Over the last decade, there’s been a recurring question put to our leaders. That is, “what about young people’s futures?” It is a line that has seemed cynical at times; used by anti-Brexit groups, for instance, to encourage support for overturning the EU referendum result. More recently it became the favourite among climate change activists. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you”, Greta Thunberg famously told world leaders at the United Nations climate action summit.
And yet, during the pandemic, it is a question that has been curiously absent – right around the time it is most needed. What is going to happen to the young with our Coronavirus policies, after all? I don’t think it’s selfish to wonder this; young people know that the crisis has presented leaders with impossible choices; they’re prepared to take on the huge tax bill coming, and they are deeply concerned about protecting their elders, whatever the newspapers suggest. Even so, they are not immune to the toll of this virus, and need to know that there is some hope for them at the end.
I don’t count myself as young, incidentally, as I’m 31 and going steadily grey. But I’m young-ish – a millennial, and I wonder about my future too. The Government’s recent Tier 2 restrictions, which – like many others – I am subjected to from today, has left me with deeper concerns than whether I’ll be able to meet friends. To me, it signals the continuation of what could best be described as “Economic Neverland”. Once my generation had aspirations for homes, families and the rest, but alongside the double whammy of 2008’s financial crisis, it feels that we are unable to grow up.
This crisis has, in many ways, been a “Peter Pan-demic”, if I may. It’s devastating for everyone. But we are consigning multiple generations to not being able to reach the markers of adulthood.
The first sign has been housing. Forget the picket fence, many people are moving back home with mum and dad. I know because I was one of them (lucky enough to be able to self-isolate first). My studio flat would have been intolerable over lockdown, and several friends made the same decision. Others are now back because they’ve lost their job or had to take a pay cut. No matter how much you love home, this is not the direction life is meant to go in.
Then there are the other challenges. I’ve been sad to watch friends cancel weddings this year, and the idea of having babies is almost certainly out of the question (even though many of us are in the pressing decade of our thirties). Conservatives have made massive advances in changing these facts – the housing algorithm was a very positive sign that MPs want to better the system – and yet the virus is a case of one step forward, two steps back.
I can only write this from a millennial perspective, but 16-24 year olds have been one of the worst affected groups; the most hit by job losses, as the number of people made redundant in the UK has risen to the fastest rate on record. Many cannot enjoy a full university experience, with Zoom replacing face-to-face teaching and Fresher’s Week now on hold for the foreseeable future. And it doesn’t bear thinking about what lies ahead for children, caught in the middle of school reopenings, which have increasingly become a political football.
Quite simply, I wouldn’t mind a Thunberg of the Coronavirus crisis – to remind leaders that “the eyes of all future generations are upon you.” Yes, the priority is to navigate the present – but our sleep-deprived politicians also have a duty to cast their minds to the decades ahead; to think about the sustainability of their policies, and what’s being asked of existing generations, and of those to come. From young people’s job security, to knowing they can settle down, there must be a way out of Neverland eventually.