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Addressing young people’s employment challenges important for good health after pandemic

Written by on 28th May 2021

A new series of reports that focuses on the effects of Coronavirus on employment in Wales, has been published today by Public Health Wales.

Young people, and those in precarious work have been identified as being especially vulnerable to employment changes caused by the pandemic, with mental wellbeing and struggles to find or keep work cited as major concerns.

Many young people are unaware of the support that is already available and how to access it, suggesting a greater need for organisations to engage with young people on a deeper level, in order to find solutions to the barriers they face for gaining good, fair employment –critical for people’s good health and wellbeing.

Key findings across the reports were:

  • Around a quarter of a million workers were employed in shutdown sectors in Wales (18 per cent of all workers) at the outset of the pandemic with young workers (aged 16-24) much more likely to be employed in shutdown sectors (36 per cent compared to 11 per cent of those aged 35-64).
  • Young people faced varied and complex challenges due to the pandemic. In addition to the challenge in gaining, retaining and partaking in good, fair work, issues raised included the effects of the temporary lockdown, such as disruption of vocational learning and home-schooling, or exacerbation of pre-existing issues such as the nature of employment for young people, Brexit and reported lower uptake of universal credit.
  • Those who work in low-paid, insecure work have less protection and rights due to the ‘flexible’ nature of their jobs. Young people are chief among these due to the specific sectoral trends in employment contract types. These employment changes have also translated into significantly different impacts for distinct groups, with those living in deprived areas of Wales appearing to have fared worst.
  • There is substantial uncertainty about the future, especially when government schemes such as furlough come to an end as these have been cushions for economic pain caused by the pandemic.
  • Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are likely to feel the effects for some time with concerns over scarring effects on job prospects and the potential for higher tax in the future to pay for the financial support schemes introduced by the Government during the pandemic.
  • While interventions are perceived by decision-makers and influencers to be available, apart from the furlough scheme, young people in this study did not, on the whole, appear familiar with them or accessing the support.
  • It will be critical to ensure young people are involved in the development of future support.
  • Evidence suggests that labour market policies can substantially impact the health of both the employed and unemployed populations in a positive way.
  • A range of policies are linked with improved mental and physical health outcomes, as well as reduced health inequalities; however, some, such as benefit sanctions, have been linked to either no health benefit, or even harm.

Dr Benjamin Gray, Public Health Researcher at Public Health Wales, said: “18-29 year olds are the age group with the highest proportion placed on furlough (41%) and 2.5 times more likely to have been placed on furlough than the 40-49 years age group and as such risk an uncertain future. Furlough could potentially mask a longer term impact of Covid-19 on unemployment, and this is a concern, especially amongst this age group.”

Dr Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health with the Wider Determinants of Health Unit at Public Health Wales, said: “Young people have told us they have been hit by a multitude of factors that will potentially have long lasting effects on their employment prospects.

“It’s not just about being in work though. It is the nature, quality and long term prospects of that work – good, fair work, that’s so important for people’s health. We saw this impact play out in the study. Some working young people we heard from struggled with the impacts of work changes outside their control on their mental wellbeing, whereas most of those in stable employment generally felt well, supported by their employer, and fairly confident about the future.

“We know that at UK, Wales and local levels there have been important actions taken to mitigate the impact of these employment changes. However, some of these are expected to come to an end.

“A clear message from our work is that it will take a range of approaches to support young people responding to the employment challenges of the pandemic, in order to improve health. Action can be taken at national, regional and local level. Employers, too, have an important role in helping young people into good quality work, and that includes public sector organisations. If we are to safeguard future health we will need to work collaboratively and effectively, involving young people.”

The reports published today are the first in a series of planned employment analysis by the Public Health Wales Population Health programme exploring the impact of Coronavirus on the Welsh labour market and will help inform policy and decision makers. Further phases of research will look at how challenges could be addressed as the economy reopens and recovers, so that those most at risk of longer-term harm from the crisis can secure decent quality future employment, training, and education.

Published in this first series are:

  1. COVID-19 and employment changes in Wales, What we know about current and future impacts.
  2. COVID-19 and employment changes in Wales, Insights for policy – young people, employment and health. Prepared for Public Health Wales by Beaufort Research.
  3. COVID-19 and employment changes in Wales, Promising interventions to improve health and health equity. Prepared for Public Health Wales by Alma Economics.
  4.      Who are most vulnerable to employment changes during the COVID-19 pandemic? Key findings from a national survey.

For full details of all the reports please go to: https://phw.nhs.wales/news/