"Panic", "depression", "absolutely terrifying". The RSA’s research into young people’s economic security has found that 47% are financially precarious. Whilst this figure is stark, the ‘Age of Insecurity’ report shows the reality for young people is even starker.
Since the summer of 2021 the RSA, with generous support from the Health Foundation – has been exploring the nature and prevalence of economic insecurity amongst young people. Recently, we launched a new report which goes behind the figures, and explores how the systems and structures that surround young people today are fostering insecurity.
Our latest findings are based on a year's worth of monthly video and written diary entries from 12 young people, each navigating different changes in their lives and weathering the crises around them. From across the UK, the group include young people in education and work and those looking to do something different with their lives. They span different housing arrangements and varying levels of support from their families and other networks.
Of course, no group of 12 young people could ever represent the experiences of their wider wage cohort, and so in this work, we tell their stories as we heard them and try to understand the tides that are pulling some of their shared experience.
Growing up without a societal safety net
We heard how a range of different interconnected challenges was shaping young people’s lives, from the long shadow of the pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis to a persistently inaccessible private rented market. These stories combine to paint a picture of atomisation affecting young people; a group growing up without a collective, societal safety net.
In contrast to the generations that came before them, the young people we spoke to reflected on the misalignment between what they are told their lives will be like, and how they might achieve it through hard work and studying, and how insecure the reality is for them. This means young people are pushing themselves into precarious workor overburdening themselves or their finances to get by or set themselves up for the future.
We heard from Oliver, who was working multiple jobs to ‘stay afloat’, Megan who limits how much she sees friends to avoid having ‘absolutely no money left over’ after paying for rent and living costs, and Daisy, who had been able to buy her own home but was left with ‘no safety net, no emergency fund and no fun money’.
These stories, and others, paint a picture of a generation growing up and into insecurity. While social infrastructure like social housing, trade unions and a more reliable welfare state might once have helped them navigate such a tumultuous period of change in their lives, now they see themselves as the masters of their own destinies.
We need to move away from systemic individualism
In reality, our research Cost of Independence found that half of young people today live precariously. Clearly, systemic individualism is not working.
To overcome this, we want to explore how to rebuild the bonds between young people and the communities and support networks that surround them. We see a role for national and local governments, housing providers, trade, and unions, educators, and student finance in creating a more collective route for young people to achieve economic security.
If each of these were able to centre pro-young policies, flex to the changing needs of young people as they move into adulthood and embed long-term thinking into how they support communities within and around them, young people’s economic security and wellbeing would see huge benefits.
Over the coming months, we’ll be launching inquiries across the UK to design and develop the kinds of interventions and policies that might enable this shift. These inquiries will build on our learnings in our new report, Age of Insecurity.
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