With the sudden ubiquity of the phrases “low” and “high risk”, it’s easy to regard Gen Z – those born after the year 1995 – as a generation almost entirely unhindered by Covid-19. But whilst most of our generation are less at risk of being gravely affected by the virus itself, such a narrow focus ignores the significant indirect risks posed by the Coronavirus.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned we could become a ‘lost generation’ due to the ineptitude of our government’s pandemic policies. Unemployment is on the rise, a national rate of 4.5%. 60% of this drop is accounted for by 16-24 year olds. at an alarming unemployment rate of 13.4%. According to the Resolution Foundation Report, over half of people under the age of 25 have been made redundant or furloughed. At a point in time when transferable skills are in desperate demand, few are in the workplace to actually learn them. Such missed opportunities weaken the portfolios of young job applicants, leading to further difficulty getting employed once the pandemic is over. For a generation already dealing with the threat of an oversubscribed job market, it seems like we’ve been condemned to even more uncertainty.
In October, over 300 MPs voted not to extend free school meals over the school holidays. Many saw this as being a cruel decision at the best of times, so now many fear that Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues have handed a death sentence to children living below the poverty line. The Trussell Trust, a NGO with over 1,000 food bank centres across the country, reports it has distributed up to 146% more food parcels for children this year than it did in 2019. The warning issued by Sage is about much more than the impact of the furlough scheme on older members of Gen Z; the youngest and most vulnerable individuals in our country have been left underfed due to Covid-19 and our government’s lacklustre support.
Many suggest our generation has been psychologically impacted by the government’s response to the pandemic. Stress has not only increased as a result of the issues already mentioned, but also by Gavin Williamson’s apparent u-turns related to GCSE and A-Level results. Year 13s living in poor areas were disproportionately impacted by the ‘fair’ system of rewarding grades – a system which our Education Secretary was previously warned about and eventually had to change after nearly two in five A-Level results were downgraded by Ofqual’s algorithm. It isn’t hard to comprehend how the shambles of results day mentally impacted our students, especially since many lost university places as a direct consequence.
On the surface, the ominous language used by Sage sounds too hyperbolic to be true. After all, young people are lauded for their ability to adapt to challenging environments. But statistics and personal experiences suggest a certain degree of credibility: this pandemic has devastated many lives, but have government failures bequeathed the label of ‘lost’ upon us?