NOW WILL POLITICIANS TAKE YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT SERIOUSLY?
*Thinking dark thoughts?
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It’s with great sadness that Graduate Fog has learned of the death of 21-year-old Vicky Harrison, who took her own life after a two-year struggle to find work.
Vicky, from Darwen in Lancashire, had no history of mental illness. And she was bright — she had ten GCSEs (at grade A-C) and three A levels (at grade B-D).
Yet her parents say she took an overdose of pills because she felt “humiliated” that she could not get a job after dropping out of university in her first year.
Vicky had applied for about a dozen jobs a week, including shop work, waitressing and being a school dinner lady.
Her death came just a day after she received yet another letter saying she had failed in her application and interview for a job, this time at a nursery.
Vicky’s mum and dad — who described their daughter as “wonderful and bubbly” — said she was struggling to get by on Jobseeker’s allowance and felt she was losing touch with her friends because she could not afford to go out with them.
“She was humiliated that she couldn’t find work,” said Vicky’s mum Louise. “It was an embarrassing situation for her.”
Her dad Tony added, “In the end it obviously got her down to such a point that she felt she had no future. It shouldn’t have been like that.
“She had a lot to give and was very determined. She was clever, too. There was no reason why she shouldn’t have been able to find a job.”
New figures show that there are more than 4,000 young people claiming Jobseeker’s allowance in East Lancashire — up about 48% since the country went into recession.
But Vicky’s family – and boyfriend, Nathan Haworth — believe her situation is echoed all around the UK. They now hope to raise awareness about the emotional support that’s needed for young people who find themselves unemployed for long periods of time.
As regular readers will know, I have been campaigning for years for greater recognition of the psychological toll of being out of work. Unemployment is enormously damaging emotionally – particularly for young people.
Having been there myself, I know how quickly you lose your confidence when you’re not working and what a lonely business job-hunting can be. Whatever your financial circumstances, it is extremely difficult to cope with – even more so if you’re surviving solely on JSA and find yourself isolated because you can’t afford to go out and meet friends.
Vicky’s death underlines the fact that tackling the UK’s growing youth unemployment crisis is not just about launching more schemes or yet another ‘initiative’. It requires care and sensitivity.
This is not just about numbers – it is about individuals.
Despite the many headlines about ‘dole scroungers’ and ‘benefits thieves,’ I have always believed that most people want to work – and that includes the young.
Unfortunately, our society has begun to stigmatise the unemployed.
And I fear we’re witnessing a disturbing trend towards normalising the attitude that being out of work is something that should be punished.
When I covered the Tories’ proposal of making people earn the dole, your reactions were strong but mixed. Your views depended on whether this proposed ‘community work’ is designed to give ‘good’ jobseekers some helpful structure and a way of feeling useful – or whether it’s intended as a stick with which to beat those considered lazy just because they’re out of work.
Clearly we do not want a nation of young people who would prefer to sit back and take hand-outs than get out there and find a job.
But when a bright young girl like Vicky Harrison feels her best option is to take her own life, it’s clear to me that something is very, very wrong with our current priorities.
If we do not act fast to help the thousands of young people sharing Vicky’s struggle, I fear her death may not be the last of its kind.
*What do you think?
Is the government taking youth unemployment seriously enough? Were you prepared for the emotional and psychological impact of being out of work? What sort of support is available for people in your shoes? Do we need a service that bridges the gap between careers advice and psychological counselling?