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Young people more likely to be off work sick than those in their 40s

People in their 20s are more likely to be off work with ill health than employees twice their age, new research has revealed.

Young workers can end up unemployed or going into low-paid jobs due to the impact of mental health problems on their education, the study found.

The data was collected by British think tank, The Resolution Foundation, funded by charity, The Health Foundation, which called for cross-party government action to prevent a “lost generation” of young employees.

The research was published as official data pointed to an increase in young people with poor mental health.

In 2021/22, 34% of young people aged 18-24 reported symptoms of mental disorder, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder – a 10% increase compared to the figures reported in 2000.

Young women are one-and-a-half times more likely to be affected than young men (41% versus 26%), according to the research.

Between 2018 and 2022, some 21% of 18 to 24-year-olds with mental health problems were unemployed, compared to 13% without, the new study found.

More on Education

In 2022, 40% of the same age group with mental health problems were in low-paid jobs, compared to 35% of their healthier peers.

Mental health problems increase failing GCSE risk

Some 79% of people aged 18-24 who are “workless” due to ill health were identified to only have qualifications at GCSE level or below.

This compares with a third (34%) of all people in the same age group, the study found.

The report also found one in eight (12%) school pupils aged 11 to 16 with poor mental health missed more than 15 days of school in the autumn term last year, compared to just one in 50 (0.02%) of their healthier classmates.

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‘Mental health banks’ plugging gaps

Meanwhile, children aged 11-14 with poor mental health are three times more likely not to pass five GCSEs including maths and English.

A third of young people with mental health problems and no degree are jobless, compared to 17% of graduates battling illness.

The study called for more support to be made available to sixth forms and colleges, and greater action to be taken to ensure fewer pupils leave compulsory education with low qualifications.

Economic consequences starkest for non-graduates

Senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, Louise Murphy, said: “Attention on this issue has tended to focus on higher education, but what should worry us is when poor mental health comes together with poor education outcomes.

“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.”

More help for people re-sitting exams is needed “so that everyone has qualifications to build on”, Ms Murphy added.

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Labour to ‘increase mental health staff’

Read more:
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Police to reduce mental health call outs
Warnings over mental health in prisons

Director of health at the Health Foundation, Jo Bibby, called on policymakers to focus on “the building blocks of health” such as good education and employment, to equip young people with the tools needed as adults.

“Without concerted cross-government action, we risk creating a ‘lost generation’ due to ill health,” she added.

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A government statement said its £2.5bn Back To Work plan aimed to help 1m people find jobs, including people with long-term health conditions and disabilities.

“This sets out tailored support to get more young people into work, with work coaches and youth hubs offering advice and guidance helping young people find a role right for them,” a spokesman said.

Ministers offered “record levels of support for mental health” totalling £16bn last year – including £1bn earmarked specifically for children and young people, they added.

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