A North MP has spoken of his “fear” for young people in the North East.
Speaking during a debate in the House of Commons, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said 23% of 18 to 24 year-olds are unemployed in the region and their mental health was suffering as a result.
“They do not have anything to do,” he said. “I am concerned because they feel ignored, isolated and worthless. They have no self-esteem. They lack hope, ambition and aspiration.
“There is a poignant joke about a young woman working in Poundstretcher, where everything is worth a pound — apart from her. It is hurtful in many ways, but I think it accentuates the real problem in today’s society.”
Mr Lavery’s comments echo issues raised by campaigners in a week-long series of Journal articles on the situation faced by young people in the North East, called The Lost Generation. The series examined how young people are suffering in a range of areas, including housing, unemployment, education and debt.
A number of campaigners have said that the younger generation is being unfairly targeted by the Government because older people are more likely to vote.
The North East has the highest level of young unemployed people in the country, with 20,315 people aged between 18 and 24 out of work. This is double the figure in both the South East and the South West.
Mr Lavery said that he had a “real problem” with the mental health of a lot of these young people and that their situation was being ignored.
“This is an extremely important issue and it has not really been touched on,” he said. “A survey by the Prince’s Trust only last year found that 40% of jobless young people suffer from some form of mental illness.
“They suffer from suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. As I have said, some regions are faring better than others and I have great concerns about the North East. Why did the Government decide to appoint a minister for Portsmouth to sort out its problems, but refuse the request to appoint a minister to sort out the problems in the North East?”
In his speech, Mr Lavery also slammed the use of zero-hours contracts, which have increased nearly five-fold in the last three years.
He referred to a conversation with fellow Labour MP, Ronnie Campbell, whose granddaughter held a zero-hours contract with McDonald’s.
Mr Lavery said: “She, like a pool of others, had to sit and wait with their telephones for a text giving the option - there’s two hours if you need it.
That went to 20, 30, 40 or 50 people, and the first one in got the work. It is absolutely outrageous that we live in such a society. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, zero-hours contracts are absolutely outdated.
“I do not want them to be just amended and changed, but abolished, because they are not fit for purpose.”