THE Youth Select Committee has launched a report on the impact of the cost of living on young people’s health and wellbeing, which concludes that transformative economic shifts have impacted young people’s emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

The Committee, which is supported by the UK Parliament and British Council, gives young people the opportunity to scrutinise and hold inquiries into topics that matter to them. The Committee is made up of twelve members aged 14-19 and includes representatives from each of the devolved nations.

The cost of living was investigated following a 2022 UK-wide ballot of over half a million young people aged 11 to 18, in which young people declared health and wellbeing their biggest concern. Titled The impact of the cost of living crisis on young people, the report is the UK’s first full and comprehensive review into the impact the cost of living has had on this demographic. It was launched on 6 March by members of the Committee at a special House of Commons reception.

The UK has faced significant economic shifts over the last few years, with high inflation and government cuts. The effects of this are impacting young people across all aspects of their lives.

The Committee’s key findings and recommendations include:

  • Many young people feel excluded from the policy-making processes that directly have an impact on their lives. While there are instances of successful models in other legislatures where young people actively engage with policy-makers, opportunities remain scarce for direct engagement with national policy at both an official and ministerial level. The Government should provide more opportunities for young people to feed into policy decisions that affect them, including engagement with officials and ministers.
  • The high cost of living is negatively affecting young people’s ability to secure stable jobs, with lower wages preventing young people from applying to certain roles. The government should equalise wages for all workers of legal adult age, so young people under 23 years old do not receive a lower Minimum Wage.
  • The current eligibility criteria for free school meals does not capture all of those in need, instead resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’. The government should ring-fence funding for free school meals to enable consistent provision, as well as expanding the eligibility to include the c.900,000 young people who are currently living in food poverty but do not meet the criteria.
  • The Committee support calls from witnesses and campaigners for the introduction of an Essentials Guarantee within Universal Credit to ensure that the basic rate covers life’s essentials, including food and bills. The Government should implement this measure and ensure it is extended to eligible young people under 25.
  • Demand for youth mental health services has surged in recent years, yet prolonged waiting times for NHS support and limited access to CAMHS in schools and colleges has left many young people struggling alone. The government should require schools to have a mental health policy, as well as permanent staff dedicated to student’s mental health.
  • Young people from marginalised communities, but particularly those from minority ethnic and disabled backgrounds, are disproportionately affected by the cost of living, which has impeded their access to education and job opportunities. The government should commission further research into this area, and work with local authorities to provide specific help for improving access to education and employment.

Dev Sharma, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Youth Select Committee are concerned at how far reaching the impact of the cost of living crisis has been on young people’s lives.

“From job prospects to accessing affordable nutritious food and sufficient mental health services, my generation is grappling with multifaceted challenges as a direct result of growing financial insecurity. Our experiences, struggles, and aspirations must inform policies that directly impact our lives. Our perspectives are not just valuable; they are essential for crafting a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”

Evidence for the Committee’s report was gathered in Autumn 2023 from a range of expert witnesses, including leaders from the worlds of youth work, politics and the charity sector. Just like UK Parliament Select Committees, the Youth Select Committee heard evidence inside a Committee Room in Parliament, which is normally reserved for MPs, and their report will now be sent to the Government for an official response.

* Source: British Youth Council