Abortion access, anxiety and economic abuse: why have young women been hit so hard by Covid-19?

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Anna Brech
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From abortion access to economic abuse and a rise in unemployment, coronavirus is impacting young women in all areas of life right now.

With new research by the BBC showing just how hard the pandemic has hit “Generation Covid” – those aged 16-25 – young women, in particular, are feeling the full force of the fallout.

Any crisis makes existing inequalities worse, and given that coronavirus is a catastrophe with huge economic implications, the impact on young women cannot be overstated. 

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This is a group that not only has to contend with all the usual challenges of their age (finding a job, paying a first-flat deposit) and gender (the gender pay gap, rising abuse); they also have to do so against the backdrop of a global health emergency where everything – even a woman’s ability to buy tampons – is called into compromise.

Here’s how the pandemic is affecting young women in all areas of life; and how those affected can seek vital support. 

Women aged under 25 are being frozen out of the jobs market

Jobs, jobs, jobs

People aged 16-25 are more than twice as likely as others to have lost their job during the pandemic, while six in 10 have seen their earnings fall, according to research by BBC Panorama. According to another forecast by labour market experts Paul Gregg, almost one million employees under 25 will be especially vulnerable when the government furlough scheme ends on 31 October. 

Faced with a double whammy of a lack of experience and a drain on new positions, young people will struggle to get a foothold on the fiercely competitive jobs ladder now more than ever. Women under 25 are particularly hard-hit, since they are more likely to work in areas affected by the pandemic, including retail, hospitality, travel and tourism.

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Meanwhile, young people from a minority ethnic background are more than twice as likely to be no longer working since lockdown compared to their peers, with 12.8% reporting to have lost their jobs. 

Where to get support:

 If you’re struggling to find help with employment, contact Youth Employment UK via their website for careers advice, or find help with jobs, education and training on The Prince’s Trust website.

Girls and young women may be delaying their education

Where’s the education?

With A-Levels postponed and the university system in chaos, young people are also feeling the full impact of the pandemic on their educational ambitions. For students already facing debts of an average £40,000, the start of uni season has brought with it a perfect storm of cancellations, lockdowns and fines

Outside of higher education, the picture is hardly sunnier. Apprenticeships have halved since the start of lockdown, and – while the government Kickstart Scheme is intended to ease this problem – many businesses have complained that it doesn’t go far enough in creating long-term prospects for young people. 

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With women more likely to take on caregiving roles with loved ones, there’s also the worry that young women pay a higher price in being frozen out from a difficult jobs market, by putting their careers and education on hold in order to look after others.

Where to get support:

For help with higher education funding and options, you can speak to The Prince’s Trust or visit the Grants Online to see which new educational grants are available for people under 25.

Housing options have been squeezed by the pandemic

Locked out of housing

Housing is another area that is kicking back on young women the most as a result of coronavirus restrictions. According to research by Clarion, the UK’s largest social landlord, young residents and women are struggling the most with the impact of lockdown, with a third of those aged 25 to 34 losing money and failing to keep pace with household finances. Women, in particular, were more likely to report difficulties in coping. 

With the pandemic having squeezed job and housing options, many young people have had to rapidly rethink where they live, too, including moving back in with their parents (where they are lucky enough to have that option). This means that one in ten of those aged 16-24 now lacks private space in their home to work or study.

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And, with first-time buyers already facing huge challenges even before the pandemic, a loss in savings coupled with a volatile market means that young people are being shut out even more now; despite falling property prices.

Where to get support:

For support and advice on all types of housing issues, you can speak to the teams at Citizens Advice or Centrepoint via their websites. 

Anxiety and depression is on the rise

Anxiety and loss of confidence

We know coronavirus has had a devastating impact on mental health, and this effect has been particularly acute among 18 to 24-year-olds. Data from The Health Foundation reveals that nearly 50% of people in this category were unable to focus at the height of the UK lockdown in April this year, with a dramatic spike in feelings related to loss of confidence, a sense of worthlessness and an inability to face day-to-day problems and make decisions. 

A separate study by UCL found that young women are the most likely group to have suffered high levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness during lockdown, with women aged 19 reporting a particularly severe impact on wellbeing levels. Other factors that affect women’s mental health such as inequality and domestic violence (which also spiked under lockdown) are likely to have played an inflammatory role here, too.

Where to get support:

Contact mental health charity Mind on their website for confidential help and support with anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue. You can also seek help from other mental health charities and outreach organisations by using the helplines listed on the NHS website.

Lockdown abuse has manifested itself in lots of different ways

Domestic, sexual and economic abuse

One very depressing fallout from coronavirus is that domestic violence incidents have become more frequent and severe,  and victims are more isolated than ever. This covers a whole realm of abuse, from rape to physical violence and coercive control

Research by domestic violence charity Refuge also found that economic abuse – when someone attempts to control another’s ability to acquire, maintain access to, or use money on a sustained basis – now affects 8.7 million people: a rise of 1.6 million since the pandemic hit earlier this year.

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Again, young women are adversely affected here: for teenage girls alone, 64% have experienced abusive behaviour in relationships and worse still, they are often unable to recognise abuse for what it is.

Where to get support:

The organisation Refuge supports women suffering abuse via a range of services: contact them on their website for more info. Rape Crisis provides help and support after rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse: see their website to find out more and get the help you need. 

Women have struggled to access abortion services under lockdown

Access to contraception and abortion

With health services in a state of emergency and movements severely restricted, the events of this year have plunged vital abortion services into chaos across the UK. While the government eventually gave the green light to at-home abortion pills, some women are still being forced to travel in order to obtain an abortion in Northern Ireland; despite it being decriminalised there last year. 

We also know that young women can sometimes have difficulties in accessing safe, time-sensitive abortion services in normal times; and the disruption caused by coronavirus will have exacerbated this problem.

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Lockdown has also affected contraception access, with 10% of young women aged 14-21 reporting that they were unable to access their usual form of contraception as the pandemic took hold earlier this year.  

Where to get support:

Speak to an adviser from the organisation Marie Stopes UK for access to abortion services, and advice on all kinds of reproductive health options. You can also visit the NHS website for more information on accessing abortion.

Support is available for those who need it

Getting help and support

These statistics paint a grim picture for young women. But for those at the centre of this onslaught of threats, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Millions of men and women are campaigning right now to make your life easier, and there’s support available if you need it. To recap, here’s where you can turn for free and confidential advice on a range of issues:

- For employment, education and housing support, contact Citizens Advice, the Prince’s Trust, Grants Online or Centrepoint

- For mental health support, contact Mind or the NHS

- For help with domestic violence, contact Refuge or Rape Crisis

- For abortion support, contact Marie Stopes UK or the NHS

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.