The national roadmap out of lockdown was always going to arrive with a bittersweet taste. Sweet, for it would outline our way out of lockdowns and allow us to plan for a post-pandemic future. Bitter because the announcement was always going to contain a slow, steady and cautious process, lasting many weeks.
Whatever your views we at least now have potential dates by which we can plan for a life beyond Covid. However, much remains to be done and the hangover from this crisis is likely to loom large.
However, in this week’s edition, I would like to pay special attention to young people. For clarity I mean those under the age of 30 who have had their lives put on hold, their university courses curtailed, and their job prospects shattered. The post-pandemic world is unlikely to evoke a great deal of rejoicing amongst this age group.
Throughout this time, the media have all too often portrayed young people as ‘covidiots’ or individuals unwilling to take the restriction measures seriously. Footage from Manchester University of students breaking through metal barriers were played on repeat, so as portray young people as rebellious, irresponsible people with no care but for themselves.
Yet, the reality could not have been more different. Here in South Devon, I saw and heard of university students volunteering at food banks, young farmers helping the vulnerable, school pupils making PPE, the list goes on and on. At a time of global crisis our young people did not sit idly by, they stood up and helped out.
Now that we can look ahead with a degree of certainty it is time to start considering how we can help this generation make up lost time, to create opportunity and I feel the following suggestions could be a stepping stone to ensure that their futures are as fertile and bright as those who came before them.
Firstly, the mental health impact of Covid has yet to be evaluated but we know it is likely to be huge. We need to encourage more young people to get together, when restrictions are lifted, through youth clubs and local activities. The introduction of the £500m Youth Investment Fund over the next five years is a step in the right direction, but it should be rolled out quicker.
Secondly, creating opportunity is easier said than done, but schemes like the Government's Kickstart Scheme provides an incentive for employers to create jobs for those between the ages of 16 and 24. However, we can go further and by offering more apprenticeships, training schemes and a temporary national insurance holiday we could offer yet further impetus to provide new job prospects to those under thirty.
Thirdly, just as we can incentivise employers, we should be encouraging employees. Creating a lower income tax threshold for those between ages 16-30 would not just spur a generation into work but create the opportunity for increased levels of investment, entrepreneurialism, and homeownership. Putting more pounds into the pockets of our young people will not just encourage spending but saving as well.
Finally, universities have taken the right steps by ensuring that accommodation rents are returned to students. However, the same has yet to happen for tuition fees. Where courses have been moved online but have failed to provide value for money, reimbursement must follow. Students have a right to expect value for money and on too many occasions I have heard accounts of universities failing to meet the standards required.
Young people have been overlooked throughout this crisis. But their actions to help and support within their respective communities are a credit to their generation. We must act to repay their sacrifices and to ensure that their futures are filled with opportunity and optimism. The four suggestions are by no means exhaustive and we should be unafraid of being truly creative to help those whose future this will all depend upon.