Unemployed young people are having to turn down jobs because they cannot afford associated costs such as clothes and transport, a Prince’s Trust study has found.
The research found that the rising cost of living for young people was “threatening the aspirations of an entire generation”.
The trust’s annual NatWest Youth Index 2024, which will launch on Monday, found that a third of those aged 16 to 25 said they could not afford to get the qualifications they needed for the job they wanted. One in 10 had had to turn down a job because of costs.
It is the first time that the index, which has been monitoring the wellbeing of young people in the UK since 2009, has looked at how young people are coping with increased prices. The trust said the findings revealed a “crippling” impact on education and employment, as well as day-to-day living.
Almost a fifth of the 2,239 young people who took part in the YouGov survey said they planned to finish their education early so that they could start earning money. About 5% admitted missing school or work in the past 12 months because they could not afford transport, rising to almost one in 10 of those from poorer backgrounds.
More than two-fifths said worrying about money had made them unable to concentrate at school.
Jonathan Townsend, the UK chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, said: “This year’s youth index highlights the stark consequences that the cost of living crisis is having on young people’s education, employment and wellbeing, threatening the aspirations of an entire generation.
“It reveals its impacts are having the worst effect on those who face the most disadvantage, with those from the poorer backgrounds or who are unemployed finding financial pressures are crippling their ability to pursue new job opportunities or secure the skills and qualifications to chase their career ambitions.”
Tara Cousins spent almost a year unemployed after graduating from university because she could not afford to apply for most jobs in her locality. “There were lots of jobs in the construction industry I wanted but couldn’t apply for because I couldn’t afford travel costs, smart clothes or even a work bag,” she said.
“It’s been a shock to graduate, to do everything right, and then realise that pursuing my professional passion has to come a far second to simply finding a job I can afford to take. It becomes very difficult to see my career path clearly because of all these financial pressures. It’s hard to plan a life around ideals like ‘dream job’ or ‘career satisfaction’ when the cost of living is so high.”
The research found that one in 10 young people reported having been bullied for not being able to afford everyday costs in the past year, rising to more than one in five of those from poorer backgrounds.
A fifth admitted they had skipped meals to save money in the past 12 months. A third said they had stopped seeing family or friends in the past year to save money.
Overall, half of young people said the cost of living crisis had had a worse impact on their life than the pandemic, and more than two-fifths of young people said worrying about money had seriously affected their mental health.
Barry Fletcher, the chief executive of the Youth Futures Foundation, pointed out that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had widened by 3.6% for GCSE students and 6.7% for pupils in 16 to 19 education since before the pandemic, to the biggest disparity since 2012.
He is concerned that these pupils will face larger barriers to employment and good quality work than similar pupils before the pandemic.
“One of the most glaring consequences of the cost of living crisis is that the associated costs of a job – or even staying in education – are forcing young people to become or remain Neet [not in education, employment or training],” he said. “The scarring effects caused by being Neet mean that they’re more likely to be unemployed in the future, whilst also experiencing a long-term mental and physical health impact.”