Leader's column: Building back better and fairer

In her latest column, Tameside Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington discusses the "dreadful impact" the pandemic will have on young people's future and how we should "build back better and fairer".

As we begin to move into the next stage of the pandemic and the vaccination process, we need to start giving serious thought to how we build back better and fairer. 

For understandable reasons, much of the attention during the past ten months has been focused on protecting the elderly and vulnerable. 

However, it is now clear that this pandemic will have a dreadful impact on the future of our young people as well.

The first alarm bell is from the Office for National Statistics, whose latest figures on employment show that young people between the ages of 25-34 have been made redundant at a higher rate than any other age group.

This has also had a significant and worrying impact on young people’s mental health as well. For the past 12 years The Prince’s Trust has run the Youth Index, an annual survey of the happiness and confidence of young people aged 16-25.

This year’s Youth Index has returned the worst results in its history, with some of the headlines being that 50 per cent of young people reported that their mental health has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic, and 25 per cent admitted that they felt ‘unable to cope with life’.

There are a number of actions that I believe we can take right now to address this grim new reality. 

In Tameside we have invested heavily over the past few years in education and skills for young people through the Vision Tameside project. We also run a variety of mental health services through The Hive, our mental health and well-being hub, as well as partner organisations such as Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind.

But we need to see action at a national level as well. This would include the immediate dropping of plans to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, and transforming the Kickstart Scheme, which was established to help employers create job placements for young people, into a full-blown jobs guarantee that provides employees with a real living wage and genuine prospects for career advancement.

The warning signs are clear. If action isn’t taken now the impact of coronavirus on young people will last for longer, and may be more damaging, than the pandemic itself.

It is not an exaggeration to say that we risk shattering the future of an entire generation. Our children deserve better, and it is down to us to make sure it happens.

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