New research shows just how misguided the stereotype isby Jo Bibby / June 28, 2018 / Leave a comment
One of Margaret Thatcher’s many legacies must be the goal of owning a home becoming ingrained in the minds of today’s 20-year-olds as the measure of a successful transition to adulthood.
Talking to young people from around the UK as part of our “Young people’s future health inquiry,” we’ve found that while their aspirations for adult life remain largely unchanged from those of their parents—steady and rewarding work, owning their own home and stable relationships—many are struggling to realise these most basic of ambitions. You’ve probably heard this before, but study the data and the specifics and that’s where the scale of the problem truly becomes clear.
Frequently criticised for being a flaky generation, our initial findings reveal a striking and very different picture. Young people today face challenges and opportunities very different to those when I was growing up. Changes to the employment and housing markets mean that many young people face an insecure future, with the traditional milestones on the path to adulthood—such as leaving home or getting a secure job—largely inaccessible. Add to this the need to navigate a complex digital social landscape that didn’t exist a generation ago and the path for young people quickly appears far from straightforward.
Those people who persist in the view that millennials are pampered and over-indulged should consider this: 40 per cent of young workers (aged 21 to 24) are paid below the Living Wage—compared to 22 per cent of all workers. Those aged 16 to 24 are more than three times as likely to be on a zero hours contract. Home ownership is now unaffordable for most young people, with a quarter of 24-35 year olds owning their own home today compared to around half 25 years ago. Young people who do manage to fly the nest are likely to be living in the private rental sector, forcing them to move regularly, often experiencing poor accommodation and unscrupulous landlords. Of even more concern, one in five young people have reported having to sofa surf because they have nowhere else to go, many for more than a month. Against this backdrop it is hardly surprising that young people are the section of our society reporting the highest levels of loneliness and some of the poorest mental health.
The work of Prospect-contributor Michael Marmot and others shows that good health in later life depends upon the core building blocks of a place to call home, potential for secure and rewarding work, and supportive relationships with friends, family and community. Considered in this context, the experiences of today’s young people are a public health crisis in the making.
This should concern us all, not just because poor health diminishes overall wellbeing, but also because a nation’s health is a vital part of its infrastructure and essential to our future social and economic prosperity. In some parts of the country healthy life expectancy is falling below the expected retirement age and there are many towns and cities where the burden of poor health is seen as a barrier to inward investment. Just as the country’s physical infrastructure needs long-term planning and investment, so does the population’s health. The importance of support during the “early years,” particularly from zero to five, for long-term health outcomes is well understood. However, less is known about the opportunities to shape future health outcomes during the ages of 12 to 24. This is despite emerging evidence demonstrating that this period could offer a “second chance” window for many young people.
Our in depth engagement work with young people around the UK identified four assets which are necessary for securing a smooth transition to adulthood: emotional support; appropriate skills and qualifications; personal connections to help navigate the adult world and financial and practical support. While separate polling research found fewer than a fifth of young people had access to all of these assets.
Much emphasis is placed today on skills and qualifications and there is no doubt these are important. However, our work demonstrates that even with skills and qualifications young people face a difficult transition into adulthood if the other assets are missing. Perhaps more problematic are the wider structural factors that mean many “asset-rich” young people struggle to translate their assets into a healthy future if they live in parts of the country that lack good quality work or affordable housing.
If, as Peter Drucker claims, the best way of predicting the future is to create it, then we need action now to provide young people with the core building blocks for a healthy life.
The Health Foundation’s “Young people’s future health inquiry” will report in summer 2019