% in the local area, and abolishing the shared accommodation rate.  
  • Finally, funding will need to increase for education to level up attainment, support further education – including vocational qualifications, and regenerate youth services which have seen sustained funding cuts over the last ten years.   

Nairn McDonald, a 25-year-old university graduate and young carer from North Ayrshire in Scotland, said: 

‘Before the pandemic I was applying for jobs in the charity sector. Things were already tough, but they became even harder. The job market is completely saturated. Before, I would at least get to interview stage but since the pandemic I’ve struggled to even get an email acknowledgement.  

‘When I do get feedback from employers, they tell me that I’m qualified for the role and have a great CV – I tick all the boxes – but I’m competing with people with five to ten years’ experience who have lost their jobs or been furloughed. They are getting 60 to 80 applications for a job where before they usually would have got 20. As someone who suffers anxiety, the experience of looking for a job during the pandemic has definitely impacted my mental health – getting constantly knocked back has been very hard.’ 

Martina Kane, policy and engagement manager at the Health Foundation, said: 

‘These new findings highlight the extent to which young people’s prospects have been damaged by COVID-19 and the measures taken to contain it. Prior to the pandemic we at the Health Foundation spoke with many young people across the country who were already facing issues relating to precarious employment conditions and a lack of opportunity. This has worrying implications for their long-term health. These issues have clearly become more acute in the wake of the pandemic and this suggests that far fewer young people are being given the chance to succeed making it more likely that their long-term health will suffer as a result. 

The lack of emotional and mental health support that young people have highlighted in this survey is likely to be exacerbating the impact on their health. There is a strong relationship between work and mental health - particularly for young people who may be taking their first crucial steps into the job market. Where someone is struggling with their mental health, gaining employment can prove near impossible, especially in a job market as challenging as the one facing young people today. 

‘There is an opportunity as we recover from the pandemic to develop a coherent strategy that prioritises our young people, with a wider concept of national prosperity at its core. This must include measures directly designed to improve their health and reduce the stark inequalities between the richest and poorest.’ 

Further information

* Survey conducted by Opinion Matters between 8 and 15 June 2021 on a sample 2,000 UK based people aged 22-26 years

Media contacts

Lauren Asplin
Lauren.Asplin@health.org.uk
020 7664 4678

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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