BY BEN KERNIGHAN – CHIEF EXECUTIVE
It is undeniable that young people are disproportionately affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Imagine spending a year in your teens under lockdown with massive disruptions to your schooling. Or being in your first year of university and stuck in your halls, unable to go out for weeks on end. Imagine being in your early 20s living under curfew, with reduced freedom of movement and increasingly strict measures limiting social interaction.
Then think about the implications of the resulting economic recession on the job market that the younger generation are entering into. It’s not only their social life at present that has been upturned; it’s their future careers that are also hanging in the balance.
Unsurprisingly, there are high levels of uncertainty and mental health issues arising among young people surrounding how to navigate this new, unpredictable world. The current levels of unemployment and the lack of stable income for so many young people will likely have long-term damaging effects on individuals and communities. However, young people themselves are not given a say in crucial decisions that determine their long term futures. Their voices aren’t being heard by those with decision-making power. This has become a more critical problem now than at any time in a generation.
In the initial three months of furlough, half of all eligible 16-24 year olds were placed on the scheme. Already, the under 25 age group has seen the biggest rise in unemployment as a result of the pandemic. The Office for National Statistics reveals that, since the pandemic began, 60% of those who have “fallen out of employment” are aged 16-24. Recent findings by the Resolution Foundation show that youth unemployment is likely to reach its highest level since the early 1980s.
The announcement that the furlough scheme will be extended until the end of March 2021 is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done.
These extraordinary times need bold measures. Young people need excellent support to lead their own businesses and social enterprises. They need funding and resources around technology and innovation. They need the best information about where new jobs will be created. Young people need access to a job guarantee scheme to ensure greater security. This will enable young people to make a positive contribution to our society, for example in building a green economy and addressing the crisis in our care services. This will help make our society better and safer for all of us. It will give young people hope and an opportunity to contribute.
All of the young people we have spoken to are busy, whether it’s working in a temporary job, trying to establish their own businesses, or actively seeking work. However, there is a recurring theme in that very few of them see value in what they are doing at present, and few feel confident that what they are doing now is contributing to their future.
Experts from Sage have echoed these concerns, warning that our government’s pandemic policies are putting young people at risk of becoming a “lost generation.” Policy makers have ignored the advice received by experts around the catastrophic risk this crisis carries for the future of Generation Z. Instead of listening to advisers and to the young people themselves, the government has been preoccupied with short-term fixes for immediate threats rather than longer term solutions and policy change.
Now is the moment for government, corporations, organisations, authority figures and all of the other adults in young people’s lives to do all they can to ensure that this generation of young people receive the best possible support to grasp every single opportunity. We have to prevent today’s young people from becoming tomorrow’s “lost generation.” The future of our society, communities and institutions depends on it.