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Confidence crisis

Young women having a serious conversation.

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A survey of more than 4,000 18- to 30-year-olds in Britain suggests many feel their lives are “on hold” because of work, financial, housing and mental health problems.

Many of these issues particularly affect young women, the Young Women’s Trust survey found. The BBC spoke to four young women to find out what they feel is holding them back in life.

‘We’re skint and can’t get good jobs’

Finding a secure, well-paid job can be a struggle for young people, the report said.

Almost a third (28%) of those surveyed said they worried they didn’t have enough paid hours, and more than one in five reported having been paid less than the minimum wage.

“There’s no chance to put money towards the future. We have spent lots of nights sat down crunching numbers and it keeps me awake at night,” said young mum Laura Davies.

The 26-year-old lives with her partner in Bournemouth, and said that together they earn the equivalent of a full-time salary but it’s only enough to get by on.

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Laura Davies

The Young Women’s Trust found nearly half (48%) of respondents were worried about how much they were being paid, while another 38% were worried about job security.

Like 52% of the young women surveyed, Laura is finding it hard to choose her career, and has three CVs which she is “trying to keep on top of”.

She says there is “no opportunity for progression” in her current job, so she’s taken courses to gain additional skills but feels her career is “stagnant”.

“It’s left me in the same position financially as I was five years ago. If I am going to succeed it’s going to take a long time because there’s not the support.”

Almost a quarter (23%) of the young women surveyed said they were worried about balancing work with caring commitments.

Laura, too, said she would like to earn more money but was worried about finding a job that was flexible enough.

“In my old job they had me in a situation where because I was a young mum I was a potential liability for them. I ended up getting signed off, and then I quit. Mentally I couldn’t cope with it,” she said.

‘We don’t feel confident in ourselves’

More than half (54%) of young women said they lacked self-confidence, compared to just 39% of the young men surveyed for the report.

For Evee Eleanor, having enough self-confidence is key to her succeeding in her job hunt and not feeling overwhelmed.

The 27-year-old recently moved to Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk with her partner, and is currently unemployed.

But when it comes to careers, more than a third (36%) of the women surveyed said they didn’t feel confident applying for a new job and fewer women (54%) than men (68%) felt confident going to a job interview.

Although she had a career in childcare before she moved, Evee said she was worried about “starting from scratch”.

“I don’t know what schools are looking for here so it sets me back a bit,” she said.

“I don’t have any contacts around here, and so I have to jump in head first which makes me nervous. There’s not much support.”

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Eveé Eleanor

Concerns about mental health also seem to affect women more than men, with 38% of young women expressing this worry compared with 29% of young men.

Evee experiences anxiety and depression, and was bullied when she was younger – something which she says she has only been able to process recently.

She said being far away from family and support networks sometimes made things harder for her.

“I’m a complete stress-head. I have good days, but then some days I just want to curl up in a ball and not bother”.

‘We can’t move out of our parents’ home’

More than 43% of young people said they lived with their parents, a guardian or a carer, although the report found more young men (47%) than women (38%) in this situation.

“I’m at that age now where I’m looking at other people and thinking, oh my god, I’m still stuck in my parents’ home,” said Emma Harris, 27.

Emma works full-time in London as a charity fundraiser, but the cost of accommodation in the capital is still too expensive for her to afford to move out of her mum’s house in Hertfordshire.

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Emma Harris

“I pay my mum rent because she doesn’t have the funds to pay for a deposit for me.

“Living at home, I don’t have my own space – my room is tiny because I’m in a box room, so after a stressful day at work I go to the gym and come home at 9pm. Basically, I just sleep there.

“Finding work in Hertfordshire is very difficult anyway,” she said. “But it’s also that if I get a job there I would be on a lot less than I’m earning now.

“I’m trying to save £100 a month for a mortgage because you need at least a 10% deposit, but I would be saving for a long time. I’m thinking about getting a second job.”

A million more ‘to live with parents’

‘Everyone is doing better than me’

Even if young women manage to secure a stable job in a career they enjoy, more than half (53%) still worry about whether they are good enough at it to succeed – and 44% are concerned others will think they are not good enough, according to the report.

“We are brought up not to brag about our skills and so we internalise that. Even in the job I’m in now, I still feel like I have imposter syndrome, but luckily I have a really supportive boss who convinces me otherwise,” said Jenny Mullinder, 24, from London.

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Jenny Mullinder

Jenny, a full-time youth charity worker, said young women in particular often believed they had to meet all the requirements in a job advert before applying for it – which often prevented them from pursuing career opportunities.

She added that a lot of young women thought they weren’t taken seriously in the workplace because of their age – a view shared by 44% of the women surveyed.

“Young people are told that they are lazy and entitled, but a lot of people I know are trying in their career – they are just not in a place adults would see as successful,” she said.

“We are measuring ourselves against these standards set by our parents or older siblings’ generation and think we are supposed to own a house or car by now, so we are looking at others and comparing ourselves all the time.”

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