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COVID hits youth employment as young people return to insecure jobs

COVID hits youth employment as young people return to insecure jobs
One-in-three 18- to 34-year-olds are now in atypical, often insecure work. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters (Peter Nicholls / reuters)

Youth employment in the UK has been hit hard by the pandemic as new research shows that although young people returned to work rapidly after the easing of lockdown restrictions, many are now in insecure jobs.

Almost 50,000 young men have become completely economically inactive, according to a new report from the Resolution Foundation.

Despite youth unemployment levels falling below than pre-pandemic levels, "problems persist" with one-in-three 18- to 34-year-olds now in atypical, often insecure work.

Young "returners" — those who were in employment before the pandemic, experienced worklessness in the last lockdown, and have since gone back to work — are now more likely to be on a temporary contract, a zero hours contract, doing agency work or working variable hours than those who stayed in work throughout the pandemic, the report found.

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A third (33%) of returners were now employed in these atypical work types, compared to just 12% of young people who were in work during both periods of the pandemic, according to the study which included results from a YouGov survey of 6,100 adults.

The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who are economically inactive and not in full-time study (NEETs) has risen, especially among young men, where it has increased by 47,000 compared to spring 2021.

Read more: NHS and other key workers face year of poor pay, TUC warns

In October 2021, 64% of young people who were in work before the pandemic who had been workless in the last three months reported a common mental health disorder, compared to 51% of young people overall.

Over two-thirds (68%) of young people who were in work before the pandemic and were looking for a new job, and 70% of those who were looking for an additional job, also reported a mental health disorder at this time.

Both recent worklessness and poor-quality work are associated with poor mental health, the report said.

One-in three 18- to 24-year-olds who were in work in February 2020 had experienced at least three months of worklessness, along with almost one-in-five (19%) 25- to 34-year-olds, despite the implementation of the furlough scheme.

Younger workers returning to the workplace were also more likely than those who remained employed during the winter of 2021 to be looking for a new or additional jobs, suggesting some level of dissatisfaction with their current work.

One-in-four (25%) reported looking for a new job, compared to 19% of those were in work during both periods.

Resolution Foundation is calling on policymakers to "focus on tackling insecure work, and ensuring that young people have access to good quality jobs".

Read more: Reskilling staff can save UK firms £49,000 per employee

Louise Murphy, economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Young people were hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic, but have bounced back with a swift return to work, thanks in large part to the success of the furlough scheme.

"But policymakers and employers must not become complacent — problems persist for young people who are at risk of insecure work and economic inactivity.

“And while unemployment has fallen, the number of young people dropping out of education and the labour market altogether has risen — especially young men.

“A return to the workplace, on its own, is not enough. Ensuring that young people have the confidence and knowledge to find and apply for work, and access to good quality jobs and sufficient hours, must be a priority for employers and policymakers in the months and years to come.”

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