This week there’s been a huge amount of talk around the Government’s intention to introduce vaccine passports in England. Far less has been said, however, about another part of its Plan B, which is the instruction for people to work from home again (if they can) from next Monday.
Working from home (WFH) sounds fairly innocuous in itself – indeed, a huge number of people enjoy this lifestyle. However, it is also an instruction that increasingly exposes a governmental indifference, or ignorance, to a major divide in society. That is between those who own homes, mostly older generations, and those who do not (mostly those in their 20s and 30s).
Indeed, for every happy office worker stretching out in a nice house, with multiple bedrooms, there will be someone else groaning at the idea of more time spent in their accommodation. Perhaps they have to squeeze onto a desk with other housemates, or work in their bedroom because their flat has no living room, or they worry about their heating bills, or even worse.
The issue is not WFH in itself, but the conditions we’ve come to accept as the default for renters to live in, thanks to the ongoing housing crisis. It’s unsurprising that this matter has been neglected. Increasingly it feels that the Government lacks a “levelling up” vision for younger generations in Britain; and, aside from certain funding measures in the Budget, does not see them as much of a political priority.
Much of this has been obvious during the Coronavirus crisis, in which we spend an awful amount of time debating the need for restrictions, but not so much looking at Covid’s secondary and long-term casualties, from children being plucked out of school to the financial impact on the young – even though they’ll have to pick up the pandemic bill.
Yesterday it was reported, for instance, that the Government is considering Plan C of restrictions, which will predominantly affect pubs and restaurants. Rarely does it get mentioned, though, that these are some of the biggest employers of the young, with the hospitality industry now facing a £8 billion loss over the Christmas season.
With industries increasingly under threat, younger generations are ever-more dependent on state support. Two days ago it was reported that the number of students seeking funding, due to financial woes, had doubled in 25 per cent of English universities over the last year – a shocking state of affairs. Many shouldn’t be at university in the first place – these institutions are vastly oversubscribed to – but where do they bring their talents given the current state of the economy, which grew by only 0.1 per cent in October?
There are other signs of something that’s gone very wrong in terms of how governments – at large – treat younger generations. Elon Musk recently warned “one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birthrate”, prescient words given that England and Wales now have the lowest birth rates since records began in 1938. With spiralling property prices and the cost of living on the up, the stats will no doubt get worse. But, judging by the absence of discussion on this matter, don’t expect political urgency any time soon.
The Government constantly talks about “Levelling Up”, but the shame is it only ever seems to conceptualise this in terms of geography; often because of its reliance on the Red Wall as a means to political victory. In doing so, it is increasingly leaving out one very “left behind” part of the electorate, whose issues vastly outweigh anything that can be addressed by way of the Kickstart Fund or rises to the National Minimum Wage. The news is filled with warnings about the extent of the problem; let’s hope MPs have a vision soon.