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Generation Isolation 2023: Cost of living crisis is keeping young people “locked down”, anxious and worried about their future

19th October 2023 by OnSide
  • 1.3 million young people have stopped activities outside school like socialising with friends, sports and hobbies because of the cost-of-living crisis
  • Almost 7 in 10 young people are concerned about the cost of living crisis
  •  76% of young people spend most of their free time on screens and over half (51%) spend most of their free time in their bedrooms
  • Over one in five young people (22%) say they don’t have opportunities to learn new skills that help them to become independent – skills vital to help prepare for adulthood
  • Youth clubs help young people make friends, learn new skills and overcome difficulties – yet just 9% of 11-18 year olds attend one, and of those who don’t attend one, almost half reported not having a youth club near their home
Today we publish our second Generation Isolation report into the social lives of 5,072 11-18 year olds, in partnership with YouGov. With 85% of children’s time spent outside of school, our report highlights how acutely the cost-of-living crisis is impacting young people, showing that 26% of 11-18 year olds have stopped out-of-school activities like sport, dance and seeing friends. That’s 1.3 million* young people missing out on the vital development, skills and confidence that a rich and varied life outside of school brings. Of these, the most common activity to be cut is sport and fitness, given up by almost a third (30%). This is followed by trips and days out (26%), then dance and music lessons (9%).

In addition, a growing majority** of young people (76%) spend most of their free time on screens (watching streamed content like Netflix/YouTube, gaming, spending time on their phone or watching TV), 80% spend most of their free time at home and over half (51%) spend most of their free time in their bedroom – living life online, rather than experiencing the face-to-face activities, opportunities and social connection that develop vital confidence and skills for adulthood.

Our survey also highlights the challenging context young people are living in and the scale of worries caused by family finances. Almost 7 in 10 young people (69%) say they or their families are concerned about the cost of living crisis with the long term effect on the price of goods (62%), parents’ stress (59%), their families not being able to pay bills (40%) and their families struggling to afford food (29%), the top concerns for them. Half of young people report high or very high levels of anxiety***. When asked why, the top concerns were: worries about their future impacting over half (51%), what people think of them (46%), exam pressure (35%) and cost of living crisis (26%).

Generation Isolation shows that young people who attend youth centres are better prepared for adulthood then those who don’t – just 16% of young people who attend youth clubs said they do not have the opportunity to learn the skills to prepare them for adulthood like cooking, managing money, accessing employment, compared to 22% of all young people. The report also shows that youth club attendees have richer social lives because they spend more time face to face with friends (15% spend most of their free time with their friends vs 10% of the population)

72% of young people who attend a youth centre say it has helped them overcome difficulties and 83% say it allows them to learn new skills. Yet the Generation Isolation report also highlights the lack of widespread opportunity to gain these benefits, with just 9% of young people surveyed currently attending a youth centre and almost half of those who don’t (49%) saying they do not have a youth club near them.

We believe that youth clubs and youth workers are an untapped solution to the issues highlighted in our Generation Isolation report – both by helping young people access vital character-building opportunities that build confidence and skills for adulthood and through access to trusted youth workers helping them navigate the pressing challenges and worries they face, such as the cost of living.

We’re calling for:

  • Greater recognition of the value of young people’s time and opportunities outside of school.
  • Every young person to have access to high quality youth centres to help them develop skills, build social connections and achieve their potential.
  • A total overhaul of the funding model for youth provision, with support for partnership approaches like OnSide’s which has seen the charity develop 13 youth centres across the country, in 15 years, with a further 8 in development.

Other Generation Isolation 2023 findings include:

  • Girls have higher levels of anxiety with 55% reporting high anxiety vs 46% of boys. Older children 15-18 have higher anxiety (54%) then younger children 11-14 (46%)
  • Young people from the least affluent households****  are bearing the brunt of restricted household finances with 30% of them stopping out-of-school activities vs 26% of the population
  • Older teenagers spend more time alone – 18% of young people say they spend most of their free time alone rising to 22% of 15-18 year olds.

Commenting on the findings, our Chief Executive Jamie Masraff said:

“Our survey lays bare the devastating effect that the cost of living crisis is having on young people. It’s effectively locking them down all over again.

We know that the pandemic increased isolation for children and teenagers. Now high prices are condemning this generation to further loneliness, reducing opportunities to take part in activities in a safe space or socialise face-to-face. With young people spending 85% of their time outside of school, it is essential that they continue to experience character building experiences and opportunities that can help them achieve their potential and make them stand out when they later look for jobs or college places.

Youth clubs play a vital role in this, empowering young people to develop skills, build resilience and manage their anxieties and worries about what adulthood means for them. All young people have a right to access youth clubs and support from trusted youth workers. This isn’t a nice to-do, it’s essential.

We must value time outside of school as much as we value time spent in the classroom and work together to create more safe environments like youth clubs which enable them to thrive into adulthood.  All parts of society have a role to play. At OnSide we know from our partnership model, which brings together local authorities, businesses of all sizes and communities, that when different groups and sectors come together for young people – we can create more youth provision, reduce young people’s isolation and enrich their lives for the better.”

Kerin Morris, Deputy Head of Youth Work at HideOut, the OnSide Youth Zone in Gorton, east Manchester said:

“Young people have had a rough time. We told them to stay indoors and to socialise online during Covid, then came the cost of living crisis, and lots of them are finding they’re either struggling to afford the basics like food and clothing, or their families can no longer afford the same opportunities they used to. For some young people staying in their bedroom feels safer, easier and cheaper.

We can spot the young people who have spent a lot of time indoors on their phones, as while they might have great tech skills, they can sometimes be more reclusive and less likely to join in or start a conversation. Instead of scrolling or playing games on their phone, we encourage them to engage in our programmes at the Youth Zone, like join in a game of basketball or try a drama session – all for 50p a visit. And it’s through activities like these that youth workers build positive and trusting relationships and get to find out who our young people are.

We support their needs, and we help them to find their passions and gain opportunities and experiences to learn about the real world.”

Max Scanlon, 17, who attends the HideOut OnSide Youth Zone in Gorton, Greater Manchester, said:

“My passion is writing and performing music. To spend an evening in a studio would cost £100 an hour at least, which is totally out of my reach. For 50p entry I can spend the evening making music at HideOut.

Everything costs a lot of money now, friends are struggling to pay for things like basketball courts or gyms. In the Youth Zone you can do all of that and have food as well. There are loads of things to do, it’s hard to get bored.

I don’t think I could meet anyone more professional or knowledgable than the youth workers even if I was spending £100 for a professional studio. I’m studying songwriting in college now and I know that when I apply to university the extra time I’ve put in at HideOut will really help my application. If you have a dream, the youth workers help you achieve it. They put a mic in your hand and everyone cheers you on, people here want to see you succeed in whatever you want to do.”

To read the full Generation Isolation report visit: www.onsideyouthzones.org/generationisolation.

About Generation Isolation

The survey of 5,072 11 to 18 year olds in England was carried out by YouGov between 23rd August and 7th September 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all 11 to 18 year olds in England.

Generation Isolation 2023 builds on the picture drawn in OnSide’s 2022 survey of 5,043 young people that showed one in five young people spent most of their time alone and 73% of young people spent most of their free time on screens. The two surveys suggest a societal shift away from face-to-face contact.

*1.3 million calculation by OnSide based on ONS mid 2021 population estimates.

** 76% of young people are spending most of their free time on screens compared with 73% in the 2022 survey

*** Anxiety measure based on an existing well-being scale developed and reported by the ONS.

**** defined as social grade C2DE