Autumn-Winter 2019

Young people feel the full effect of economic disadvantage

With work insecurity and income inequality growing in Australia, we need to carefully consider the impact that a family’s limited financial resources have on young people, writes Mission Australia’s Jacquelin Plummer. 

Four young people with their backs to the camera sitting on a railing looking out over the sea.

A report recently released by Mission Australia shows that young people who live in households without a working parent or guardian face increased challenges that are made worse by a lack of financial resources and a more limited support system.

Our ‘Working through it’ – Findings from the Youth Survey 2018 report highlights significant differences between the responses of economically disadvantaged 15–19 year-olds and their peers who have parents with paid work. It also pinpoints the negative impacts for young people on their wellbeing, aspirations, post-school plans, family relationships and support when their parents are not in paid work.

The findings are stark. We found that economically disadvantaged young people did not experience the same level of support to deal with important issues as those with parents in paid employment. It was very concerning to see that nearly one in five (19.4 per cent) economically disadvantaged young people felt they did not have someone they could turn to if they were in trouble or facing a crisis. This is more than double the proportion of respondents with parents in paid work (8.4 per cent). Similarly, more than twice the percentage of economically disadvantaged young people also reported feeling ‘very sad/sad’ with life as a whole (19.3 per cent), compared with just 9.3 per cent of their peers.

Young people whose parents do not have paid work also indicated much higher levels of personal concern about financial security. We saw that 27.3 per cent of disadvantaged young people indicated high levels of concern about financial security compared with 15.8 per cent of other respondents. They also reported higher levels of personal concern about domestic/family violence, discrimination, bullying/emotional abuse and suicide.

There was also a worrying gap in aspirations and perceived career opportunities for disadvantaged young people, raising significant concerns about the risk of intergenerational, entrenched disadvantage. A notably higher proportion of economically disadvantaged young people were more likely to perceive barriers to finding work than those from families with paid work (51.9 per cent compared with 38.0 per cent). They were also less confident in their ability to achieve their post-school goals than those from families with paid work (14.5 per cent compared with 9.6 per cent).

With work insecurity and income inequality growing in Australia, we need to carefully consider the impact that a family’s limited financial resources have on young people. I’m sure readers of The Record will agree that young people, irrespective of their economic background, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and be able to access the services, supports, education and training that they need.

Clearly, there is a genuine need for more targeted, evidence-based policies that support families where parents are not in paid work to reduce stress and pressure. There is also a need for supports and services to help disadvantaged young people to engage with education, start their careers and work through their wellbeing concerns so that all young people have the best chance for a bright future.

While there are many fantastic programs in Australia that offer vital supports to disadvantaged families and young people, there remains a glaring gap in transition programs available to our most disadvantaged youth. We need more programs that include careers advice, mentoring and skills training, as well as help to re-engage with education and work experience. Support should also offer the flexibility to engage with a young person’s family, and assist with working on underlying issues that might stand in the way of a young person securing and maintaining employment.

We also need to expand and replicate the great models we have for alternative education and addressing educational disengagement. We see good results from many programs that support young people at risk of disengaging in school, but they are patchy and not always available when and where they are needed. Once a young person makes it through school, they shouldn’t be deterred from pursuing further education at TAFE or university by financial barriers.

While parents are not in paid work, income support must be adequate to meet basic family needs. Rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance need to be urgently increased to reduce the stress that financial insecurity places on family life. Improved employment supports are also required for parents and guardians in economically disadvantaged families to secure work that will have a positive impact on family relationships and young people’s sense of agency and confidence.

We must continue to listen to the voices of young people facing economic disadvantage so that we can better understand the policies and services they need and give them the very best chance at fulfilling their potential.

These results came from Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2018. Our yearly Youth Survey provides a critical temperature check on the thoughts, concerns and aspirations of young people across the nation. Our Youth Survey is celebrating 18 years this year and to celebrate, we’re encouraging a record number of young people aged 15–19 years-old across Australia to get involved. Please consider asking the young people in your life and networks to participate and have a say.

Find out more:

Jacquelin Plummer is Head of Policy & Advocacy at Mission Australia.

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