This article is part of a week of reflection on the past year and what it has meant for individuals, communities and local government. Unlocked: local stories from a global pandemic.
As I sit in my university room, it is nearly a year since I wrote a blog outlining how Covid had impacted both myself and other young people and I still can’t believe that we again find ourselves in lockdown.
So much and so little has happened since I last wrote. The effects of Covid continue to be felt. Over 124,000 people have died – numbers we wouldn’t have believed back in May 2020. Families and friends have been kept apart and the days of a hug from a grandparent seem a dim and distant memory. Many people have seen a deterioration in the quality of their life whether that be due to isolation, Long Covid, or concerns over financial security. Work and education continue to be disrupted with the full impact of both of those not fully clear.
And yet, so little of what I planned and hoped for has happened in the past year. There was no big summer of fun although who can forget the feelings of freedom during “eat out to help out” and the magic of the rule of six. The debacle of the A level results and the incredible stress and anguish that it caused people my age will not be forgotten by us for a long time. I was fortunate – I got the results I needed and started university in October. We all knew that the first term might be a bit disrupted but none of us could have anticipated the impact of new variants. Uni life has not been anything like I imagined and was promised – socially things are restricted and academically very challenging. I am probably luckier than most as I have still had some face-to-face learning whilst it was possible. But as I’m sure is clear, I can’t kid myself that I am fully experiencing student life.
When I wrote the blog last time, I talked about four key things that have been having a significant (mainly negative) effect on young people. I thought it would be good to revisit them 10 months on.
Firstly, mental health. I look around me at university and my friends in general and so many of us are really struggling – that is not because we are oversensitive – but because our lives are totally out of our control and when we think about the future it is hard not to feel worried. Young Minds’ recent survey found that many young people are deeply anxious, are self-harming, having panic attacks, or are losing motivation and hope for the future. When asked what the main pressures were during the current lockdown, respondents mostly spoke of loneliness and isolation, concerns about school, college or university work and a breakdown in routine.
The impact of home schooling continues and the effect of that on children and young people deepens and compounds. The uncertainty of exam results for another cohort of students is looming but perhaps more worryingly is that the attainment gap will be getting larger with life opportunities for some children reducing. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looked at Year 2 pupils’ performance in maths and reading tests in November 2020 and found that there is a large and concerning attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils. Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, perhaps put it most clearly when he told MPs on the Education Select Committee in January: “When we close schools we close their lives”. The subsequent impact on families has also been profound. Parents have had to dust off their rusty maths and got to grips with long forgotten grammar yet again – they have been on their own learning curve of balancing teaching, parenting and working. Parents – you are bossing it!
In the last blog, I highlighted the impact of Covid on young carers. A survey by Carers Trust in July 2020 found that 69 per cent of both young carers and young adult carers are feeling less connected to others since Covid. It also found that 11 per cent of young carers and 19.7 per cent of young adult carers report an increase of 30 hours or more in the amount of time they spend caring per week. The report recommends greater prioritisation of mental health support for young carers and stated that despite the statistics there is still low awareness amongst service providers and commissioners. It is vital that mental health services and schools supporting a child or young person with their mental health ask about caring responsibilities and support that child or young person to get support with caring.
A significant cause for anxiety for younger people continues to be how the economic impacts of may hinder their future prospects. Government statistics show that since the start of the pandemic there has been a large increase in unemployment and a large fall in employment for young people aged 16-24. Unemployment for young people has increased by 66,000, a 13 per cent increase, whilst the number of young people in employment has fallen by 284,000, a 7.5 per cent fall. And this is even before support schemes such as furlough come to an end.
In August 2020, the Health Foundation found that emerging evidence on the economic and social impact of the Covid pandemic shows that young people aged 12–24 years are one of the worst-affected groups, particularly in terms of the labour market and mental health outcomes. Yet despite all of this, the positive spirit I felt just under a year ago is unchanged. Research presented by Marketo found that 60 per cent of Generation Z want to make a positive difference in the world and 76 per cent are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet. Market Watch found that Gen Zs are very practical about money and care passionately about social causes. And when it comes to trust, Gen Z trusts health care workers over government leaders – and that includes local government.
The sun is shining as I write this and as spring erupts around me, I can’t help but feel some early shoots of optimism. The considerable success of the vaccination programme as well as the wonders of more effective medical treatments for Covid is being seen in the daily figures. Less people are dying and being hospitalised and cases are falling. All being well, restrictions will be lifted, and life might start to get back to some sort of normality – whatever that will mean.
Gen Zs believe in our power and ability to create change rather than waiting for others to do it for us. We bring a new and needed voice to a variety of issues, and we are willing to express our voice – whether that be TikTok or protesting on issues that are important to us. So, my final thought is that we will need more support and help because it’s been a tricky year, but I feel optimistic for the future.