One of the many ironies of the past few months is that young people, while least affected by the virus, have paid the heaviest price for lockdown. They have been deprived of education, had their exams thrown into chaos and, as a result, many have been denied the university places they deserved. Apprenticeships and internships have dried up and office closures have kicked away the ladder which allows new arrivals to advance. And now Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is accusing ‘affluent younger people’ of dangerously selfish behaviour, of socialising once again in a way that could ‘kill your granny’.
We seldom hear from ministers an acknowledgement of the price paid for policies which have had a questionable effect in stemming the advance of the virus. One in three young employees was furloughed at the height of the crisis and young workers were three times more likely than employees in general to lose their jobs. When heavy unemployment strikes (and the figure may soon surge over three million), the young are most likely to suffer the brunt of it.
The new ban on social meetings of more than six people has come just in time for Freshers’ Week, when students paying £9,000 a year will have to adjust to a digitised simulation of the university experience. There is talk of a 10pm curfew, to make sure that young people do not socialise. There is now talk in government circles of ‘exemplary arrests’ — police swoops on students having fun, for example — to show that ministers are quite serious about the new rules. But is it too much to ask for the evidence on the impact of bans on social gatherings? Or for the evidence that we are looking at a ‘second wave’ (again, Hancock’s language) rather than smaller ripples?
It’s true that many young people attended outdoor parties over the summer, stretching guidelines to, and sometimes beyond, the limit.