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How the Cost of Living Crisis Impacts Young People in Cumbria

As we come to the end of poverty awareness month and the cost of living crisis worsens, we are investigating the impact it’s having on young people across Cumbria.

We looked into how employment, education, travel, health and housing make a difference as to whether young people in the county can live comfortably.

We also researched what the local government and charities are doing to combat issues young people are facing in these areas.

Having meaningful employment with salaries that allow you to live comfortably improves overall mental health and wellbeing.

However, young people in the county face many barriers and inequalities when trying to access employment.

In the workplace 85.3% of people in Cumbria of working age don’t want a job.

One of the main reasons young people aren’t in employment is because they are focusing on their education.

Many young people aren’t in employment because they are pursuing an education career

Graphic credit: workhub

Yet despite there being more 16-17 years olds in training, education and employment than the national average, lack of skill shortages is said to be a significant barrier to employment for young people.

This reflects on the level of education available for young people in Cumbria.

The majority of the working population in Cumbria are only educated to a level 1 of an NVQ - which is the equivalent of GCSE grades G-E.

With 1 in 4 adults having no qualifications, many people seeking employment will only be able to apply for entry level jobs.

On a positive note, apprenticeship take-up is healthy and in the 2019/20 academic year there were more than 700 apprenticeships started in the Barrow district.

Sammy the submarine nuclear degree apprentice

Photo credit: Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership

But pay for apprenticeships is only £4.81 which stands well below the national living wage for those over the age of 23 which is £9.50 per hour.

However, for young people living in Furness taking up apprenticeships in manufacturing leads to well paid jobs in places such as BAE systems which is Barrow’s biggest employer meaning it’s a more attractive alternative to a degree.

However, this is not an option for everyone. It should be noted that not all young people can take up employment roles in the county.

7,000 young carers (under the age of 18) are caring for a relative or friend with a disability which reflects Cumbria’s ageing population.

Most people caring for someone do so unpaid and every single district in Cumbria has a higher proportion of people unpaid for care than the national average.

There are around an estimated 7,000 young carers in Cumbria

Graphic credit: WF Youth

There is evidence to suggest that young carers in the county are more likely than the national average to not be in education, employment or training between the ages of 16-19.

Young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds similarly to young carers are likely to be not in education and there is a major gap in educational attainment between themselves and those from better off families than the national average.

The local economy is another barrier to employment.

Although it may seem good that 92% of businesses in Cumbria survive in the first year of opening after half a decade that number drops to only 44%. This leaves many people, particularly young people in part time employment, redundant.

Business survival rate in Cumbria

Graphic credit: Cumbria Observatory

In some Cumbrian wards such as Allerdale, Barrow-in-Furness and Copeland youth, unemployment is five times the national average.

Even when young people do find meaningful employment like in the thriving tourist industry that employs 35,000 people of working age, salaries in the industry are less than half the national average.

For young people of working age in West Cumbria nearly 30% of households survive on an income less than £10k.

Besides, many of the available tourism jobs are based in affluent areas with poor travel access and road connectivity.

The travel barrier to employment is recognised by Cumbrian employers who have regularly expressed concerns that they struggle to recruit locally.

Cumbria Community Foundation reported that Cumbria’s bus fares are significantly higher than in metropolitan areas.

This is because Cumbria County Council withdrew all bus subsidies almost a decade ago.

There are currently two pound bus fares in place because of the cost of living crisis, however, this scheme is not permanent and will end in March of this year.

60% of bus services over the years have disappeared as a result of the council's decision from ten years ago in areas such as Great Urswick and Satterthwaite with no buses other than school services.

This isolates young people who don’t have access to a car from employment opportunities.

The 555 bus heading to Keswick in South Lakes

Photo credit: Visit the Lake District

Even with access to a car young people that live in rural hamlets and villages will have an average car spend of £139 a week on transport compared to just £79 in urbanised areas.

The rural premium on fuel means many young people move elsewhere in the country to access employment, or rely on the bus services that are expensive and are disappearing at a rapid rate.

These cuts to bus services, according to Cumbria County Council’s deputy leader, Peter Thorton, have: “contributed to the problem of rural isolation and the impact on people’s mental health.”

Thorton is right to be worried about the consequences of rural isolation with one person committing suicide every week in Cumbria.

Cumbria has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK, especially for men in places like Barrow where the rate is 26% per 100,000 people, way above the national average.

Financial issues will not help these horrific statistics and Cumbria is one of the poorest rural areas in England.

Twenty-nine of its communities are among the ten percent most deprived nationwide. Almost 20% of children and young people live in the most deprived areas such as Barrow-in-Furness where one in four children grow up in poverty.

A street in Barrow one of the most poverty stricken coastal town

Photo credit: Andy Hall/The Observer

Young people in Cumbria that live independently or contribute to their households are likely to experience fuel poverty which is driven by low income levels and housing with poor insulation.

One in ten households in Cumbria are in fuel poverty and for people living in areas like Furness, energy bills account for more than 10% of their household income.

Similarly to the fuel premium people in Cumbria pay a premium on food and pay £10 more for weekly food shops than people in cities with well connected areas.

This means Cumbrian’s on low wages, such as young people who live independently, are increasingly needing to use food banks which in rural areas are understood to be a direct response to austerity.

But in rural areas food banks are few and far between, in Cumbria there is only one for every 62,000 people.

The need for food banks is particularly felt in West Cumbrian areas such as Workington, where 22% of residents have gone into debt or increased their level of debt to meet the increased cost of grocery items.

Local business people volunteering at Carlisle food bank

Photo credit: PPM

When we looked at what the local government was doing to tackle fuel and food poverty Workingtons local MP, Mark Jenkinson, voted for rising prices, lowering benefits and higher taxes for low and middle income workers.

Clearly it sparked outrage amongst those living in Workington and protestors used his birthday to highlight food poverty and more in the town.

Many young people who want to live independently struggle to do so because of the fuel and food premium, energy crisis and the housing crisis in Cumbria.

To buy a home you’d need an income of at least £37k meaning the ⅓ of the population who earn under £10k wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage.

Renting is particularly expensive in South Cumbria and due to holiday and second homes there is less availability of homes to rent.

Local MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale Tim Farron has been making efforts to change this inequality in housing.

Tim Farron debating the housing crisis for his local constituents in parliament

Photo credit: Cumbria Crack

The energy and housing crisis, premiums on food and fuel, low wages, rural isolation, deprivation and poor travel means that for many young people who live independently are struggling across the county to afford to live.

This is resulting in a mental health crisis and a desperate call to action is needed to change these standards of living.

Although local charities have stepped in to combat issues such as rural isolation, employment, housing crisis and mental health, we aren’t seeing the same reflected by local and central government apart from the success of apprenticeships.

If young people are to stay in the local area these issues need to be addressed and tackled so that they can go on towards fulfilling careers and living comfortably independently.

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