A young person’s reason to live is all of our responsibilities

Young people ‘feel they have nothing to live for’.”

That has been the first news cry of 2014.

As a wider society we have to take this very seriously. Long-term unemployment is a huge factor in people suffering from mental health issues. Long-term unemployment can be so damaging that it takes years to get over. I was unemployed for six months and now, five years later, I still buy reduced food to freeze and keep a cupboard stocked with tins in case I can’t afford to eat and I dare not move to a flat without bills included in the rent in case I lose my job and can’t afford the bills because you don’t get benefit support to pay bills, only rent.

With each failed job interview I would believe that I’d never find employment again – I tried, I really did try but nothing seemed to come off and I became more and more desperate. In the end I was lucky – I got a job because I was one of the few with the skills needed available at a moment’s notice – and it was in fact a job that when originally advertised I wasn’t even considered for interview. The rub of the green was with me that day. I wasn’t in a particularly bad way compared to many, but I was still scared and the scars remain.

I wish the headline had of read:

“What can you do to help young people believe they have something to live for?”

It would have made for an interesting article that could have discussed:

…the provision of useful and relevant career guidance for young people at school and college. I can remember my school career guidance session focussed mainly on what area of the building trade I would enter. Anyone who has spent more than five seconds with me will know that I am truly inept at manual work, and should never be given responsibility for dangerous tools. Career guidance should be a much more integral part of school life, and that doesn’t mean developing future employers for businesses run by the friends of Government minister, it means a specialist spending real time with young people to give them a target.

I think on this score I was unlucky as I went to school at a time of such wild change – the Internet was starting to spread and my careers guidance teacher was hugely inexperienced in advising people on where to go in an uncertain and changing world.

…shattering some illusions. Many people say that life is arduous and that it’s just a drudge and then you die. Many also think that the X-Factor is an achievable way to fame and fortune, and even that fame and fortune matter. Both are these are fallacies – the magic of life is everywhere and people forget that.

If you support people into doing what they can do, and helping them to develop their talents, you’re doing a good service to them and giving them a future. Telling them that they’ve got to be thankful for their lot and shouldn’t aspire to be more, or telling them that if they want they can be a star, and so needn’t try now as they’ll not need the skills once success comes, doesn’t help anyone.

Why not tell someone that they can be the very best at what they do, respect what they do, and support them to do it – while equally supporting them to move on if they wish?

If you can’t be positive when discussing someone’s future with them, be quiet.

…employers giving a fair wage to young people and not scaling it down depending on age. A loaf of bread costs the same whether you are 17, 19, 27 or indeed even if you’re a student doing part time work. I used to work at a supermarket, circa 2001-2004, and got different pay for being a 16 year old college student than I would have been 16 and a full-time employee, and again this was different to being 18 and full-time. I’m not sure if they still keep up such a heinous approach to pay – I sincerely hope that they don’t. Many young people, particularly care leavers, are living independently at 16 and should not be punished by businesses making huge profits, for their age.

…employers showing young people that there is a way forward. Even the most mundane job has a career path. It’s very unlikely that before you hit 30 you will have peaked, and so employers should spend some time encouraging those in jobs to look at their longer term prospects.

…stopping the discussion around benefit cuts for under 25’s. It does cost less to rent a flat if you’re 24, and similarly, electricity bills are the same regardless of age, and as such why should under 25’s be punished into poverty because of their age. I received less as a 24 year old on benefits than my counterparts a year older and had exactly the same bills to pay. So stop it.

…providing real, and paid, opportunities to help young people develop. This doesn’t mean expect them to work for free to ‘advance their career’ as someone who stuffs envelopes or inputs into a database in an office – it means give them real (paid) experiences as a part of a team and an organisation – intensive and for a short-term period and if permanent vacancies arise then ensure that they will them. Sadly many organisations and charities alike are relying on interns and disguising them as volunteers to fulfil roles that they should be paying someone to fill.

…the importance of saying something nice. It may be hard to believe but when you’re feeling low, someone saying something nice – as well as being truly irritating at times – can be a real boost. This doesn’t mean just bandy about comments, but if you see someone pursuing a similar path to you then encourage them and offer them guidance – don’t treat them like an enemy who is just after your job.

We have to give young people a fighting chance at a future, we have to be the positive difference to the lives of others that we would want for our own family if we weren’t around to provide it for them – we must grow as a collective, not as individuals always looking to knock each other off our pedestals.

Young people have a million and one reasons to live and we should use all we have in our power to show them that they have.

The next generation, our generation in fact, is our responsibility. No one should be allowed to wander through life alone and desperate. We can’t all find the perfect job, and many will potentially feel slightly unfulfilled when time comes to check out of the hotel of life, but no one should have to go through their stay believing that they have no reason to live.

There is nothing realistic about life – so don’t be limited and don’t be blindly pushed – just be yourself and when you’re in the position to then help others.

If you want to seek support in developing your future, you can get in touch with the Prince’s Trust. If you don’t believe you have a future, or anything to live for, then don’t be afraid to call The Samaritans and have a chat with someone.

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