Housing, mental health and climate change: The burning issues for young people at the next election

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan speaks to young people on their concerns and priorities as we approach a general election

Words by Maya Bowles, Westminster Producer

A major poll for ITV has revealed two thirds of 18 to 25-year-olds have no trust in politics, and over half say politicians don't care about them.

The poll, conducted by Savanta for ITV News and ITV’s Peston, revealed young people’s concerns and priorities, as we approach a general election this year.

Housing and mental health came out on top as the most important issues, with the economy and the environment also in the top five.

With rent prices at a record high, and young people struggling to get on the housing ladder, a third of those surveyed said they'll never be able to afford a house, while over half say their generation will be worse off than their parents'.

The poll showed the Tories have suffered a devastating loss of support among young people in recent years that is significantly worse than during the party's 1997 landslide defeat.

Rishi Sunak's party is trailing Labour by a massive 47 points among 18 to 25-year-olds right now with only 14% saying they intend to vote Conservative in the next general election.

The poll also revealed young people would like to rejoin the EU, with 87% saying they would vote to reverse Brexit.

When asked who they would most like to the lead the Labour party, the majority of young people said Jeremy Corbyn, followed by Sir Keir Starmer in second place.

On the war in the Middle East, 43% said their sympathies lie mostly or entirely with the Palestinian people, compared to 12% for Israel.

Housing: "I don't know how I'll afford a house in my life"

Molly Taylor, 24, grew up in supported housing and lived in poverty as a child, and she's now in a rented flat in London.

However, she fears she may have to leave because her rent is increasing: "It's my first stable house in my life, and I'm 24 years old... but looking to the future, I just don't know if I'll be able to live here anymore", she said.

"Despite having a full-time job and now being able to earn my own wage, I still don't have that stability which young people are looking forward to in the future."

According to the poll, 44% of young people spend more than half their income on rent - while Molly says she spends more than that: "More than 50% of my income is going on housing and it's only increasing."

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Like many young people, Molly can't imagine ever getting on the property ladder - "I honestly don't know how I'm going to afford a house in my life, not just in London but maybe even further afield."

Molly says she has no money left after paying her bills and rent, "I don't do hobbies because I can't afford it".

"When I look at how much dance classes are, or hobbies, or going to the gym is, it's really difficult to be able to pay for that on top of the rent I'm paying now."

Molly is not alone in struggling to pay for hobbies, 27% of young people say they can't afford social activities, while 14% said they regularly skip meals.

Mental health: "I nearly died because no-one would recognise I was suffering"

Along with housing, mental health came up in the poll as the joint most important issue for young people.

Jenny Tan, 21, first went to her doctor in 2018 seeking help for an eating disorder, but didn't get the support she needed for years.

When she was finally referred to an eating disorder clinic, they told her she was one of the worst cases they had ever seen, and they were surprised she hadn't died.

"I nearly died because no-one would recognise that I was suffering, and I know I was hiding it inititally, but that's because I received no information on what eating disorders were", Jenny told ITV News.

"I do think the government are failing on mental health... you're just not hearing about mental health, instead all the messages I'm getting are 'lose weight' and 'count calories', 'do this new diet'".

While Jenny was able to get support to get back to a healthy weight with the NHS, long waiting lists for mental health services forced her to turn to the private sector for therapy.

Jenny, who is an ambassador for mental health charity Mind, says the NHS focuses too much on "cure" rather than "prevention" - "when you get to crisis point, it's so hard to then recover from it".

"Mental health shouldn't be a taboo, but it still is", she said.

Gemma Byrne, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said: “We are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. Today, 1 in 5 young people have a mental health problem.“Services currently available through schools and the NHS, simply can’t cope with the growing demand for support.

"The result is that too many young people are left to reach crisis point before getting help."

The environment: "Why should my generation have to pay?"

The environment came out at the joint fifth most significant issue for young people, as 27% said it was important to them.

In comparison, when asked what they think the most important issue is to the UK in general at the moment, only 15% of young people said the environment.

Tom Wilson is a 23-year-old climate activist who lives in Penzance in Cornwall, he says the government isn't doing enough to tackle climate change.

"We've seen huge backtracks across parties on climate policy, Rishi Sunak backtracked on a huge amount of the legislation he was going to bring in on insulation, and retrofitting. Labour backtracked on their £28 billion pound pledge", he said.

"They always make the excuse of, 'the economy's not in the right place, we don't have enough money', but they're kidding themselves if they think it's going to be any better in the future."

"Why should my generation have to pay the huge cost and bear that cost when we could be fighting that now?", he asks.

Tom worries about how climate change will damage the landscape where he lives.

"If we keep extracting fossil fuels at the rate we are now, that would see sea levels rise about 20 to 30 metres over the next two centuries.

"If this floods and they're going to have to build massive sea defences, what's that going to cost?"

He says in that scenario, the local beaches where he lives "would be underwater", and then "all of a sudden, where I live would be an island".

"Whilst I won't be alive for that, my grandchildren certainly could be, my great grandchildren could be."

"Sometimes it hits quite hard, and you get this gut-wrenching feeling where you actually start to think, what's my life going to be like in 50 years?"

Tom is part of the of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, who have a "mission to mobilise more young people to take action for climate justice".

"We live in a completely different world"

More than half of young people said they think their generation will be worse off than their parents.

A group of students at the University of Reading told ITV News they worry about their futures.

"We live in a completely different world, and it's constantly changing at an unprecedented rate", said psychology student Nariman Osman.

Another student Ana Bondsfield said: "The basics in life such as rent and housing, food, gas, electricity, water bills, they're a lot more expensive than they used to be."

"Our age cohort particularly, we've been consistently ignored in a way," said Dene Gamagedara, who studies psychology.

When asked what they make of the prime minister, the students described him as "money-minded" and "removed from reality."

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was labelled "level-headed", but someone who "jumps from side to side, says one thing and does another".

Do you or someone you know suffer from a mental health condition or eating disorder? A number of organisations provide specialist advice:

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