Wasted potential

Carole Easton

Young Women’s Trust’s new report, No country for young womenclearly shows that young people and particularly young women are struggling with major financial, work and housing problems. It contains shocking statistics which demonstrate that debt and job insecurity are taking their toll on the wellbeing of millions of young women. Their optimism is being eroded and they are “suspending” adulthood, putting off having children and living with carers and parents or returning to live with family having failed to sustain their housing costs.

Key findings include:

  • 39 per cent of young women said it was a struggle to make their cash last to the end of the month
  • 27 per cent of young women said they were in debt all of the time
  • A quarter of 18 to 30-year-olds said they had had to move back home with their parents because they couldn’t afford to live independently
  • One in five 18 to 30-year-olds reported having been paid less than the minimum wage
  • One in 12 parents aged 18 to 30 reported having to use a food bank to survive

At YWT, where we support and represent young women with a focus on those on low or no pay, these new research findings ring true with what we hear every day from those we work with. On top of our research and campaigning work, we provide a service called Work It Out, offering free telephone coaching and job application advice for young women to help them take steps towards quality work. From our conversations with young women, we have learned much about the struggle to make ends meet which so many of them face, the hurdles they need to overcome and the type of holistic support which they need and value and which can help them to build confidence and successfully seek work.

Apprenticeships should be one of the inclusive ways of increasing the opportunities for young people but YWT has found that there is a significant apprentice gender gap. Young female apprenticeships are paid on average 21 per cent less, receive less training and are twice as likely to be out of work at the end of their apprenticeship compared with their male peers.

Gender segregation in types of work and apprenticeships goes some way to explaining these differences. For example 25 men start apprenticeships in engineering for every one woman – and in plumbing the ratio is 74 to 1.

Difficulty in finding work as a result of high levels of youth unemployment is also a big factor behind our findings. For May to July 2016 the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds was 13.6 per cent.  This has reduced since the previous year but is considerably higher than the overall national unemployment rate for the same period of 4.9 per cent. In some areas of the UK youth unemployment is considerably higher.

We are very concerned that so many young women are NEET (not in education, employment or training) and unable to find work. In the last quarter (April to June 2016) there were 434,000 young women and 409,000 young men who were NEET. The majority of young women who are NEET are not eligible to claim employment benefits, and are unfortunately labelled ‘economically inactive’ because they aren’t seeking paid work or are not able to start work within two weeks. There were 274,000 young women aged 16 to 24 who were economically inactive last quarter, and far fewer young men – 179,000.

Our research has shown that 95 per cent of young women NEET say having a paid job is important to them. So this means that the talents and aspirations of almost a third of a million young women are going to waste because they can’t get the support they need from Job Centre Plus, or find jobs with the right hours and pay to make it financially feasible for them to work and juggle other responsibilities. With support from Barrow Cadbury, Young Women’s Trust has commissioned research to understand more about young women who are economically inactive and to find out what can be done to help them rejoin the labour market when the time is right.

But there are many things that can be done now, both for apprentices and for those in work. At YWT we argue that it is discriminatory to be allowed to pay those under 25 less than the living wage. We believe anyone who is 18 or over should be entitled to the same level of minimum pay. We would also like to see a thorough review and reform of Job Centre Plus and other training and support bodies so that young people are offered holistic and effective support, based on the principles and successful elements of our Work It Out programme. And we want a greater focus on policymaking which benefits young people, which is why we would like to see the introduction of a youth minister, to ensure that all relevant government departments and policies make a positive difference for all young people.

Image: Pepe

 

 

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