OPINION: Young people are not to blame for Covid-19 rise, we’ve been keeping the nation going

Jess Barnard says young people have stepped up during lockdown to help keep the country going, often

Jess Barnard says young people have stepped up during lockdown to help keep the country going, often undertaking roles that put their health at risk. For this reason they shouldn't be blamed for the new restrictions on social gatherings - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Labour county councillor and Norfolk county councillor Jess Barnard says pointing the blame at young people for the rise of Covid-19 cases is wrong as new restrictions come in from Monday

This week we have seen the government add young people to the ever growing list of people to blame for the UK’s appalling record on the Covid-19 crisis and the increasing number of confirmed cases in the UK over the past month.

Cast our minds back to the beginning of lockdown and despite delay from the government and Boris Johnson himself to recognise the urgency of the crisis, the messaging to young people was that Covid-19 was less of a health risk to them. Despite this, the huge majority of young people did everything in their power to protect their friends, family and communities.

While many were forced to shield from the virus, thousands of young people stepped up to organise in response to the crisis: they joined Covid response teams across the country to keep those shielding fed and medicated, locally we saw young people fundraising for food banks and the NHS to deal with the increasing demand they were facing and of course, young workers often make up the workforce in supermarkets and shops, putting them right at the front line of high risk work settings while dealing with public panic over food and stock shortages.

Just a few months on it seems that the government, local decision makers and some members of the public are all too willing to forget the role young people play and importantly the collective effort that is required by all of us to combat this virus and protect each other.

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The stand out message of August from this government was to get back to normality to save the economy. Policies like Eat Out To Help Out, reducing social gathering restrictions and demanding young people return to school in September showed the government’s priority was shifting away from health towards economic recovery. Young people, just like the rest of the public followed this guidance and tried to return to some level of normality, so why are we being held to a different standard?

So far 2020 has been a whirlwind year but with an economic crisis on the horizon this is only set to get more turbulent. Thousands of workers have already faced job losses now that the furlough scheme has ended, and experts have warned of a looming homelessness crisis, as renters who have lost their jobs face immanent evictions.

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Young people are not exempt from these problems – as those most likely to be in precarious low paid work and private renting, they will be one of the hardest hit groups.

Choosing to point the finger at young people may feel convenient now for those with power wishing to evade responsibility, but Covid-19 doesn’t care about political spin or blame. Unless the government gets a handle on this virus by delivering clear consistent messaging and implementing policies that puts the public’s health first then we will face a second wave, and many more fatalities.

If that time comes, young people will once again be at the frontline supporting communities, keeping our shops running, caring for families and supporting our NHS.

When we see spin pointing the finger at young people, care workers, scientists or Public Health, let’s break the cycle of blame and distraction and start holding those elected to lead accountable.

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