✏️ Nathan Hine
For young people, the coronavirus crisis has seen schools and universities closed and forced them into hibernation for months on end; producing huge social and economic consequences which will be difficult to reverse. So what has been done to help young people during the lockdown and how might coronavirus affect their life chances?
In March, all schools, colleges and universities were closed for an indefinite period and despite the fact that pubs, cafes and hairdressers reopened on July 4, for most young people, any chance of returning is still far away.
Education has been one of the difficulties during the lockdown with a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies highlighting that children from better-off families are spending 30% more time home learning compared to those from poorer families. The government has failed to take necessary action to try and fill that void with unfulfilled promises and a lack of coordinated plan.
The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has called for the government to establish a strategy to bring all children back into school as soon as possible to avoid the ‘disadvantage gap’ (disparity in learning outcomes between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers) growing any bigger.
Anne said: “We know there are thousands of vulnerable children who need to be in school. We know that the longer schools are closed the greater the impact will be on social mobility and that many children are really struggling without seeing their friends and the structure school brings. We need to face the reality that, for a number of reasons, there are hundreds of thousands of children who cannot access meaningful education at home.”
But despite the government promising that all primary school children would be back at school by September which it has since rescinded, education has been one of the biggest gaps in the government’s strategy in lifting the lockdown.
A recent survey conducted between 3 April to 10 May by the Office for National Statistics found that among those aged between 16-29 who were worried about coronavirus, almost a quarter (24%) identified the impact on schools or universities as their main concern. It also found that over three quarters (76%) of young people aged between 25-29 were either somewhat worried or very worried about the impact coronavirus had on their work. This will not only have an economic impact on the future of young people in this country but on the physical and mental wellbeing.
A survey carried out by Young Minds found that among 2111 young people with a history of mental health needs between March 20 and March 25, over a third (32%) agreed that it made their mental health much worse and over half (51%) agreed it made it a bit worse.
On publication of that survey, Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of Young Minds said: “As the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on their lives continues to sink in, more young people are going to struggle to cope.”
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is also creating an epidemic of loneliness, not just for older people, and sadly there are some people who will fall through the net.
So for young people, being cooped up in their homes for months on end has posed difficult socio-economic challenges. Not only with the loss of physically being at school or university, but also practically being able to complete their course from home.
In April, the National Union for Students launched #SpaceToStudy campaign, encouraging students from across the country to post images of their study space as part of an appeal for government help.
But despite the Department of Education promising that 50,000 laptops will be delivered to disadvantaged children in May and June, the educational gap in this country could not be bigger which will ultimately compromise the life chances of millions of people.
With education underpinning a child’s life chances and their future, the government’s strategy on education was always going to be hugely important as the country began to ease from the lockdown.
But the plan to get children back into school as soon as possible never came and people in Further and Higher education also feel lost and confused.
While elderly people have borne the brunt of the health impact of coronavirus with over 65,000 excess deaths, the impact of coronavirus on young people must not be understated.
The government needs to develop a swift catch-up plan on education and bring clarity to the options of young people with investment into apprenticeships and graduate schemes to stop the life chances of young people grinding to a halt.
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