Young women’s experiences of navigating inadequate employment opportunities and the benefits system. 

We know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected young women economically. Official data shows that unemployment rates amongst young women were particularly high during each lockdown period and are higher overall than in 2019.

Even before the pandemic, there is evidence to suggest that young women face specific barriers to employment and are more likely to be classed as ‘economically inactive’ than young men. This is often a result of caring responsibilities, health issues or a lack of available opportunities. The impact is felt most strongly amongst those with multiple intersectional experiences, including

  • Care experienced young women
  • Those with long-term physical or mental health problems
  • Young women from racially minoritised communities

We heard from over 1,000 young women aged 18 to 30 about their experiences of unemployment, navigating inadequate opportunities and claiming benefits. We asked young women to tell us about the challenges they are experiencing, how they are impacting their lives, and how they would like to be supported to overcome them.

The findings

Young women are facing multiple experiences of discrimination and forced dependency when attempting to find work or navigate the benefits system. The impacts of unemployment, underemployment and living on benefits are far reaching. They are felt particularly harshly by young women from minoritised communities who face additional barriers and challenges and often do not receive the specialist support they need.

We found that:

  • A lack of flexible and accessible job opportunities is preventing young women from entering the workforce.
    Over a quarter of the young women who took our survey told us that not being able to afford the associated costs, such as travel to and from work, has made it difficult for them to apply for a job.
  • Young women from minoritised groups face additional challenges and barriers when looking for work or claiming benefits.
    Almost three fifths of young women (57%) told us they had experienced discrimination when looking for work. Nearly two fifths (39%) had experienced discrimination whilst claiming benefits.
  • The benefits system is difficult to navigate, and many young women are struggling to live comfortably on the benefits they receive.
    Over half of young women do not think that the benefits they receive provide them with enough income to live comfortably. This rises to 63% amongst those who are unable to work due to a long-term illness or disability.
  • The impacts of unemployment, underemployment and claiming benefits are pervasive across young women’s lives.
    Over half of young women told us that their mental health has gotten worse as a result of being unemployed. Many are struggling to afford basic essentials or have taken on new or additional debt in order to survive.
  • Young women do not feel listened to or supported by the government, and many do not feel confident about their future prospects.
    41% of the young women we surveyed disagreed that the current government is aware of and responsive to the needs of young women.
  • Young women show incredible resilience, hope and ambition, even when systems or services do not always give them reason to.
    Young women told us that they want support that is tailored, flexible and compassionate. They want services to work more closely together to make it easier to access specialist help. Their advice to other young women was overwhelmingly clear – ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘never give up’.

People should have the freedom to work. To work later, to start later, to finish later. We don’t live in a 9 to 5 world.

Research participant

What needs to happen now

It is clear from our research that the current ‘one size fits all’ approach is not working for young women. Supported by these findings, we are urging the government to

  • Review the current benefits system
  • Make it easier for young women to find and stay in work by offering affordable childcare and flexible working by default.

Young women need access to services and support that is compassionate, person-centred and tailored to their needs. Young women from minoritised communities need additional specialist support to help them find work and navigate the complex benefits system.

The government, employers and frontline services all need to work together and act now to ensure that young women who need it receive appropriate support. Support that allows them to access meaningful employment and claim the benefits they are entitled to.

They don’t find out what young women in particular need, young women from specific backgrounds. They don’t take that into consideration at all, they just generalise and one shoe fits all.

Research participant

Read the full report [PDF Download]