New research: too many young people have “nothing to live for”

David Kingman explores the shocking findings of some recent research into the NEET generationSad girl holding a crumpled letter

As many as 750,000 unemployed people aged between 16 and 25 could be at risk of serious mental health problems because they feel they have “nothing to live for”, according to new research from the youth charity the Prince’s Trust.

There are currently 900,000 unemployed people within this age group, of whom the Prince’s Trust estimates around 440,000 are facing the bleak prospect of being classified as long-term unemployed (meaning they are unemployed for six months or more). A large minority of them appear to be suffering from significant mental health challenges as a result of their unemployment, suggesting that the “NEET” generation is almost as much of a public health challenge as an economic one.

Self-harm and suicide

The Prince’s Trust conducted online interviews with 2,161 people aged 16 to 25 during October and November last year. Those who were unemployed were more likely to have engaged in self-harm and consumed large amounts of alcohol and drugs, experiences which a number of the respondents attributed directly to being unemployed.

The research also found that a third of the respondents who were long-term unemployed admitted to having contemplated suicide, while a quarter said that they had self-harmed. One of the most worrying findings of all was that a quarter of those who were long-term unemployed said they had been prescribed anti-depressants, compared to just 11% among the sample group as a whole.

In total, 40% of the young people who were unemployed had experienced some symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. Almost one in ten (9%) admitted that they felt they had “nothing to live for”. If the findings from this survey are extrapolated to cover the whole of the population aged 16 to 25, then it could amount to almost three quarters of a million people.

The director of the Prince’s Trust, Paul Brown, emphasised to The Guardian that these young people need a lot of help and support:

“We need to recognise that unemployment doesn’t just lead to economic disadvantage for young people but can scar them. There are a very large number of people still unemployed, lacking all hope for the future. We have a duty to make sure there’s something to look forward to.”

Generation NEET?

Young people in Britain received more bad news on the same day that the Prince’s Trust report was covered by the media, as another piece of research published by children’s charity Impetus (The Private Equity Foundation) argued that 121,000 children born at the beginning of the millennium (roughly a fifth of their age group) are at risk of becoming NEETs (young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training).

The study looked at the exam results achieved by a representative sample containing 604,441 children who were born in 2000 in order to predict their odds of becoming NEET before the age of 24. The authors argued that becoming a NEET can have serious long-term consequences for their earning-power, as they will forfeit up to £225,000 in lost earnings compared to someone who goes to university and graduates with a degree.

They recommended a series of radical reforms to the education system in order to try to minimise the number of British young people who end up becoming NEET. Jenny North, the director of policy and strategy, gave the following verdict:

“Britain needs a vision for the youth labour market, one which recognises that our NEET problem is structural and long-term, not just a hangover from the recession.”

Clearly, these two reports indicate that much more needs to be done to help Britain’s young people to integrate successfully into the jobs market, unless we want another generation to suffer the economic and psychological scars of unemployment.