Today
Sat 23 January 2021

Facing a recession-pandemic double whammy, Alisa Anwar argues that her generation should no longer be unfairly maligned

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I have wasted £1,200 worth of rent for a house I am not legally allowed to stay in, at a university where I have lost 50% of my contact hours due to industrial strike action, to be granted a degree with no graduation ceremony that I completed amidst a global pandemic, and am now entering a non-existent job market during a once (well, actually, twice) in a lifetime global recession.

All before the age of 22.

The 10-24 age bracket – which make up nearly a fifth of the UK population – are frequently labelled as rude, lazy, and complacent. ‘Generation Z’ – or the so-called ‘generation-blame-everyone-else’ – are assumed to be privileged social media addicts who spend more time perfecting their Instagram personas than grafting in the real world.

The age-old intergenerational warfare of ‘who had it hardest’ has caused dinner party debates for decades, with each category forcibly competing for the dire achievement of ‘we had it worse’.

However, the current ‘A’ Level exam fiasco – in which teachers’ professional predictions were disregarded and overridden by Ofqual’s flawed, elitist algorithm resulting in nearly 40% of grades being downgraded, before the Government performed a U-turn – has radicalised an entire demographic, causing us to collectively conclude that enough is enough.

‘Welcome to the real world kid’; stop acting like a ‘spoilt little girl’; understand that life simply ‘goes on’.

These words of sympathy come from the very generation that administer Government policies today – a generation that had no tuition fees, could realistically buy a house, and entered a relatively stable job market post-university.

So don’t tell my generation that we’ve had it easy.


The Corona Class

The class of 2020 – more colloquially referred to as the ‘recession leavers’ or the ‘corona class’ – are economically the hardest hit, according to a report by the Nuffield Foundation.

While previous generations can reference the 2008 recession as the hallmark of their employment struggle, Generation Z can go one step further: they are entering the job market amidst a recession-pandemic double whammy. No previous generation has ever faced this challenge. 

“I’ve graduated with a first class degree and I can’t even get a job in retail,” laments a 2020 graduate. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, is it?”

No, it isn’t. But unfortunately they aren’t alone.

Unemployment figures within this cohort are at an all-time high. As of July 2020, 537,700 people under 25 claimed unemployment-related benefits – an increase of 122% from March. Yet, this number will only exponentially rise as the graduate market becomes increasingly suppressed.

Potential recruits today are stumbling into a world of virtual assessment centres and interviews, failing to develop the necessary skills and connections due to restrictive online internships. All the while, even the biggest companies are shutting their doors to prospective graduates as they try to keep their businesses afloat. Already a third of graduate jobs have been deferred or cancelled. Estimates from independent think tanks warn that, by 2021, a record breaking one million of Gen Z will be jobless.

An entire cohort is being left feeling utterly hopeless – let down by an unjust system, marginalised in Government COVID-19 briefings and, lingering in the background, still resides their disdain for Brexit and the looming climate crisis.


A Future to Strive For?

These big issues call into question the mental health of under-25s today – a predicament that has only been worsened by lockdown.

This cohort suffers the highest levels of anxiety and depression, is the loneliest age group, and the unhappiest generation we’ve had in a decade. Organisations such as Young Minds and the Children’s Society have inferred that drastic intervention is needed to save Generation Z. 

But how exactly can this happen?

It is morally necessary that tuition fees, alongside university and private accommodation, is reimbursed for the summer term that students were not legally able participate in. Similarly, under the same reasoning, a reduction in fees should be implemented for the academic year 2020-21. Objectively, one cannot justify the same price when the product is severely downgraded to mere online learning.     

The enforcement of a job guarantee scheme is vital to prevent nationwide youth unemployment. Unlike current proposals that strive to provide £1,000 to firms who hire young trainees, yet fail to actually pay the young people themselves, this scheme should offer all under-25s real Living Wage employment in sectors that will benefit the nation.

With regards to the current exam scandal, true equality can only occur by uprooting our classist educational institutions. That is not an easy task.

To put it simply, the Government has failed young people.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron stated at the 2012 Conservative Party conference that “it’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you are going.” So where exactly are the members of Generation Z going? As it stands, with the Government’s present record of inaction: a life of dwindling job prospects, disrupted education and a dismal future.


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