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How ‘debt culture’ contributes to the decline in young people’s mental health

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “poverty is the worst form of violence”, this phrase applies particularly well to young people living in Greater Manchester. In July to September 2018, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was 11.1 percent as compared to 3.8 percent for 25-34 year olds and 2.8 percent for 35-49 year olds.

This high unemployment rate for young people can contribute to many different factors that affect their lifestyle, such as resorting to crime as a means of income. In some cases, this can escalate into joining gangs and other associated criminal activities. Lack of financial stability for young people can also leave many of them in debt or without homes, possibly leading to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.

According to Citizen’s Advice, young people have an average income to debt ratio of nearly 70 percent, as compared to 34 percent for 25-29 year olds and 11 percent for 60-64 year olds. I believe that the main reason why money is such a big problem for young people living in the UK is because secondary schools are not teaching students about financial literacy and how they can manage their finances as youths growing into adults.

The British education system is mainly designed to make people believe that after school you should go to university, and after graduating you should get a 9 to 5 job. If analysed differently, it interprets that the idea is to: finish school, go to university, build up student debt, and then spend the most of your working career paying back the debt.

The pressure put on young people to go to university is one of the main reasons why debt culture is such a big problem among young people. Many parents tell their children that they will not be able to get a good job if they do not go to university, some people go for the experience and others because it is the norm, but what many schools do not expose students to (state schools especially) the fact that there are alternative ways to access employment, it could be through an apprenticeship/internship scheme, or even through starting your own business.

During my 5 years at secondary school, I have not once been taught about money management, any information I do know about it is from family members and friends. Why is it that the school education system emphasises subjects that the majority of students will not be needing in the future more than necessary life skills and knowledge? We are not told about the variety of ways there are to earn an income.

There are many talented youths in Greater Manchester, but they are not necessarily encouraged to make use of their talents in a business sense. With the right support, these skills could lead them to great success even before finishing school. If the education system is not adaptable to modern financial literacy required for the youth; young people throughout the UK may continue to struggle in reaching their full potentials, and the cycle of poverty may continue to get progressively worse.

As a young person living in the UK myself, I have noticed the parallels between a typical school day and a regular 9 to 5 job. It is as if schools are churning out students to become “workers”, which ties into the concept of the “Rat Race”. Why is it that schools can implement 9 to 5 working patterns on students, but cannot teach us about how we should manage our finances as we grow older? This contradictory education system is why many young people struggle when it comes to being financially independent adults.

I believe that these issues can be solved by making Money Management and Financial Literacy a compulsory part of the secondary school curriculum. I think that it is vital for students to learn about possible financial hardships they may encounter as youths and adults and how to manage them in order to minimise the risks of being trapped in a cycle of poverty. 

I have attended both private and state schools, and during my time there, I have noticed the very different ways in the delivery of education. In private schools, you have access to better textbooks, better technology and resources, whereas in state schools you are provided the bare minimum that is needed. In private schools you are taught interview skills and given apprenticeship and work experience opportunities, whereas in state schools these opportunities are rarely made available. Such opportunities allow private school students much easier access to better employment once they have completed their education.

Many well-paying jobs require a certain amount of work experience, and if state school students are not being provided with different varieties of work experience opportunities it may limit their access to getting well-paying jobs, which may in turn, further increase the class divide between the rich and poor for the next generation. 

If the government could put more funding into state schools, it could be utilised to give state school students access to similar opportunities that private school students have access to. If these changes can be implemented, I believe that it will help in closing the wealth divide for the present and the next generation, also providing better employment opportunities for students from working class and low-income families.

Image © Mehaniq via Twenty20

About the author

My name is Kemi Ayodele and I am interested in how politics and economics intersect and influence the lives of different groups of people. I am in my final year of secondary school and I plan to progress onto A-levels to study Economics, Politics, Philosophy and History. My hobbies are netball, athletics and reading. I also enjoy watching historical and animal documentaries. I volunteer at a local youth group where I host debating sessions on a variety of contemporary topics and issues.

By writing an article for Economy, I hope to develop my research and writing skills in furtherance of future writing opportunities. This experience has helped increase my wealth of knowledge on the subjects addressed in my article. I am very thankful to have been given this platform to address some of the issues young people are facing in today’s society.

You can follow Kemi on Instagram @kazz.ay


This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story click here.

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