With inflation at a 41-year high, young people across the UK continue to be one of the hardest hit demographics affected by the cost of living crisis and economic fall-out from COVID-19.
YMCA Norfolk, the longest-standing youth charity in the county, were keen to reflect on the impact of the cost of living with their Norwich-based young people – many of whom suffer from long-term mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD and therefore have limited capacity around gaining employment and earning a stable income.
The charity houses over 240 young people (aged 16-25) in Norfolk each year, with 38 clients living at their Central Youth Accomodation at Norwich Bus Station, 40 clients living at My Place on Bethel Street and a further 48 across their Norwich Community Housing units.
A number of clients are high-risk with complex needs and therefore have less opportunities to obtain full-time employment when they first enter YMCA Norfolk’s services. Many rely on government support such as universal credit to pay for everyday costs and essential items..
As reported in YMCA England and Wales recent research, ‘Generation Cut’, basic necessities are becoming unaffordable; items such as pasta have increased in price by 60%, with many anticipating that food prices will continue to rise.
YMCA Norfolk spoke to their staff and young people to explore how this research translates on a local level, specifically how it has impacted those who were already struggling with a lack of financial resources prior to the spike in inflation.
In a recent survey sent to YMCA Norfolk housing clients, 100% of participants said they had seen a rise in cost of food prices in the last 6 months, 90% said they had seen a rise in cost of personal items (toiletries, clothing etc.) and 70% said they had seen a rise in cost of transport (train and bus fayre).
Commenting on the backlash on the increase in everyday living, one client commented:
“I’ve been affected quite badly by the cost of living crisis. I find it really stressful not knowing if I’ll be able to afford food for the rest of the month, while constantly having to budget for food as prices continue to rise.
“I get so stressed out and anxious some months that it makes me physically nauseous.”
Many housing clients also commented on how the increase in everyday payments has meant a decrease in their budget towards leisure activities, which has affected their mental health due to a lack of social interaction.
Justin Poll-Drane, Senior Housing Engagement Worker at My Place, commented:
“Although our clients know they can come to us for their essential items, and we are fortunate to receive lots of donations from the local community, they often feel embarrassed about having to turn to us for the likes of food – which they feel they should be able to afford themselves.
“We have sadly seen many young people reduce what they buy or some even miss a meal a day to be able to afford to eat for a whole month, because they would rather do this than deal with the embarrassment of asking for a food bank voucher.
“They worry that asking for help for essentials is a sign that they cannot manage their money, and will therefore affect their move-on journey. Even though this isn’t the case, I can understand why they feel this way.”
Out of the YMCA Norfolk staff who participated in a similar survey, 100% said they’ve noticed an increase in anxiety among clients in the last 6 months since the rise in inflation, and 75% said they’ve noticed clients socialising less due to struggling to afford leisure activities.
Ruth Vaughan, YMCA Norfolk Youth Coach, commented:
“The impact of inflation has a domino effect on our young people and causes a hard-to-break cycle: they feel stressed and anxious about the economic climate, which leads to a decrease in motivation, pushing them further away from being job-ready.
“While we offer a range of budgeting and tenancy management courses, we can’t change the speed of inflation and the way it impacts our young people. We can only continue to work hard to educate them on managing their finances and encourage them to engage in positive activities, so they know that we’re here to support them through such challenging times.”
YMCA Norfolk offers clients a range of training, education and employment programmes such as Life Ready – a youth-led activities programme overseen by a group of passionate youth coaches. Clients also have access to therapy, support workers and positive activities, providing a holistic support service and helping them to feel ready for independent living.
John Lee, YMCA Norfolk CEO, commented:
“We hear on a daily basis from the young people we support how increasingly hard it is for them. Whilst it always been difficult to be a young person at risk of homelessness, it has become exponentially harder over the last few years with increasing costs and cuts to support services.
“The funding cuts to services make it harder to overcome barriers which are stopping young people achieving their goals.
“We are lucky to benefit from great partnerships with Norfolk County Council and the District councils alongside other charities. Together our staff are working hard to make the difference where they can but as the quotes from our clients and staff in this report show, an increasing number of our young people are crisis point.”