Coronavirus is most likely to take the lives of the oldest. But it will have the biggest effect on the life chances of the young.
There is expected to be a “tsunami” of coronavirus cases in hospitals at the moment. In the short-term, the country must prioritise saving those lives. In the long-term, however, the futures of “Generation Corona” must be protected.
Crises define generations. World War Two, for instance, changed society forever. From more women entering the workplace and the establishment of the Ministry of Food (which has since morphed into the Food Standards Agency) to the proliferation of canned foods, many of the things we now take for granted were initially meant to be temporary measures to help society get through the war.
Similarly, COVID-19 is changing us all. The radical shifts we are seeing from the current pandemic include more people working from home, exams being cancelled and 24-hour supermarkets closing at 10pm. These could become permanent. Not all of these will result in negative changes. Many businesses will find they function effectively (and more cheaply) through remote working; it could be discovered that assessing year long coursework is a more accurate assessment of a child’s capability than a two-hour examination; and we might find it too difficult to wean ourselves away from the ease and convenience of online shopping.
But some of those changes will harm the future for young people. Learning at school isn’t just about what takes place in the classroom; it’s also about socialising in the canteen and playground. As the government enforces a lockdown – which may be further prolonged - these children won’t be able to meet in parks or forests for the fun and games which are an essential part of childhood development. We could have a generation of children with dangerously low social skills, along with the psychological effects that come with growing up in siege-like conditions, being cared for by parents who may be suffering from increased depression.
In the coming weeks and months, our young people will inevitably spend more time on social media than ever before. Online bullying is a huge problem that will now increase. Half of British girls aged 11 to 18 and 40% of boys have been abused or harassed on social media. Without the pastoral care of school staff to turn to, many will suffer in silence. This will be compounded by the increased stress of constantly being at home, the general atmosphere of uncertainty and panic as the pandemic worsens and parents too busy taking conference calls to notice their child’s despair. The worst is to be expected. Suicide amongst 10-24 years olds was already on the increase, and we could see more tragedies throughout - and in the aftermath of - the Coronavirus epidemic if we don’t start planning ahead for how to rehabilitate isolated young people back into social, communal living.
For final year university students, the impact will also strongly felt for years to come. They will graduate (without ceremonies) into an unstable world of work. Job fairs have already been cancelled and hiring freezes are likely to follow. If hiring does return to normal levels in the future, this year’s graduates will not only be competing with their peers but also with next year’s graduates for open positions. There may not be enough space for everyone.
The coronavirus has the potential to create a generation of socially-awkward, insecure, unemployed young people. This could be a bigger problem outside of capital cities like London and Edinburgh where economic and social recovery will happen much quicker than in the regions.
How are we going to help these people? What will we do to stop them turning to drink, drugs and crime?
We need to offer innovative, creative, communal spaces for young people to attend and work. I have already set up such a place in Birmingham and when the pandemic ends, I will be in a position to hire young people and to provide them with a venue for their artistic expression.
The arts have taken a massive hit with many artists losing their livelihoods and incomes overnight, and theatres saying they may not be able to re-open due to financial losses.
Wealthy donors and government alike must start investing more in the arts to help this generation of young people – the coronavirus generation - find their voice and express themselves. As traditional venues can’t afford to re-open, we must design new venues that cater to their expectations. At Art.quarter, we’re ahead of the curve, providing entertainment, dining and retail all under one roof, designed by local artists.
A generation that won’t be used to public gatherings must also have what those before them took for granted.
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