The Prince’s Trust has recently published a dismaying report on the state of young people’s mental health in the UK. Their research has prompted them to simultaneously release a ‘Mental Health Warning for the Jobless Young’ as it was discovered that unemployed young people are twice as likely as their peers to be on anti-depressants and to believe that they have nothing to live for.
The rate of unemployment for 16-24 year olds is over 20% at the moment, around three times the figure for the over 25 population. This is a very sad fact that should be addressed both for the individuals and to utilise the energy and vitality that is shamefully being wasted by our society. However I believe that there is a more insidious evil here that we should combat- the very fact that being unemployed is so detrimental to mental well being.
Employment gives people a sense of purpose, it’s an important source of socialisation and, usually, necessitates some amount of routine and aspect of leaving the house exposing people to a little of our required allowance of light and air (amongst things). Wages facilitate freedom, to pursue hobbies and interests, to travel, and for further vital socialising. The positive symptoms of employment can be sought elsewhere if only young people were both allowed to seek other options and actually made aware of them. And does money really liberate young people? These are people who for the entirety of their lives, in an ever increasing concentration, have been exposed to advertising and who find it far more difficult than previous generations to separate luxuries from necessities. They all know exactly what the current season’s must-haves are and they base their value judgements of themselves on acquisitions to a large extent.
If we take a look particularly at the squeezed middle and below we find parents hampered in their efforts to raise their children by the requirement that they work all hours to pay absurdly high rents and bills and of course to throw in a few guilt-presents for the children they never see. It goes without saying that these parents can find it nigh-on impossible to help financially support unemployed adult children, leading to familial tension as well as pushing unwilling young people into higher education (they may not enjoy, and may not lead to employment or vocation) as a purely financial decision. Now there’s no need to go all the way to Socialism to ease some of these ills, wage disparity is outrageous in our country and, whether through government legislation or by consumers being made aware and opting to deal with more ethical companies, even a small evening of this would have a massive impact on the lives of average families.
Then there’s school, besieged by governments who are obsessed by nothing more than the holy grail of all students attaining 5 GCSE’s grade C or above… Why? That barely opens up any job opportunities, yeah young people can take them on to college- then maybe even university, get a degree- to barely open up any job opportunities… Here’s a radical idea, how about we take the government and their need for constant identity challenging examination out of our schools and let the people who went into teaching as a vocation because they care specifically about young people take the reigns? How about we pursue ‘wholeness’ within our youth? How about we offer career planning advice but also admit that if they don’t know what they want to do that’s ok, that even if they do know what they want to do plans are hard to follow and that if they can’t get a job and if they can’t keep up with the latest consumer trends there are other valuable things that they can do. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant spent nine years writing for free before they made their careers. Plenty of musicians and actors do the same. Hospitals and hospices and retirement homes are crying out for volunteers who can make such a difference to the quality of life of residents and transform themselves with compassion and respect at the same time.
But of course therein we come to the other big problem: Job Centre Plus. As soon as a person becomes unemployed they have two options- to choose some kind of further education which may or may not be of value or to attend seemingly constant work focused interviews and prove a dedication to filling out job interviews akin to that shown by the Red Octopus mother who spends her final weeks in starvation committed to nothing but the task of nurturing the eggs she has laid to birth (post which she dies). Volunteering is allowed- but no more than 16 hours a week… Why? If half or a quarter of the fifth of young people out of work were volunteering a significant portion of their time in our communities in what way would that not be beneficial? Surely tax payers would not resent paying the benefits of those engaged in actively contributing? And if we’re not going to allow our young creatives to nurture their talent- we can look forward to an uninspiring future.
I think, as a society, we need to reassess our priorities. There’s more to life than work and consumables- just not in the UK right now (unless you’re very lucky).