912, 000 young people in the UK were unemployed from November 2013 to January 2014 – 246,000 for more than 12 months. Clearly, youth unemployment is a huge problem.
The 99% Campaign parliamentary event Wednesday 28 March discussed the detrimental impact this problem is having on both the mental health and prospects of young people. The conference room at the House of Commons was packed with people keen to voice their views on the issue, and was attended by several guest speakers, including; labour MP Sarah Champion, conservative MP Tim Loughton, Lindsay Owen, senior head of public affairs for Prince’s Trust, Rhian Johns, director of policy and campaigns at Impetus-pef and Theo Gavrielides, founder and director of IARS.
MP Tim Loughton, guest speaker at the event, said: “Youth unemployment is the single biggest economic challenge our country faces.” He went on to discuss the importance of education as a solution, and agreed that the careers service offered in schools is poor. He said: “Young people are 20% of the population, but 100% of the future. We need to up our game in the opportunities we give to young people.”
And rightly so; a recent survey by the Prince’s Trust showed that it is not only having a negative economic effect, but also a disturbing impact on the mental health of young people. Research revealed that long-term unemployed young people are more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants, one in three have contemplated suicide, and one in four have self-harmed. Guest speaker Lindsay Owen said: “Getting more young people into work is one of the most important things we can do to help the mental health of young people.”
That the problem urgently needs addressing was agreed almost unanimously. Many of those who attended the event (several of whom were young people at London schools) raised further pressing issues, such as support for those suffering from learning difficulties and the lack of guidance both in school and immediately afterwards.
Farida Frances is 22 years old and works for St Giles’ Trust. She bravely gave an inspiring account of the issues she faced leaving school with few skills and little support. She described how, when she left school, she felt like the support she needed was “pulled from underneath [her] like a rug.” Labour MP Sarah Champion sympathised with Farida’s situation, and told how she faced similar problems when she left university. She said: “It took my soul away to realise I was just a number. I could have got lost but I started volunteering which helped me gain the practical skills I needed.” As an MP, Ms Champion expressed her passion to make a difference on a national platform, and stressed the importance of acting quickly; or else be “faced with a generational problem which manifests itself well into the future.”
The event provided a much needed opportunity for young people to express their views and have their say on a matter of vital importance, to people who have the power to make changes. It was great to see such a fantastic turn-out, of people from all ages and backgrounds, so passionate and compelled to tackle youth unemployment head-on.
As stated by Theo Gavrielides, the solution starts with the voices and opinions of young people.