Being Economically Inactive

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Vanessa 2I learnt about the meaning of economic inactivity (EI) through Young Women’s Trust’s (YWT) Young, Female and Forgotten report, and realised that the economic inactivity issue is bigger than I thought and has affected me at different points in my life.

I have found myself many times trying to make ends meet in the 9 years since I moved to the U.K. Even though I was not working, claiming benefits or looking for work, the first time I found myself in that position wasn’t because I didn’t want to help myself, but more because of a lack of communications skills as English isn’t my first language, expecting a baby and not being able to claim benefits because of a lack of understanding, which was really draining. After months and many attempts to be understood, I finally got there, the jobcentre wasn’t really helpful and didn’t take into consideration the fact I was young, pregnant and trying. All along I was eligible, but the support was very tight.

In 2014 I was once again seen as ‘economically inactive’ (unemployed and not looking for work), but this time I decided to do what I believed I was meant to do, working in the community. Because of a lack of qualifications, my life experience and passions were not relevant or enough to get into my dream job, so I decided to try and do it anyway and I started supporting individuals in my borough through a social enterprise I started with a few friends and volunteering for other community groups with similar aims as me, whilst living on minimum income (tax credits and child benefit).

The plan was to generate income, but I got into debt, rent arrears, and became depressed and anxious. I was also working zero hour contract jobs but that didn’t help as childcare costs were higher than the wages. That situation went on for 18 months, it was really hard, and after attending court 6 times, feeling at my lowest and most hopeless, I met Young Women’s Trust through Future M.O.L.D.S Communities in parliament. I joined their young women’s advisory panel and decided to close the company and apply for a trainee position YWT had open, and I got it! It feels like the struggle paid off, all the free work I did for vulnerable women on the edge was like work experience, and preparation for greater opportunities.

I have had free coaching sessions through the amazing Work It Out service YWT provides. I found it so helpful and would encourage young women to take advantage of this opportunity. I also used their CV feedback service, these two services have helped build the confidence I thought I’d lost.

However not every young women is able to turn it around, things like a lack of communications skills and problem solving ends up leaving young women extremely overwhelmed which can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety and addictions.

For the ones who are mothers it can be even trickier, the fear of not giving your child the most basic stuff because of poverty is awfully damaging, both mentally and physically. Many women in this position are also more likely to become victims of domestic abuse.

Young Women’s Trust’s report shows that many women who are EI are isolated with limited support networks, and that there needs to be more support such as mentorship, affordable and flexible childcare, better mental health services and better information, advice and guidance for women. These things would have helped me at the various stages in my life when I was EI, but I have also personally been inspired by women who have struggled but who overcame their situation, for example by becoming mentors themselves – helping themselves by supporting others.

After seeing these women achieve what they wanted to achieve despite the barriers they faced, it motivated me and reminded me that ‘I got this’, and that my difficult situation is not my destiny.