In the 2020s, young workers must not pay the price of the pandemic

Joining the jobs market in the middle of a pandemic could be seen as a piece of random bad luck. But if ministers sit on their hands, it could cause massive harm to young people’s life chances. And young people know it: HOPE not hate charitable trust’s research shows more than half think coronavirus will cause huge long-term disruption to their future prospects.

The immediate danger is unemployment. As in any recession, young workers just starting out in their careers are most vulnerable to job cuts. Workers aged 25 and under are three times more likely to work in either hospitality or arts and recreation – the two sectors where jobs are at greatest risk.

For all age groups, unemployment goes hand in hand with debt, poverty, ill-health and homelessness. But for young people, its effects can last a lifetime. More than six months’ unemployment early on holds down workers’ earnings throughout their lives. By their forties, those who experienced youth unemployment earn up to 21 per cent less. Thirty-five years later, those who were unemployed as young people are less happy.

Without decisive action, today’s young workers will see their hopes and dreams unfulfilled as their talents go unused. No wonder then that three-quarters of young workers support the government funding jobs paid at the living wage to people under 25 facing long-term unemployment. In July, the government announced the Kickstart scheme, to give 300,000 young workers guaranteed jobs. It’s a good start, but the government needs to make sure these will be good quality jobs with training built in. They must not replace work previously done by permanent staff, and must be of real value to the community. Crucially, employers should top up wages to at least the real Living Wage.

And the government must do far more to support those sectors hit hardest by the pandemic – starting with retail, hospitality, arts and leisure, where many young workers work. This should include a targeted extension of the job retention scheme beyond October. It’s been decades since the UK experienced mass youth unemployment. The 1980s showed the consequences of throwing young people onto a threadbare safety net. In the 2020s, young workers must not pay the price of the pandemic.