‘I always refer to us as the lost generation’

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For Amy Downes, the timing of the economic crash could hardly have been worse.

“I was studying for my MA in 2007/08, just as things were starting to go wrong with the economy,” says the journalism graduate.

“While I was at university they were saying things were getting tougher and that we should get as many contacts and as much experience as possible.

“We all worked so hard – but it didn’t make any difference in the end.”

Miss Downes, now 28, lives in Barnsley, which has the highest youth unemployment rate in the region. Having graduated in the midst of the worst recession in decades, she has spent the past three years filling out job applications, working for nothing and picking up bits of temporary or freelance work here and there.

“I have done so much work for free,” she says. “The job was just never there at the end of it. So many people have told me they would love to take me on, but they just can’t afford it.

“I sell Avon, I write blogs, I do bits of freelance for an absolute pittance – just to get some pocket money, basically.”

The picture, she says, is the same for many of her friends.

“Everybody I talk to, no matter what walk of life they come from, either they or their close friends are having the same problems.

“It was a big decision for us to go to uni, knowing it would get us in £15,000-plus debt, but we were told it was the best thing for our futures. Five years later, and actually it has just set us back.”

If she could have her time again, she says, she would eschew university and instead try to get an apprenticeship on a newspaper or at a local radio station.

“University was the best time of my life, but all it has done is left me in debt,” she says.

She believe people of her age have now been abandoned as the Government trains its sights on the next generation of youngsters.

“I always refer to us as the ‘lost generation’,” she says. “They tried to help us be better than the previous generation, but they kind of messed it up, so now they have moved on to the next one.

“Of course they need to help them too, but they have left us stranded.”

Her story may yet have a happy ending – she has just started a new job doing PR for Asda.

“I love it,” she says. “But I really am just getting started. It’s so frustrating to know that I’m 28 years old and I haven’t really done anything yet.”