Ten initiatives to help young people: 6. A youth mental help body

A significant number of young people face mental health problems.  It might be bullying at school or at work, or sometimes difficulties encountered by discrimination.  Often it is depression, depression they find it difficult to cope with on their own.  Many face problems with their physical appearance, finding it difficult or impossible to conform to idealized notions of what they think they ought to look like.  This leaves them feeling inadequate and unhappy, which in turn can lead to mental problems.

The NHS does not do well with the mental problems faced by young people.  Sometimes and in some places it does well, but on average it fails to meet an adequate standard of care in this area.  Too many young people feel they are facing their problems alone and cannot cope.  Some attempt suicide, some tragically succeed.  

It is perhaps time to recognize that young people have special mental health needs, and that these are different in some ways than those faced by the general adult population.  Young people have little experience of life, are only just coming to terms with who they are, and can feel isolated, helpless and confused.  This suggests the need for an independent body to which they can turn for specialist help.  Some youngsters find the NHS remote and intimidating, unable to offer the intimate and personal help that is often needed.  This is perhaps because the NHS tries to use its limited resources to best effect, trying to save lives where it can.  Some critics say it is under-resourced on mental health in general, never mind young people’s mental health.  What the NHS spends on one thing cannot also be spent on another.

To prevent youth mental health losing out to more strident claims on resources, a separate body is needed, independent of the NHS, but with its services available free at the point of need.  Financed partly by the taxpayer, and party from the sponsorship of businesses and private benefactors, the body would be the natural one to turn to when young people needed help.  Advertising would help make its services widely known just as happens with the Samaritans.  With a name such as “Support,” it could readily establish a brand identity such that young people would know whom to turn to when they found their problems more than they could face alone.
It could provide expertly trained staff with experience of youth problems, people who would listen sympathetically and at a personal level.  It would not solve all the mental health problems faced by young people, but it could contribute to a significant improvement in the lives of many of them.

Ten initiatives to help young people: 5. Youth start-up loans

Young people who opt for university education are eligible for loans at preferred rates.  They qualify for tuition loans of up to £9,000 per year, and for maintenance loans which could go as high as £8,200 per year for those from low income families.  Most students assume this is a good investment that will lead to higher salaries over the course of their working lives, and are cushioned by the fact that only those earning more than £21,000 per year have to start repaying those loans.

But young people who do not qualify for university admission, or who decide against it, are not eligible for similar loans.  In fact young people starting out in work or seeking work find there and many associated costs.  They often have to face deposits for accommodation; they sometimes have to buy new clothes appropriate for their work or their job-seeking.  Most have no cushion of saving since few will have yet earned any money.

If young people not at university were given access to loans on terms similar to those available to students, many would find their lives much easier.  For some it would help cover the costs of moving into their first independent accommodation.  For others it might help pay for a bicycle to travel to work on.  

For others, loans such as these would offer the opportunity to start a small business.  Paying for driving lessons to pass the test and buying a car would be a real possibility for those who wanted to become professional drivers.  Others might find themselves able to rent premises to set up as independent hairdressers.  A range of small business possibilities would open up.  Far from the world of multi-million software businesses, there are small one-person businesses that operate as gardeners, window-cleaners, street traders, hairdressers, and the like.  

To set up a one-person business such as these takes initial capital, capital that young people simply do not have.  Some of the lucky ones might borrow from parents.  Some might persuade a bank to loan them money, but banks are wary of lending to those without collateral, so for most the possibility is ruled out by lack of available finance.  
A scheme like that which provides student loans, but which made them available instead to non-university young people would open up countless opportunities for advancement.  For some it would help them with their move into the city to find work and accommodation.  For others it would open the possibility to start up their own small business.  It would reduce unemployment and encourage ambition.

Ten initiatives to help young people: 4. Personal service jobs tax deductible

Let down by the inadequacies of our education system, some young people leave school without any meaningful qualifications, and find it hard to obtain unemployment.  Meanwhile, many successful men and women in work find it difficult to balance the needs of a working life with domestic chores such as looking after children, keeping gardens tidy, and doing odd jobs around the house.  The domestic commitments make them less focused and less productive.

The two could be matched, given appropriate incentives.  Young people with scant qualifications could work as nannies, au pairs, handymen, gardeners and, if they were put through their driving test, as chauffeurs.  Taking into account minimum wage and National Insurance, however, the cost of employing people in personal service would be beyond the means of many working people.

Given people to help with personal services, successful men and women could have more of their time to do work, and raise their productivity and their contribution to the nation’s economy.  Government could facilitate this by making it a tax-deductible business expense for people to employ young people under the age of 25 in personal services such as those listed above.

The gains would be immense to both sides.  Freed from the hassle of domestic chores, the business people would gain time to concentrate more on their work.  The young people would gain employment, and would acquire skills and experience to render them more employable in the future.  They would have the habits, experience and discipline of work, and would enhance their CVs with good references.  Furthermore, they would have the examples of successful businessmen and women as role models, encouraging them to raise their own sights.  

There would be on-the-job training, with their employers coaching them in the requirements for acting as chauffeurs, gardeners, handymen, nannies, household assistants and the like.  It could be a requirement for tax deductibility that the employers would agree to train their employees in this manner.

There would, of course, be a tax cost to the Treasury if such employment were made tax-deductible.  But it would be offset by huge gains in employment, with fewer young people out of work, and fewer of them entering adult life without marketable skills.  Fewer of them would be dependent on state support in future.  The gains resulting from this would outweigh the costs.

Ten initiatives to help young people: 3. Redressing the age imbalance

Several analysts have made the point that there is redistribution from relatively poor young people to comparatively affluent older people, and have suggested that this is unfair.  Politically, the elderly have more clout because there are twice as many of the over 65s as there are of the under 25s, and they are twice as likely to vote.  This means they are four times as effective in voting terms, a fact that politicians have taken account of.

Popular perception of the circumstances in which pensioners live is somewhat out of accord with modern reality.  The image of a woman with a blanket over her shoulders, huddled over a fire and wondering if she can afford to toss another stick onto the flames does not accord with present day reality for most pensioners.  Some 86% of pensioners live in households with assets in excess of £50,000.  The average income of over 65s is £15,400.  A young person working on current minimum wage for a normal working week earns just under £13,000.  Yet the young person is taxed while the older person is guaranteed a triple locked pension that will rise with inflation, or average earnings, or 2%, whichever is the highest.  On top of this comes a winter fuel allowance, a Christmas bonus and a free bus pass.

It is doubtful if this can be sustained in the long term.  Government will not end the triple lock in this Parliament because they made a manifesto pledge not to, but for the next Parliament they should consider reverting to indexing pensions in line with the consumer price index, as used to be the case.  This would enable them to reduce taxes on low-paid young people.

A proportion of pensioners do live in straitened circumstances, and even though their pension would rise to keep abreast of inflation if it were indexed to the CPI, some would need additional help.  If the government did abandon the triple lock in favour of rises with price inflation, they might need to establish an Emergency Relief Fund to deal with older people in poverty.  Government might choose to contract out to charities the task of locating such people.

The measure would, without doubt, give government the slack it needed to ease the taxation of low-paid young people, giving help where it was most needed.

Ten initiatives to help young people: 2. US/UK visa swap

Employment is a major concern for many young people, both for those who choose not to undertake university education and for those who have done so.  Because of concerns about immigration, especially illegal immigration, the governments of both countries have tightened the rules and made it very difficult for citizens of the one country to seek work in the other.

The UK government should negotiate a ‘visa swap’ with the United States to produce a new kind of visa available to young people below the age of 25.  Under the new arrangements, young people in Britain would be able to travel to the US for up to two years, and obtain work there without the need for a work permit.  Similarly young US citizens would be able to live and work in Britain for up to two years without the need for a work permit.  Neither represent a type of immigration that would concern the other country.

If the two governments agreed to such a visa swap it would greatly extend opportunities to the young people of both countries.  There are large numbers of young people in Britain who would jump at the opportunity to live in America for two years and work to support themselves there.  In the process they would acquire new skills.  In particular they would be exposed to the US approach to consumer satisfaction, and learn the standards of service expected there.  They would almost certainly return to the UK with attitudes and skills sought by employers, with their career prospects enhanced.

Similarly, large numbers of young people in the US would welcome the chance to broaden their horizons by visiting Britain for a couple of years and working there.  They would have the chance to visit the nearby continent of Europe during holidays or time off, and gain experience of foreign countries other than the UK.  Most American youngsters are noted for a can-do attitude and a commitment to the work ethic.  Working alongside young people in Britain, they could well provide an example that could spread those attitudes.

In terms of international understanding, the Anglo-American relationship would be enhanced if significant numbers of each country’s young people had lived and worked amongst their counterparts in the other country.  The cultural exchanges and friendships formed would facilitate each country’s understanding and appreciation of the other.  An arrangement such as this would be immensely beneficial to the young people of each country, enriching their lives with new experiences and opportunities.