From education to employment

Calls review of the impact of the exam system on the #MentalHealth of young people

The government has today (16 Oct) been urged to overhaul policies across housing, transport and education and adopt a whole government approach to secure the future health of today’s young people.

The recommendations for action include calls for a consistent approach to discounted and free public transport for students across the UK and a review of the impact the current testing regime in schools has on mental health. The call is led by independent charity the Health Foundation at the conclusion of its major two-year inquiry into young people’s future health.

The charity’s new report, A healthy foundation for the future, published today, summarises the work of the inquiry and introduces the policy analysis that has taken place. It concludes that factors such as: a fragmented approach to spending and investment in young people across multiple government departments; a challenging housing market where more young people are living longer in poor quality, shorter term rental properties and priced out of long term homes; and a job market where young people struggle for secure rewarding work are putting the UK’s 12-24 year-olds at serious risk of ill health later in life.

The inquiry has found that it is harder for today’s young people to access the things necessary for future health – a place to call home, potential for secure and rewarding work, and supportive relationships with their friends, family and community.

The Health Foundation and its nine expert partner organisations, who are publishing detailed analysis alongside the report, recommend that young people’s needs are put at the centre of government policy making. They are proposing a series of wide-ranging policy recommendations to give young people a better start in life including:

  • A government review of the impact of the exam system and the ‘teach to test’ culture on the mental health of young people.
  • Significant reforms to the private rental sector including developing minimum standards for landlords and greater support for ‘build to rent’ schemes so that young people can put down roots and feel a sense of ‘home’.
  • Ending the postcode lottery in access to discounted and free transport for students and young people seeking employment.

Detailed policy recommendations for each sector will be published by the expert organisations in the coming weeks.

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, commented:

“Most people wouldn’t automatically think that housing, transport and education policies have much to do with people’s health. However, our inquiry has shown that getting these – and other areas of government policy – right for young people sets them on course for a healthy future. This is why we are recommending changes to ensure young people have somewhere to call home, rewarding work and supportive relationships with friends, families and communities.

“It is apparent that the arbitrary division of responsibilities between different sectors is letting young people down and jeopardising their long-term health. We must address these divisions and ensure there is a whole government approach to drive us towards a healthy future.”

Evie Basch, 20, from Bristol, took part in the inquiry’s research and is a member of its Young People’s Steering Group. They commented:

“More young people today are finding themselves stuck in a cycle where they are struggling to find well-paid work, so can’t afford public transport rates to travel to interviews, and can’t afford the current high living costs or the support they need in order to improve their situations as a whole.

“Throughout the inquiry it became obvious that although we were looking at separate topics – housing, work, transport and mental health support – they were all interlinked with each other. Moving towards an integrated system in terms of health care, benefits, social services and more, should be something to strive towards. It is vital that young people are consulted in decisions that affect their futures. Hopefully the work of the inquiry will start to tackle these interlinking problems.”


The Health Foundation selected expert organisations across seven key policy areas to provide a deep dive into the building blocks of health for young people. The below reports and policy recommendations will be published in the following weeks:

  • Private rental housing – Chartered Institute of Housing
  • The impact of schools on wellbeing – The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition and the Centre for Mental Health
  • The impact of transport on young people’s lives – Sustrans and the University of the West of England
  • The quality of work on offer to young people – Institute for Employment Studies
  • Post-16 education and training outside of the path to university – Education Policy Institute
  • Youth provision – Centre for Youth Impact
  • Living with or without a financial safety net – The Resolution Foundation


The inquiry is a two-year research and engagement programme by the Health Foundation exploring the support 12–24 year-olds need to enter adulthood with the core building blocks for a healthy future. The initial findings, published in the inquiry’s inaugural report Listening to our future last year, found that young people do not currently have the assets needed to access these building blocks – emotional support; appropriate skills and qualifications; personal connections; and financial and practical support – putting them at risk of poor health later in life.

The second phase of the inquiry included a series of site visits with over 600 young people aged 16 to 24 from five distinct areas across the UK. The site visits uncovered common themes and a strong sense of place, shaping the young people’s identity and how they described themselves, with these findings published in A place to grow, the inquiry’s second report.

Following the site visits, the Health Foundation selected expert organisations across seven key policy areas to provide a deep dive into these building blocks of health. Each of the expert organisations has been exploring how each area impacts the lives of young people and have developed policy recommendations for action, which will be published over the coming weeks.

ABOUT THE HEALTH FOUNDATION: An independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

Our aim is a healthier population, supported by high quality health care that can be equitably accessed. We learn what works to make people’s lives healthier and improve the health care system. From giving grants to those working at the front line to carrying out research and policy analysis, we shine a light on how to make successful change happen.

We make links between the knowledge we gain from working with those delivering health and health care and our research and analysis. Our aspiration is to create a virtuous circle, using what we know works on the ground to inform effective policymaking and vice versa.

We believe good health and health care are key to a flourishing society. Through sharing what we learn, collaborating with others and building people’s skills and knowledge, we aim to make a difference and contribute to a healthier population.

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