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Covid-19: British Youth Council not consulted

We have all been thrown into the unknown as a result of this pandemic – the lives and prospects of young people in particular are changing fast and are set to do so for years to come.

Babies are being born into this ‘new normal’, all while Britain’s young population is being crippled financially and socially. It’s this cohort that may forever be known as the ‘coronavirus generation’. We don’t yet know the full impact, but the social, economic and mental health effects could end up scarring some for the rest of their lives.

Scroll down to hear young people describe how their lives have been knocked off track by the coronavirus crisis.

In the shadow of a south London estate, 17-year-old Yahya uses the basketball court as an escape during the lockdown. He should be sitting his A-levels and preparing for university, but like many college students, he is feeling anxious and concerned about what lies ahead. ” The uncertainty and not knowing what you could have come out with, and knowing it’s all going to rely on a simple calculated grade, that’s the most difficult thing about all of this.”

“It’s the last four months that really count about your A-levels and I’ve not had the chance to grind and go through those exams. It’s just worrying to know that you can’t do anything about your future.”

Yahya is relying on a bursary, but if he doesn’t get the grades he needs to get into his chosen university he may not get that support.

“It would have a huge impact on me because it’s something that is competitive to get. To support myself at uni, I’d have to probably work more than I do and get another job.”

But Yahya already works three part-time jobs to save up for uni and help out at home.

“It’s necessary for me to work to keep the house running and support my family. COVID has put a lot of financial pressure on my family. You’re going to work, you’re doing 9 to 5 like an adult, you go home and have to give half of that money to your mum. It just seems strange to be living that adult persona and missing out on the celebration, it’s all a bit rubbish really.”

Yahya is one of 16 million people classed as ‘Generation Z’, covering those just starting primary school right the way up to graduates. The coronavirus crisis is affecting them all. Many are missing out on exams, high school proms, the experience of living at university and working a job to save cash. For many, it could be a childhood to forget.

 

Bethany is 18, she’s studying journalism at university in Glasgow, but her future is packed with uncertainty. She wants answers to questions.

“When can I go back to university?”

“What will life be like when I go back?”

“Will I be able to do my course which needs human interaction?”

Instead of living in Glasgow, Bethany is at home in Ayrshire. She’s at home bored, not working at her local cafe – which has closed, so she’s decided to take up tarot card reading. But no one could predict the future people like her face.

“Along with the strikes, we were literally in uni for under five months and the first year of uni is a big thing. I feel like I’ve hardly been there, it was cut so short… I feel quite lonely a lot of the time, very anxious as well, constantly worrying about what’s going to happen after.”

Bethany says her mental health has suffered during the lockdown.

“If you’re lying in bed and you’ve got a Zoom call in 30 minutes, you’re sometimes feeling like you can’t be bothered… You feel bad and guilty that you’re feeling like this because of all the stuff that’s going on out there. It’s nice to get out the house and go somewhere which is really pretty, calm and relaxed, and just chill out.”

Bethany’s chances of getting a job when she graduates will be slimmer than before the pandemic. Many students have had work experience or graduate job applications postponed, or completely scrapped.

“I had some work experience lined up for the summer – but that’s not happening anymore. It was worrying before anyways, thinking how you’re going to get a job as you get older. Now it’s just more so, it’s amplified by about 10 times.”

lockdown has meant 16-year-old Alex has had no chance to play football, the sport he wants to make a career out of.

“He’s a talented young kid,” one youth worker tells us. “He could go far.”

Since he was 14, Alex has been under the watchful eye of youth service, Reaching Higher. They’re based in Croydon and provide support for young teenagers in an area which is riddled with gang culture and street crime. But over the years, during financial hardships, funding for such organisations has been the first to go. There are now fears that groups like this could vanish because of the economic impact of the pandemic. Alex hopes to play professionally for Chelsea one day, something he thinks he can do. But he’s not always had that mindset.

“If I didn’t know these lot, I could have gone down loads of different paths. In my area, I think there’s a lot of things going on, gang-related stuff, there’s a lot of corrupt things going on in the area and I could have gone into those routes. I could have got into fighting, I could have got into a gang, a lot of things that would have seen me in jail. But these guys helped me focus on football.”

Alex’s future relies on his GCSE results, exams he hasn’t been able to sit. His school will now take into account his mock results and predicted grades – but he’s worried they weren’t good enough and his excuse is heartbreaking.

“On March 6, I was four days into my mocks, my mum passed away. I tried to finish my mocks, but my head wasn’t at it, it wasn’t focused on GCSEs. I was more grieving everyday, just upset and crying.”

He’s now worried that if his exam results aren’t good enough to get into a football college it will damage his chances of progression in the sport.

Dami Olorunnisomo is the leadership lead at Reaching Higher and works with many young people like Alex.

“So much we spoke about before the pandemic was, we need to support youth projects, we need to support the youth charity sector, but obviously we’re going to be the first to be thrown aside. Cutting funding, cutting youth centres, cutting youth charities, stopping them from doing the useful work they’ve been doing will have long-lasting effects.”

Analysis from Ed Conway, economics editor
Economics is one of those subjects famous for its arcane, obscure terminology. But there is one exception – the term used to describe what happens to the labour market during a recession: scarring. For years economists have studied why it takes so long to get over these economic contractions. Why is it that, for the most part, we don’t just bounce back quickly; why can it take so long for everyone’s incomes and employment to get back to where it was?

Part of the answer comes back to scarring. Put simply: when young people lose their jobs, or come out of school or university and are unable to get a job, they are considerably more likely to be frozen out of the labour market for a significant time. If they lose their job when they are young they are far more likely to have lower wages, even decades later, than if they lose their job when they are a bit older.

The lesson is that while recessions are rarely good for everyone, they are particularly tough for those who are just starting out in their careers.

And in the form of COVID-19, young people face a triple whammy. Not only do they have to bear greater long-term costs than those older than them, they are also more likely, according to research from the Resolution Foundation, to lose their jobs given the types of work most exposed to the lockdown. On top of this, those still in education have lost out on months of face-to-face education that their older counterparts benefited from.

The upshot is that economists fear there could be a skills deficit in the “class of 2020” that will expose many to worse career prospects for some years to come. Our analysis also underlines that young people face among the biggest burden of debt. And while at present most young people say they have the means to finance that debt, this “gearing” leaves them even more exposed in the event that they lose their jobs.

It’s worth adding that for young people the risk of dying or facing a severe onset of illness from COVID-19 is far, far smaller than for those who are older. Yet in much the same way as the health risk is skewed towards the elderly, the majority of the economic risks appear to be skewed towards the young. And this is before one considers that many young workers are more exposed than older generations to catching the virus itself, since they are proportionally more likely to be key workers.

Faith is 15, a member for the Youth Parliament in Stockport. But unlike her friends she has to spend hours every day caring for her younger brother who has autism. Under the Coronavirus Act outlined in April, support for special educational needs (SEN) students has already been altered. She’s worried that with cuts to support for her brother, life could get a lot harder.

“My brother’s very used to rigid routines, he gets up at a certain time, he gets ready for school, he eats a certain breakfast, he sees the same people every day. But because he’s in the house full time, there’s a lot on me to make sure I can care for my brother whilst everybody in the house does their bit to make sure everything is still going as it should be. We can’t always give him necessarily what someone from an outside organisation can come in and do, so when those cuts happen it will affect us, but it will affect my brother the most.”

At the same time, Faith is like millions of other 15-year-olds – waiting for GCSE results – and has no clue what they could look like. She says the uncertainty is particularly hard.

 

Lockdown life in a small house with nine people isn’t ideal. In fact, for 23-year-old Saeed, it’s scary.

He was meant to be in his own house by now in Bolton, with his new wife who he lives apart from. Like others his age, he wants to get his foot on the housing ladder. Before the outbreak, he had an offer accepted on a house, which he says was perfect, but as soon as the country was put on lockdown his plans were scrapped.

“About two weeks before lockdown happened we put an offer in and it was accepted, but then the banks decided they’re not going to lend to just 5% deposits anymore.”

Renting for Saeed and his wife is not feasible -they can’t afford to do that and also save up for a place of their own.

“You see those who are privileged, this isn’t going to affect them in the same way as it will hurt those who are working class. I grew up in care, my mum’s on Universal Credit on a housing estate. My dad, well I don’t know who he is. Like many people, I don’t have the bank of mum and dad to help out when it’s needed, so this house, it isn’t mine. I feel part of a lost generation. A generation of young people who’ve lost the ability to get their foot on the housing ladder before they’re 30. I feel part of a generation that’s missed out on their final six months of education. These rights of passage that you would have, have just disappeared right before your eyes. The toll on your mental health is going to be pretty vast.”

Right at the start, when this virus swarmed across Britain, we were told we were living in unprecedented times. The truth is, no one has ever experienced anything like this before. What is clear, is that young people are struggling and will do so massively in the future. The financial implications are unpredictable and the knock-on effect on social life could be devastating. If there’s one thing this ‘coronavirus generation’ can do, it’s to band together, be adaptable and make allowances – the need for that is greater now than ever before. Whilst the impact of coronavirus is universal, its effects are simply not uniform.

 

Article originally appeared on Sky News

The Institute cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.

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