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Julio Marcial – San Francisco’s housing crisis
San Francisco’s housing crisis, 2016Photography Julio Marcial

Shocker: bad housing and job prospects hurt young people’s mental health

A new report revealing the damaging long-term effects of insecure work and poor living conditions has urged the government to rethink its policies

As we live in increasingly cramped rented properties – our prospects of owning a home basically dashed – and with nearly half a million young people at risk of “a life of unemployment”, it’s no wonder a new report has confirmed the damaging effects of the insecure job market and poor housing on young people’s mental health.

Following a two-year inquiry, The Health Foundation has revealed that it’s harder for today’s young people to access the things necessary for future health, from a secure home and rewarding work, to supportive relationships with friends, family, and their community.

Based on conversations with those aged 12 to 24, and in an attempt to reduce the damage to young people’s mental health, the study has outlined detailed policy recommendations. As well as calling on the government to reform the private rental sector – including developing minimum standards for landlords and increased funding for help to rent schemes – the report urges policy makers to promote ‘Youth Friendly Employer’ standards.

With the release of these findings – which can be found here – we spoke to some of the young people involved in the inquiry to find out how their living situations and experiences at school or work have impacted their mental health.

NAIRN MCDONALD, 23, NORTH AYRSHIRE

“Currently I live with my parents in their council home – we’ve always lived in council houses because buying a house was never achievable for our family, and the private rented sector has such high rents it makes it inaccessible. Staying at home has positives and negatives – I’m close to a support network, but sometimes you see the ‘Instagram life’ and think, ‘am I failing because I don’t have my own place?’ There needs to be huge reform in the private sector to make it better and more accessible for young people: rents are too high, conditions are worse than social housing, and young people are often taken advantage of. 

I am from a deprived area, an area often labelled as being ‘left behind’ or ‘forgotten about’; our issues are rarely at the forefront of debates or discussion but they are the same issues faced by communities up and down the country. We have a lack of accessible and well-resourced mental health support facilities which have been cut or underfunded and has left our young people facing a crisis.

(Job satisfaction) is one of the ways that young people can feel valued, which in turn leads to having better mental health – that means we need workloads that are manageable and not overly dependent, pay that is liveable, and fulfilling work regardless of the sector.”

“Staying at home has positives and negatives – I’m close to a support network, but sometimes you see the ‘Instagram life’ and think, ‘am I failing because I don’t have my own place?’”

KATY HASKINS, 18, LISBURN

“My experience with work and mental health have not always been good. I recently quit a zero-hour contract due to the lack of stability in it – in July I only got 10.5 hours of work, but over one week in September I worked above and beyond this amount.

Adults in policy cannot accurately pinpoint the issues that young people face, without the input of young people themselves. When I was around 12 to 14 years old, my circumstances in school triggered a lot of anxiety-related symptoms which caused me to have severe panic attacks in that environment. Before (interference by my parents led to) protocols being put in place to help me, I felt like I couldn’t get any help. No young person should have to be at rock bottom before help is even offered to them; we need to start believing young people from the start so we can help them before their conditions spiral out of control.”

EVIE BASCH, 20, BRISTOL

“Many aspects of life impact on one another – this can be seen in situations where a young person is struggling to find well-paid work so can’t afford public transport rates to travel to interviews, can’t afford the current high living costs, and so on. More young people are finding themselves stuck in a similar cycle and can’t find the support they need in order to improve these situations as a whole.

Although young people aren’t experts in policy making and funding, we are experts in what it means to be a young person, and how the world we live in impacts us. We often aren’t given the trust and recognition in our abilities to recognise what needs to change and how this can happen, when in reality many of us are extremely aware and proactive.”

“Although young people aren’t experts in policy making and funding, we are experts in what it means to be a young person, and how the world we live in impacts us”

BETHAN ROGERS, 18, DENBIGHSHIRE

“The living wage is the same for anyone living alone, yet the minimum wage isn’t – either housing needs to be cheaper for young people, or the minimum wage needs to be the same across the board. I currently work in a pub, and although I feel satisfied in terms of the actual job, the pay could be better – if I was to do the same amount of work as someone (older) who had less than half the experience I had, they’d still make more money which makes younger employees feel undervalued.”

HUMA MALIK, 25, BRADFORD

“There needs to be a new system for young people when they transition from uni into a job as you’re left without support. Employers should create better plans for young people starting jobs, supporting them with new questions, and helping them explore if the job is right for them. Job satisfaction is key as (heavy) workloads increase stress, eventually leading to burnout and poor mental health. 

(Young people need) more targeted specialist mental health support that’s delivered in local areas in non-clinical settings. I also think there needs to be more options for self-expression treatment – for example, through art – as opposed to talking therapies. Services have slowly got better at talking to each other but more needs to be done to make it easier for young people so they don’t have to keep repeating their story to get help.”