As part of #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Liz Emerson, IF Co-founder, explains how anxiety is woven into so many parts of young people’s lives today.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “anxiety” and it is a fitting topic for those of us working to protect the interests of younger and future generations. Beset by housing anxiety, climate anxiety, and the cost of living crisis, young people are experiencing unprecedented levels of mental ill-health. Meanwhile the many sacrifices they made during the COVID-19 epidemic have been largely forgotten by policymakers intent on withdrawing spending and services from their generation.
Whenever we are asked to explain the concept of “intergenerational fairness” we use the housing crisis as the most obvious example. The housing “haves” are now older, wealthier, with more than £2 trillion in mortgage-free wealth having gone on a spending spree during the pandemic, by stockpiling space.
The housing “have-nots” are mainly made up of younger renters who lead a very different life. Unable to make it onto the first rung of the property ladder, young renters today lead increasingly precarious lives, paying more than two-thirds of their weekly expenditure on essential spending, and unable to save anything, let alone enough for a deposit on a home of their own. It is no surprise that mortgage lenders have now announced 100% loans. Their customer base is drying up.
In the past year alone rents have increased by an average of 10%, which is on top of 4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2021. Those who cannot find that extra monthly rent demanded face Section 21 notices which are used to evict tenants with little notice. You can read more of the daily anxiety renters face in this excellent blog by Generation Rent.
The kids are coming home
Landlords who gorged on low-interest and over-leveraged mortgage borrowing, now find themselves unable to meet higher repayments, and have passed those costs onto their tenants. It is no wonder then that so many young renters are upping sticks and moving back home. Just last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 4.9 million adult children are now living in the parental home, unable to strike out of their own and live independent lives, that is if they are lucky enough to have family homes to go to.
Meanwhile, the climate crisis continues to increase anxiety among the young. In 2021, The Lancet surveyed 10,000 children and young people under 25 years of age:
“Respondents across all countries were worried about climate change (59% were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried). More than 50% reported each of the following emotions: sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change (e.g. 75% said that they think the future is frightening and 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet). Respondents rated governmental responses to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance. Climate anxiety and distress were correlated with perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal.”
While the UK government’s commitment to reach NetZero by 2030 is to be lauded, in practice current policy appears to be in conflict with that aim. Take the recent policy decision to reduce domestic air passenger duty in order to encourage more domestic flying. This literally flies in the face of IF research which demonstrated that taking trains over planes on the mainland is better for the environment, can be as cheap if booked in advance, and takes almost the same time if city centre to city centre travel is compared. If France can do it, why can’t we?
While older generations have been helped over the cost-of-living and energy crisis with 10% rises in benefits and the State Pension, students have seen their maintenance loans increase by a miserly 2.8%. Students face the same hike in prices as other generations, whether it be energy bills or the cost of a loaf of bread. Since 2012, government policy has an expectation that students’ families should fill the gap between maintenance loans offered and actual living costs, but many families simply cannot afford to help out. According to a Sutton Trust survey, 45% of students have turned to their families for help, while 33% of students from working-class backgrounds have skipped meals to reduce costs. Even worse, the Energy Support Scheme introduced by the government to help households did not get through to many students. According to the same survey, “40% of students living in private rental accommodation said they had not received this payment from either their landlord or their energy company”.
The cost-of-living crisis has come after the COVID-19 pandemic during which student mental health suffered from being physically locked in halls, and experiencing loneliness, anxiety and depression. A literature review of 37 studies, published in Current Psychology, found that “anxiety was shown to be highly prevalent among the student population during the COVID-19 pandemic.” But mental health services have not kept up with demand.
Accessing mental health support
NHS Digital statistics in 2022 reported that 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder. While a 40% increase on pre-pandemic levels in staff joining the NHS children’s mental health services in England is to be applauded, the BMA has warned that between January and April 2023 there were over four times as many children and young people in contact with mental health services as there were seven years ago. The NHS Long Term Plan for Mental Health (2019) committed to creating a new ringfenced local investment fund worth at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24. According to the BMA, “the UK Government’s own mental health strategies are still being missed,” suggesting that more funds are urgently needed.
There is hope
If we rebalance the social contract across the generations and between the state and the young we can fix these problems. On housing, we need to demand that housebuilding is central to every political party manifesto. On the climate, we need pledges from prospective candidates about a faster green transition to renewable energy and greener transport. We need to give our children and grandchildren hope. At the very least we need to call on policymakers to reduce the gap in government spending on the young while we continue to care for the old.
Help us to be able to do more
Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we want to thank you for being interested in IF’s work standing up for younger and future generations. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And with your help we can do much more, so please consider helping to make IF more sustainable. You can do so by following this link: Donate.