Short-term budget leaves young people out of COVID-19 recovery
13 May 2021 at 8:35 am
The budget should have included significantly more investments focused on the longer-term, that would benefit young people who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, writes Katherine Ellis, CEO of Youth Affairs Council Victoria.
Young people were forced to sacrifice so much of their lives for the broader community during COVID-19. Young people were the first to lose their jobs, their education and other crucial rites of passage were disrupted or missed altogether. For many, goals and ambitions were dashed by this generation-defining pandemic.
Yet, beyond a few short-term announcements on youth employment and skills, young people have been left out of the 2021-22 federal budget and the ongoing recovery from COVID-19.
With youth unemployment still more than double the national rate at 11.8 per cent, positive initiatives include an increase to wage subsidies, an increase to JobTrainer to upskill young people, and extension of the Transition to Work program. But these initiatives don’t address the issue that there are just not enough jobs, and young people are now competing with many more unemployed people who generally have more experience.
Also welcome is the $2.3 billion bolstering of mental health support, including an extension of telehealth, expansion of headspace, roll-outs of digital services, and an increase in suicide prevention. However, this is well short of what is needed to improve youth mental health services, and is largely focused on crisis support rather than early intervention and prevention.
To properly support young people into employment and wellbeing, the government needs to start investing in place-based services and programs, with skilled youth workers who take a holistic, strengths-based approach, providing support before young people get to crisis point, and trusted referrals when they do need services. Such investment builds stronger generations of citizens for the future, as well as providing significant economic benefit.
The 2021-22 federal budget unfortunately also largely ignores some of the fundamental issues affecting young people, especially housing affordability, education and climate change.
There is additional support to enter the property market, but this comes at a time when house prices are at all-time high and still rising, and many young people are grappling with un/underemployment, insecure work and stagnant wages. Housing supply will continue to be a major barrier, and there is no relief for young people renting or in need of social housing.
For young people on income support, the meagre increase to JobSeeker and Youth Allowance in exchange for stricter mutual obligations, will result in tens of thousands of young people trying to enter the workforce and society from well below the poverty line.
The government’s focus on the gas industry, instead of investing in renewable energy and taking other meaningful action on climate change, is another wasted opportunity on an issue that affects future generations most of all. Australia has so much potential to be a global leader on renewable energy, and we are already dealing with the impact and cost of climate damage.
Universities will continue to struggle, with no significant additional funding and border closures continuing to impact on international student numbers. This will reduce teaching and research capacity and expertise, affecting young people’s education, as well as future national growth and prosperity.
The disruption caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted young people, and will scar their lives for years to come. And while no-one is arguing that Australia needs to spend its way out of this crisis, especially while debt is so cheap, it will be today’s young people left to carry the can on that debt.
To balance that, this budget should have included significantly more investments focused on the longer-term, that would benefit young people.
Instead, it fails to recognise the important sacrifices made by young Australians, and largely excludes them from the COVID-19 recovery and Australia’s future prosperity.
Excellent additional analysis by youth-led organisations can be found here.