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Why the pandemic has been particularly hard on young people

Written by on 05/08/2021

Thousands of teenagers will find out their A-level results this week after a year of uncertainty and disruption.

And data suggests that their grades are not the only things to be affected. The pandemic has significantly reduced the quality of life and opportunities for younger people.

Sky News looks at some of the stories behind the data for the class of COVID in 2021.

Ameen Idrees, who is 18, is one of those eagerly waiting for results day. For him, like the rest of his peers, the usual concerns and anxieties of applying to university have been compounded by COVID.

“I was quite worried when I was applying in Year 12 because the cohort in the year before had their grades and a lot of people ended up deferring and applying in the same year as me,” he said. “I was worried about an increase in competition, definitely.”

This year there is expected to be an uptick in people going to university because of a lack of jobs.

Almost four in five 16 and 17-year-olds were in full-time education between November 2020 and January 2021, compared with around two in three over the same period the year before.

Ameen is one of many struggling to find a job during the pandemic.

“After a month or two of looking for a part-time job, I ended up sitting out and accepting that this summer I might not be able to,” he said.

“There’s just less jobs open at the moment, especially for people of my age. You’d apply to 10/15 jobs and just not hear back at all.”

The unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds peaked at 13.8% in late 2020, the highest rate since the summer of 2015, while more than one in three 16 and 17-year-olds was unable to find work in May.

Brogan Cunningham, who is 20, can usually be found working at Collyhurst And Moston Lads Club in Manchester.

But when the pandemic forced the boxing club to close for much of the past year, he found himself relying on unemployment benefits.

“As an adult you’ve got to pay for things – you’ve got phone bills, you’ve got to pay for your car, you’ve got to pay for all sorts. So, when you’ve not got that constant money coming in it’s hard,” he said.

20-year-old boxer Brogan Cunningham
Image: 20-year-old boxer Brogan Cunningham

Even those who kept their jobs have been disadvantaged, as they were put on furlough. A large number of young people work in sectors like hospitality and retail that were hit hardest by lockdowns.

Around one in six of adults under-25 in employment were on furlough in July 2020, compared with less than one in eight people aged 35 and over.

COVID-19 is taking a mental toll on the young

For the past seven years, 18-year-old apprentice George Killeen has spent much of his spare time at the same boxing gym as Brogan.

He too has missed out from the club’s closure, as it’s come in the way of his training to pursue boxing professionally when he finishes his apprenticeship.

George Killeen, an apprentice and aspiring professional boxer
Image: George Killeen, an apprentice and aspiring professional boxer

He’s also noticed the impact on his mental health.

“You’ve just got to do your best to stay positive but it can be hard sometimes,” he said.

“You look forward to going to the gym and fighting and when it’s taken away from you it’s hard. It’s everything, it’s our life, it’s our second home; we’re here every day pretty much.”

Many young people are also struggling with long-term physical problems from coronavirus.

Ella Robinson, a student at Manchester University, was debilitated by long COVID and has had to retake the second year of her politics and sociology course.

“I caught COVID in September and I got it extremely badly. So, I was very ill for the whole two weeks isolation… and I just didn’t get better really,” she said.

“I wasn’t able to walk much beyond the end of the street for a while, or sit up during seminars. I basically couldn’t live my life as normal anymore.”

Ella Robinson, a politics and sociology student at the University of Manchester.
Image: Ella Robinson, a politics and sociology student at the University of Manchester

Nine months on, she still has many of the symptoms like breathlessness and “COVID fingers”, an eczema-like rash on her hands.

Long COVID is more prevalent among older people – around one in 80 people aged 17 to 24 had long COVID in the month to 4 July, compared to around one in 45 people between 50 and 69.

But the delay in vaccinating young people means that they are now disproportionately affected. Around two in five adults under 25 haven’t been jabbed, and only just over a fifth has had both doses.

This is one reason why the young now make up a much larger proportion of COVID-19 hospital admissions.

For 15 to 24-year-olds the COVID hospitalisation rate is now higher than it was during the January peak, while all other age groups have seen a considerably smaller uptick during the latest surge in infections.

Now that the UK government has decided to lift restrictions on isolating for those with immunity, getting double jabbed is more important than ever.

But most young people like Ella will have to wait before they can take advantage of these changes.

She said: “I don’t want to go to any nightclubs until I’m fully protected because they say that you get about six months immunity and I didn’t want to risk catching it again.

“When I’ve had my double job, I am genuinely excited for things to go back to normal, I don’t think I could carry on living in this way.”

 Sky News

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