COVID-19 and the need for youth voices

UK Youth Voice Alumni member, Emily Fox blogs about the need for young people’s voices to be heard as the UK prepares for a new normal.

Never have the voices of the UK’s young people been so critical, yet they are hugely at risk of not being heard. The COVID-19 crisis has impacted all of us in one way or another and young people are doing their best to just get by in this uncertain time.

The stress this lockdown puts on young people will be seen in the years ahead. It is essential we address the harsh reality of what happens when young people sadly have nowhere to go and are limited it what they can do. Schools have closed and youth clubs have shut; only 5% of young people have access to limited educational and youth provision. Universities are doing their best to provide online learning, with many young people expected to complete assignments ‘as normal’ without the resources to do so. Young people are being left behind and this cannot continue to be the case.

Young people have been impacted by reduced hours, being ‘furloughed’ or laid off completely from their jobs. For many, this brings pressures to pay extortionate rent or bills, increasing financial worries and uncertainty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predict that young people and women will be the hardest hit by the crisis and we have failed as a country to protect the most economically vulnerable. The IFS also found that young people under 25 are 2.5 times more likely to work in a sector that has now shut down and this equates to 30% of all young people under 25. We need to apply a sustainable approach to ensure all young people now and hereafter are given the opportunity to build a bright future.

Whilst the measures to stay home are absolutely necessary to save lives, it has dramatically impacted young people’s mental health. Recently, Mind revealed that 83% of respondents to their young people survey said that the pandemic had made their mental health worse since school and youth provision closures. With increased uncertainty as the pandemic continues to sink in – anxiety, fear, loss of routine and direct human connection will undoubtedly have a profound impact on youth mental health. This urgently needs to be addressed, especially as there is now a subsequent strain on access to support services for children and young people.

Going forward, it is extremely important that young people are well-informed and understand what is happening around us. Recently the public could submit questions to the daily press conference but only for over 18s. Why should this not be extended to young people of all ages too? Government, business and society must collectively act to ensure young people aren’t ignored and muted from the conversation. It is essential young people are brought to the table and are consulted in decision-making. Addressing the impact of this pandemic will have just as much of an impact as the tackling the pandemic. Therefore, we must harness the power and potential of our young people who have the energy, skills and ideas to improve our approaches to these crucial societal issues.

In times of crisis and urgency, we must remember our young people have an important role to play in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges. Young people are the leaders of today, so why wait until tomorrow to give them the support they need?

We must stand with youth and give them the chance to be listened to.

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