Tough times for young people
This blog should have been coming to you from sunny Tenerife but it isn’t. Like everyone Jacqui and I have been hit by the pandemic. It’s taken, so to speak, one year out of our lives but for us, we have enough years to spare. The tragedy is for our young people. This week I’ve been moved by two articles on how the coronavirus pandemic has caused much suffering for this age group. The first from the BBC news website reported a series of protests in France by students highlighting their plight. A combination of isolation, inactivity and a broader loss of purpose has left many students close to breakdown, according to university psychologists. I'm sure it is the same here. lly Benyoussef, a 20-year-old student in Paris, us quoted: “Deadlines sometimes mount up to the point where I just don't hand my essays in anymore.” He explains: "Not being able to go to the movies or the theatre means I spend even more time on my phone or laptop watching silly videos. I really miss going out." The 18:00-06:00 curfew there hasn’t helped. Then in our own country the Prince’s Trust produced its long-running annual survey of young people’s happiness and confidence to show the worst findings in its 12-year history. “The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing,” said Jonathan Townsend, the trust’s UK chief executive. “Many believe they are missing out on being young, and sadly we know that the impact of the pandemic on their employment prospects and overall wellbeing could continue far into their futures.” Under-25s are more likely to be furloughed than any other age group while over 13% are unemployed over against the national average of 4.1%. The number of graduate jobs advertised fell 60.3% in the first half of 2020 on one online recruitment website, compared with a 35.5% overall fall in adverts. Moreover students are missing out on their college or university experience, which for me was invaluable in its breadth. The figures are frightening. More than one in four surveyed said they had felt unable to cope with life since the start of the pandemic, increasing to 40% of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people. Half of 16- to 25-year-olds said their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic. For me the one statistic which said it all was the finding that 68% of 16-25 year-olds said that that they are ‘missing out on being young’. You only have one bite of the cherry and it's being taken away. The tragedy is that young people are being made to isolate when they themselves are not vulnerable to Covid-19. It’s a case of simply limiting the transmission of this virus rather than protecting their own health. Those of us with young people in our families may feel powerless. I spoke to one couple in Ormskirk this week: they are concerned for their 25 year old daughter employed by a university in the Midlands, working from home in her one-bedroomed flat. Not surprisingly she is very lonely. ‘It is not good that the man should be alone” says God in the second creation narrative (Genesis 2:18). That’s an amazing sentence in that it shows that even God himself is unable to directly fulfil Adam’s need for companionship. Hence Eve. And parents and grandparents can do their best but it is simply no substitute for relationship with your peers. This is one of those areas where we can identify and analyse the problem, walking around it examining it from different angles - but actually offer little solution. We can pray, of course, for government ministers making hugely difficult decisions managing this pandemic, balancing the need to support our young people while keeping our hospitals from breakdown. But what happens when this is all over?
One of the big themes of the Old Testament is the importance of memory, not to forget what has happened to our young people. We need to stay with the problem. As economist Joseph Stiglitz argues: “But we won’t be able to fix the problem if we don’t recognise it. Our young do. They perceive the absence of intergenerational justice, and they are right to be angry. We have obligations, of course, as individuals – to care for the needs of young people, to be understanding of their predicament. But even more so in our civic responsibilities in what is known as the social contract between generations. We baby boomers are not to use our political weight to look after ourselves at the expense of younger generations and reject nimbyism as a means of protecting our lifestyles at the expense of young people. “When human politicians choose between the next election and the next generation,” observed Warren Buffet, “it’s clear what usually happens.” We are talking here of intergenerational justice, something close to the heart of the Hebrew Bible, aware of the needs of succeeding generations. This verse from the Psalms could be for me: “Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18) So we pray for our young people, that rather than be damaged by this terrible pandemic but in some way come out stronger, more sensitive to our need for healthy relationships between and across the generations, as God has made us.. #intergenerational #justice #loneliness