Following a devastating year, twentysomethings fear for their futures. The coronavirus crisis has exposed serious generational divides.
Aside from the obvious risks Covid-19 poses to public health, the long-term effect on Britain's young population is extremely worrying, but most of us have been left to get on with it.
Arduous hours on Zoom no longer fill the void of human interaction. The lack of socialisation, combined with hours of mundanity and isolation is taking its toll on our mental health. Almost half of all 18-24-year-olds are suffering from loneliness, according to the Mental Health Foundation, but the government has failed to protect the mental wellbeing of our generation.
We are deserving recipients of social provisions, but our contributions to society have been overlooked. We are the student doctors and nurses on the front line, the track and trace staff administering Covid-19 tests, and the key workers in supermarkets – day in, day out exposing ourselves to the virus. We have important roles in the pandemic, and we are the future.
Time and again during the pandemic I've felt the government has prioritised the short-term economy, and the pursuit of profit, over mental and physical health.
Our prospects appear bleaker than those our parents once enjoyed. We don’t get grants for university, we can’t save for a house deposit in an inflated housing market, and paying back our student loans now feels like an incomprehensible task due to high rents and fewer job opportunities.
During the pandemic, my university peers have been treated with contempt by the institutions we pay to attend. Some were locked down in their halls, reportedly without basic provisions, during the pandemic. Others have paid extortionate rent for accommodation they’re forbidden to occupy due to Covid-19 restrictions.
We have been taken advantage of, but we are fighting back against this system stacked against us. Student rent strikes have taken place across the country. From Cambridge and Edinburgh to London, we are resisting this unfair treatment.
The small victories in our bigger battle offer hope. Unite Students has announced 50 per cent rent reductions for some, over a four-week period, in light of the third lockdown. Meanwhile, UCL has stated it will not charge rent to students who cannot return to the halls under the university’s management.
But the wider battle continues – when we finish university, we will be thrust into a declining job market. According to the Office for National Statistics jobs for 16-24-year-olds fell by around 90,000 between August-October 2020, and 596,000 young people in the same age bracket were unemployed.
The government must act sooner rather than later to avoid us being plunged into further financial and social precarity, it must put provisions in place for my generation, and safeguard the future interests of our country. This year can and must be one where we realise our potential as young people. The current economic model is failing Britain’s future generations.
Economic prosperity depends on protecting the young. With many young people spending a third of their earnings on rent, the government can start by implementing rent regulations in the private rental sector, to allow the young financial stability. It should also put plans in place to build affordable and environmentally friendly housing for rent and purchase.
Twentysomethings have helped keep the country running and have compromised as much as anyone else during the pandemic, and yet our futures are overlooked and remain uncertain. I urge the government to focus on the young this decade, or else fail an entire generation.
Jovan Owusu-Nepaul is a university student in the UK