The government's response to the coronavirus pandemic is having an unfair impact across society. The interests of the elderly are being overly prioritised to the detriment of the young, argues Tom Hewitt.

It seems hard to believe now, but Covid was originally meant to be our generation's Blitz. Adversity threatened us all, so the British people would once again face the gathering storm together, the maxim went. Unsurprisingly, this analogy did not stay relevant for long. Adversity from Covid does not threaten us all. For the young the only gathering storm is mass unemployment and ruined life chances.

With ten months experience since the pandemic hit the country, the notion that the government's policy response has sacrificed the interests of the young in favour of the old is now undeniable. On the health front, it is now well established that the risk of dying from Covid is miniscule for young people, with the average age of a Covid victim being 82. For those of school-age death by lightning is more likely. Every Coronavirus death is of course a tragedy, but that does not mean everyone's response should be the same.

What is less well established but is becoming clearer by the day, is that in economic and social terms the damage to the young is far greater than that to the old. According to the DWP, at the height of the pandemic, the under 25s made up one-third of all Universal Credit claims. Perhaps the most horrifying statistic, courtesy of the ONS, is that all the net fall in employment the UK has seen to date is accounted for by losses in the 18-24 age group. On the current trajectory the Resolution Foundation predicts that youth unemployment will reach 17 per cent by the end of this year. Further lockdowns will only compound this calamity.

The experience and prospects of the young in other areas is also grim. For those of school age, five months of closed schools has been a disaster. Educational inequality between the richest and poorest students has risen significantly. Compounding this, a new inequality has been born – exam cancellations have caused the qualifications of the Covid generation to be uniquely devalued.

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As a result of mass youth unemployment, one might expect more school leavers to be seeking refuge in further study. But far from being a refuge, under current quarantine policy, universities are increasingly becoming a literal prison. For those lucky enough to be unconfined, all-online teaching still raises searching questions about value for money. Most tragically, with most student jobs now gone, many will be unable to pay the living costs anyway.

Unfortunately, there's also little reason to be optimistic for new graduates. Online job vacancies and apprenticeship places have fallen by 60 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, with recruitment for the roles that are available extraordinarily competitive. Invaluable work experience opportunities are also unlikely to happen due to work from home orders.

Not much solace can be found in the social lives of the young either. Lockdown policy has either closed down or made unviable, the pubs, bars and nightclubs that give joy and meaning to so many. Those formative experiences, which older generations took for granted, have been stolen from this generation.

To cap it off, the young are going to be paying the cost of this for the rest of their lives. Historic data shows, on average, those graduating in recessions tend to earn less over the course of their lives and are less likely to be employed. For those who do eventually get work, they will almost certainly be paying off the cost in higher taxes for decades.

Unfortunately, the worst may not have yet passed. Many politicians and scientists, most of whom enjoy secure jobs, are now, at best, pointlessly calling for a fresh lockdown. It is worrying to see the government flirt with the idea with the new tiering system. A credible explanation as to why the virus will not just come straight back when the controls are lifted has yet to be given. With no guarantee of a vaccine or effective treatment, without a change of policy, it seems likely the UK will be condemned to an indefinite cycle of lockdowns – with the destruction of lives and life chances that this will entail. Endless bailouts, intrinsically, cannot address this problem – the costs of lockdown are more than financial.

Many might argue that this is a price worth paying to save lives overall; although even this point is increasingly debatable once the price of domestic violence, increased youth suicide and lack of treatment for those with other conditions is accounted for. A fairer solution would be to give back the young's freedom, whilst providing whatever support is necessary to the vulnerable who want to shield. But for those who do still believe lockdown controls are worth it, they should be honest – the price is not being paid evenly across society. And that should be taken into account in any moral calculation of what to do next.

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