Mission Australia’s new Youth Survey Report 2020 has revealed that young Australians aged between 15 to 19 years old have significant concerns relating to equity and discrimination, COVID-19, mental health, education and employment.

With 25,800 young people surveyed for the 19th annual Youth Survey between April and August this year, this landmark report provides invaluable evidence collected during the COVID-19 pandemic about young people’s most pressing concerns.

For the first time, equity and discrimination is the top national issue for young people, rising from third place in 2019 (24.8%) to the top spot in 2020 (40.2%) – an increase of more than 60 per cent since last year.

More than one quarter (27.0%) of young people reported being unfairly treated in the past year, most commonly due to their gender (41.0%) with far more females than males citing this as the reason for the unfair treatment (48.0% vs 22.5%). Other reasons for unfair treatment were race/cultural background (30.4%) and mental health (26.0%). More than half (55.3%) of young people had witnessed someone being treated unfairly in the past year.

Mission Australia’s CEO, James Toomey said: “This year, we’re hearing loud and clear that our young people see discrimination as a major issue in Australia, and are very concerned about unfair treatment, with gender inequality being at the forefront of their concerns.

“Dismissing young people’s concerns as gender politics is to miss the point, the message loud and clear is that young females and young males are concerned about gender inequality in Australia.

Young people are also experiencing and seeing racial injustices in their day-to-day lives. Their own experience of this discrimination, alongside escalating media coverage, public dialogue and grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter are likely to be affecting young people’s thoughts about the state of Australia and the world around them.

“Racism has no place in Australia. Everyone – from our national leadership, to community members – should enact solutions and efforts to end discrimination and racism. To fortify inclusion across our country, we need a new National Anti-Racism Strategy which includes a commitment to partnering with young people to harness their voices and create initiatives to eradicate racism and discrimination.”

The Youth Survey 2020 results confirmed that COVID-19 has been affecting young people across several life domains. COVID-19 was the second most frequently cited issue of national importance, with four in 10 (38.8%) young people indicating it is an important issue in Australia today. Concerns raised in relation to the impacts of COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns included education, isolation and mental health.

The challenges of 2020 have greatly impacted the wellbeing of young people. Significantly, four in 10 young people felt stressed either all of the time or most of the time. Following equity and discrimination and COVID-19 as the top two national issues, three in 10 (30.6%) young people identified mental health as an important issue in Australia today. Young people’s top three personal concerns also link closely to mental health: coping with stress (42.5%), mental health (33.9%) and body image (33.0%).

Mr Toomey said: “This has been a year like no other for our young people, punctuated by rapid change, numerous challenges and stressful situations. Even with increased government investment this year, there are significant gaps in the mental health support system that have been further exposed by COVID-19.

“Additional funding and strategies are needed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians. This should include more age-appropriate prevention and early intervention mental health services for young people. These should be developed in consultation with young people. They are, after all, the experts when it comes to creating and advising on solutions that will address the issues affecting them.”

This year has seen substantial interruptions to young people’s education and employment. The Youth Survey 2020 revealed a smaller proportion of young people were studying full-time in 2020 (86.6%) than in 2019 (93.3%), and more than one third of young people saw education (34.4%) as their biggest personal issue experienced in the past year. At a time where youth unemployment has increased due to COVID-19, young people said they most need flexible working hours, more jobs in my local area, more work experience and access to training and skill development programs to increase their employment prospects.

Mr Toomey said: “Youth unemployment has surged this year. We know young people will be disproportionately affected by the recession caused by COVID-19, as many are transitioning from education to work when fewer jobs are available. Young people also know this, and are telling us they need more support at this crucial time in their lives. We urgently need more targeted programs to help disadvantaged young people into work.

At a time when Australia has been hit by recession, a permanent increase to income support payments would also help alleviate financial stress and keep economically vulnerable young people and their families out of poverty and homelessness.

Reassuringly, the Youth Survey Report 2020 shows that close to six in 10 young people felt very happy/happy (58.6%) overall with their lives and more than half are very positive/positive (55.5%) about the future. Nearly half (48.6%) of young people are confident in their ability to achieve their study and work goals, and most young people have good family relationships and participate in a range of activities.

Mr Toomey said: “It is heartening to see remarkable examples of resilience and strength shown by young people while facing 2020’s trials. However, we remain very concerned that without the right supports and policy changes in place, COVID-19 will continue to have a scarring effect on many aspects of young people’s lives for years to come.

“Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, young people must have adequate opportunities to access support services, education and jobs when and where they need them.

Young people deserve every opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive and be heard. Ultimately, how the young people of today fare will determine our country’s collective wellbeing in the future.

The results of the Youth Survey are shared with governments, non-government organisations, schools and social commentators to inform the debate around the circumstances of young people in Australia and to support the development of policies, services and programs that have the needs of young people at their core.

Read the report

Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2020

Mission Australia Youth Survey 2020 Infographic

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander summary (Youth Survey Report 2020)

Comparing major cities and regional areas (Youth Survey Report 2020)

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