Home Estate Planning Mental health putting more young people out of work as UK struggles with high inactivity rate

Mental health putting more young people out of work as UK struggles with high inactivity rate

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Poor mental health among younger people is pushing up the UK’s inactivity rate and hampering the economy, according to new research from a leading think tank.

Over the past decade, the number of young people out of work for health reasons has doubled to 190,000 from 93,000. This means people in their 20s are now more likely to be economically inactive due to ill health than people in their 40s, according to the Resolution Foundation.

The increasing prevalence of mental health issues has been one of the key factors in this rise. One-in-three people aged between 18-24 reported symptoms of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder in 2021-22. This was up from one in four people in 2000.

This means young people are more likely to experience a common mental disorder than any other age group. 20 years ago, they were the least likely group to suffer from a mental disorder.

Young people with mental health problems are much more likely to be out of work than those without. Between 2018 and 2022, 21 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds with mental health problems were workless, compared to just 13 per cent of those without mental health problems. 

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said this represents a “major challenge to economic and public spending through the social security system and pressure on the NHS.”

The UK has suffered from a stubbornly high rate of economic inactivity since the pandemic, largely due to the rising tide of long-term sickness.

According to figures released this month, a record 2.8m people were inactive due to long-term sickness in the final quarter of last year, up from 2.6m a year ago.

ONS research from last July suggested that 53 per cent of those inactive due to long-term sickness had mental health conditions, although this was usually a secondary condition.

The government is trying to tackle this issue, but the Resolution Foundation argued that more attention needed to be paid to groups with the lowest qualifications.

Nearly four-fifths (79 per cent) of 18 to 24-year-olds who are workless due to ill health have qualifications at GCSE level or below compared to 34 per cent of all people in the age group.

“The economic consequences of poor mental health are starkest for young people who don’t go to university, with one in three young non-graduates with a common mental disorder currently workless,” Louise Murphy, Senior Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said.

The think tank called for greater mental health support to be made available for those in compulsory education.

It also argued that action needed to be taken to ensure fewer people leave compulsory education with very low qualification levels, such as by making better provisions for those resitting exams.

“Policymakers need to focus on the building blocks of health, such as good employment and education, to ensure young people get the support they need and have the tools to move through the world as adults. Without concerted cross-government action, we risk creating a ‘lost generation’ due to ill health,” Bibby said.

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