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Discrimination of young people goes from bad to worse

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By Sarah Parkes

“The pandemic exacerbated the exclusion young people were already feeling.”

We’ve all faced challenges and setbacks during the pandemic unique to our own circumstances. But as a nation, we’re doing surprisingly well when we look at the impact on our overall social inclusion.

In fact, on average as a nation, our personal wellbeing improved. We spent more time with family, access to internet and digital literacy improved and we felt more connected to our local communities and to our country.

But not everyone came out on top.

The latest Inclusive Australia Social Inclusion Index reveals the stark contrast in the experience of young people compared to other Australians and minority groups.

More than half of young people experienced major discrimination in 2020 (57%), a jump of 12 percentage points on the previous year. This was worse than any other group in Australia. Major discrimination is serious unfair treatment and, in 2020, the most common types of major discrimination reported were being ‘unfairly fired from a job or been unfairly denied a promotion’ and ‘unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused by the police’.

Young people also reported the second highest levels of everyday discrimination in Australia (40%) for a fourth year in a row. Everyday discrimination is more chronic, routine and relatively minor experiences of unfair treatment such as being treated with less respect and courtesy, receiving poorer service than others at restaurants or stores, or being called names. Not surprisingly, young people were the only minority in Australia to experience a dip in personal wellbeing in 2020.

While the 2020 figures are alarming, discrimination towards young people has been consistently high throughout the life of the Index.

“The pandemic exacerbated the exclusion young people were already feeling,” Inclusive Australia CEO Andrea Pearman said. “This is an issue we haven’t been paying enough attention to.”

Lead author on the report and senior research fellow at Monash University Dr Nick Faulkner said it was quite confronting how much young people stood out in comparison to all the other minority groups. “It does suggest that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted them.”

“The pandemic exacerbated the exclusion young people were already feeling.”

“Young people always seem to come last.”

Hear from six diverse young people on discrimination

The jump in discrimination comes as no surprise to many young people as we heard in a youth panel discussion hosted by Reach Foundation and Inclusive Australia on Monday, 24 May.

Darcy: “Young people don’t get enough credit for things that happen to them. In my experience, it’s a lot of older people saying ‘we had it harder’. Not that they don’t understand, but they don’t think it’s legitimate. It’s that delegitimising of a young person’s experiences that fosters that discrimination and that separation in age and life experience.”

Blossom: “I look at our Government and the way they release the Budget every year and young people always seem to come last. They really normalise that behaviour in our country and our communities and that trickles down. They are normalising the behaviour that young people don’t matter too much. When in actual fact, it’s the exact opposite - they are our future. It seems to keep happening especially through the pandemic and the way that has played out.”

Sammy: “It didn’t take long to realise how badly I was being treated, more so as a coloured man. It really took its toll. And as soon as my sexuality came into it, it was a whole other dynamic. It was very easy for people to belittle me… It’s stopped me pursuing a lot of the things I wanted to do.”

Emma-Eve: “I have a lot of friends who live in those buildings [in Flemington and Carlton that were locked down]. In high school, a lot of my African friends would have to worry about walking home or, if they saw a police officer, they would have to make sure their hands were out. It was horrible to witness that… To see the people in these homes not given a basic right or some notice to get what they needed before the sudden lockdown, was so upsetting. I couldn’t articulate in my head how that was happening down the road from me.”

Bri: “I was a very naughty kid and got myself into a lot of trouble and I work with a lot of young people who are similar. There is always something going on in their life, something underneath. It’s about trying to understand what is underneath because people don’t act the way they do for nothing.”

“Young people always seem to come last.”

“There has never been a time when investment in young people has been needed more.”

The pandemic was particularly hard for young people due to higher youth unemployment rates and high representation in the hardest hit industries. They were also a focus of police crackdowns on group gatherings.

In addition, there is a growing question mark over their future security. Yet, the voices of young people are notably absent in public debate around climate change, gender discrimination and consent education, employment and home ownership.

Reach CEO Philippe Magid said it was critical that we now look to the future. “We have to change these alarming statistics. There has never been a time when investment in young people has been needed more. Supporting young people to discover their power is an essential part of our pandemic adaptation and recovery approach.”

“There has never been a time when investment in young people has been needed more.”
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