Letter to Ms Sophie Johnston, National Youth Commissioner from the Young Advocates Collaborative – a dynamic group of young leaders who are supporting the Every Child campaign to support the Every Child campaign from their lens of young people’s needs and experiences.
21st August 2020
RE: Amplifying the needs of young people as a nation-building priority
We appreciate the leadership you have shown in drawing attention to the experiences and aspirations of young people. Every Child is a campaign that aims to elevate children and young people as a nation-building priority. We are a group of young advocates working to support the Every Child campaign. Through this letter we would like to draw your attention to issues where we feel the experiences of young people are not being sufficiently represented, and in doing so hope to add to the discussions at the Youth Futures Summit.
At the National Community Recovery Summit you provided a powerful and compelling presentation on the needs of young people. The pandemic has compounded existing inequalities. Youth unemployment rose to 13.8% in April, with more than 20% of this group also underemployed and one in six Australian young people aged 15-24 living in poverty (ABS). As young people, these statistics make us fearful for our future. Those of us in jobless households, without decent housing or living with disability are at even more risk of hardship. Too often we also feel disconnected, rather than participants in the conversation.
The pandemic has affected our education, income and job opportunities – we feel our future slipping. Research tells us that children and young people are experiencing more anxiety (UNICEF Australia, 2020). As young people, we see the fear and uncertainty in accessing mental health services due to peer pressure, prevailing stigmas, and other contextual factors. Mental health needs more support. No matter what their situation is, young people need to know their concerns will be heard as soon as they seek help. Reaching out to multiple places for help can be too daunting to even start. Streamlining services would go a long way in removing this barrier – combined, of course with proper funding of local youth programs.
COVID-19 has highlighted the underlying discrimination that exists in Australia – the divide is growing for those who can access the supports they need, and those who cannot. We believe health and education services could be strong tools to combat this. Holding regular health literacy seminars and workshops for rural and marginalized communities, will equip them with strategies to deal with discrimination. We can also promote young people’s concerns and collate them in state and local policy conversations. This will provide them with a platform to voice positive changes into the system that are there to help them.
There is an unequal distribution of resources that runs deep in our education system. We need to empower young people to combat this head on. Access to education is a significant issue for young people. While we know some have access to a wealth of resources, too many young people are slipping through the cracks and lack the most basic resources to even begin engaging with their education. Too often we have seen how accessibility can quickly turn to lack of engagement and interest. Among our small group we have personally experienced these types of practical access issues. Connecting remotely from a family farm in Inverell, NSW during the east coast lockdown was almost impossible.
“Whilst many classmates were sitting comfortably in their parents offices’
with a stable NBN connection, connecting for me meant sitting on a silo
balancing a laptop and a mobile phone to hotspot because that was the only place with strong enough signal to join university zoom tutorials.”
Comment from a young person living in regional NSW
In the pandemic we know there are concerns for young people without formal qualifications as jobs disappear from key sectors. We are concerned that young people will not be able to afford rent and all their basic living expenses. With an over-representation of youth in the homeless population (ABS) – ending up on the street is a very real possibly for too many of us. We need young people and children to have access to safe, secure and affordable housing. But, how are youth supposed to access education, a stable career and live a prosperous life, if before the age of 25 they are living on the streets or in unsafe living conditions?
Whilst we have seen a federal-wide rise in the unemployment rate, it is crucial to acknowledge that COVID-19 only unveiled and exacerbated pre-existing disparities that were prevalent prior to the pandemic. However, it will be young people that are expected to bridge this disparity. Young people from low-socioeconomic suburbs have profoundly been impacted by the impacts of COVID-19, these are the same families already calling for more support and funding before the pandemic. It will not be a rise in self-esteem or confidence that will increase the opportunities for young people, but rather, an investment into job opportunities for young people to thrive from.
These are the issues that we feel the government needs to take more notice of right now. The case for change has never been stronger. Our message is simple, if we want to build a better tomorrow, there is no better investment than the people who are our future.
Jahin Tanvir, Zahra Al Hilaly, Zoe Alexiades, Monique Worsley, Lucas P