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When law student Rima Begum graduated on a Zoom call this summer, she felt a sense of pride as one of the first in her family to go to university. Despite the economic uncertainty brought by the pandemic, she was confident she would find work to fund a master’s degree.
Now, she is less hopeful. “I have applied for 35 to 40 jobs but I imagine 40% of my applications have not even been read,” she says, explaining how she spends the whole day on her laptop in her parents’ home, where she lives. “A lot of these jobs are basic administration roles in law and I get a notification that 300 to 400 people have applied. I think: is there any point?”
Rima, 22, relied on her retail job in Oxford Circus, London, to buy food and supplies while an undergraduate but, after a period of furlough, the store is now shutting, leaving her future uncertain.
Her story is mirrored across the country, as thousands of people aged between 18 and 24 – many who usually work in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality – struggle to find employment after being furloughed or as they enter the jobs market. Unemployment for those aged 16 to 24 increased by 124,000 to 597,000. This compares with 407,000 people over the age of 50.
The Graduate Market in 2020 report shows that the number of entry-level graduate jobs has taken a big hit – down nearly 11% in 2020 – as a result of the pandemic. That is the largest annual decrease since the financial crisis in 2009. Recruitment levels are down at more than half of the UK’s leading graduate employers.
Experts warn of the long-term impacts of this, including lower future pay and employment prospects. They say it may also influence the mental and physical health of young people in later years.
Data from the Resolution Foundation found the post-furlough fall into unemployment had been most common among 18-24-year-olds (19%), as well as BAME workers (22%). “I have not even planned for not finding another job,” says Rima. “I have to get one to do my master’s degree next year.”
“There is a noticeable change in the market compared to when I’ve looked before. There are fewer jobs and also a lot of graduate schemes I had my eye on have been paused due to the pandemic.”
Employers in all sectors are cutting back. John Lewis, for instance, has cancelled its graduate scheme this year, the Sanctuary Group has done the same, as has Danske bank. For those still running, the number of applicants has shot up.
KPMG, one of the big four accounting organisations, said its graduate programme had seen about a 50% increase in applications in the first three months for the 2021 intake compared with last year.
The situation is also hard for those not in education or training.
Kerel Babb, 20, left school after his GCSEs and is working in music. He usually takes shifts at Winter Wonderland, an annual event in London’s Hyde Park, but there was no work there this winter because it was cancelled .
“Usually at the end of summer you see jobs advertised for Christmas, but it wasn’t really the case this year. It’s been difficult as I am a proactive person, and I don’t like to just sit around,” he says.
“I cashed out £10 this whole year from music. My main income is universal credit. It’s not enough to sustain me but it’s what got me studio equipment,” he says.
The proportion of those receiving universal credit who are young people has increased to its highest level since November 2017.
Kate Bell, head of rights, international, social and economics at the trade union TUC says the government needs to extend the temporary uplift of universal credit and also wants the government to provide more support for those looking for apprenticeships, as the numbers available have been “dropping fast”.
The government has brought in a £2bn “kickstart” scheme to help young people. Through it, employers can offer those claiming universal credit a six-month work placement funded by the government.
Victoria Head, director of skills and employability at the charity Catch22, a not-for-profit business with a social mission that operates in the UK, said they worry people will be dropped after the six months so are offering additional support, such as extra training and wellbeing help where needed.
Bell says it is a good start and so far about 20,000 placements have been allocated, but she has “concerns over the quality” of them. “Will they be paid more than living wages? And will the private sector come forward with jobs?
She said there were three solutions to the current crisis. The first is making sure furlough schemes are in place for as long as necessary, and not withdrawing support too soon. Both unions and private sector bosses back such an extension. The second is more help and a specific strategy for certain sectors, like retail, where tens of thousands of jobs have been wiped out as a result of long term closures and corporate collapses. Third, there is a real need for job creation in other sectors where there are shortages, such as social care.
The creative industries employ a lot of young people and it has been particularly hit this year, with artists concerned about a lack of dedicated help.
Throughout her university degree in professional musicianship, Ellie Levy Pepper was working towards becoming a jazz residency singer. She says: “It’s incredibly difficult for any young aspiring musician in any climate, let alone the current one.
“It’s very depressing knowing I could be achieving my dream by working in an industry I love at this very moment if it weren’t for the pandemic. It also affects my songwriting and creativity, which in turn worsens my mood as I’m stuck indoors all day.”
If youth unemployment isn’t tackled it will have long term implications, according to Prof Ronald McQuaid from the University of Stirling, who says those who are unemployed when they are younger are likely to be unemployed later in life.
“There is an argument that in a cohort with lots of youth unemployment such as now – and it was the same in 2008-9 – the impact does tend to be bigger because the number of good jobs available is reduced and people don’t get on to the same ladder as others. And when the economy does improve a few years later the new cohort of people coming through then take opportunities.”
However, he notes that because of the ageing population, and the need for younger workers, there could be less scarring in this generation and a quicker recovery for them.
He says there was also evidence on unemployment and poor mental health, produced in Sweden, which shows those who experience joblessness have lower life satisfaction. To alleviate some of these risks he says it was vital to keep people in the labour market through career development and apprenticeship opportunities.
Head from Catch22 said the longterm effects would be a “forgotten generation” and “mass unemployment” with impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Some of the wellbeing impacts are already being felt. Rima, an ambitious young woman who has always wanted to be a lawyer since she went on a school trip to a court in year 11, details her daily concerns: “I worry and sometimes it’s constant. I am good at trying to push it away but it’s still there,” she says. “I feel like my generation is forgotten about at the moment.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Closed doors and lives in limbo: young Britons face Covid jobs crisis | Business