Are young people becoming scapegoats in the Government response to COVID-19?

Despite the initial trepidation, the high paced lifestyle of fresher’s week is considered a once in a lifetime opportunity for a newly enrolled student. Yet now, what’s normally considered to be the most socially enriching week of students’ lives, has been torn away from them or moved completely online. The majority of university students are now expected to make do with being cooped away in a tiny flat for the foreseeable future. 

to vilify young people as virus spreaders across the nation with lazy generalisations about how “irresponsible” they are, is unfair, inaccurate, and just continues to prove how confusing government guidelines have been. 

During the past month, we saw a dramatic increase in cases, practically doubling since July. And, of course, the government was quick to point the finger at anyone but themselves. England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has recently suggested that young people as the ones who, by not following certain guidelines, have risked creating a second wave: “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.”Emotionally manipulative language like this is not only gaslighting but is a divisive tactic to detract from the government’s fundamentally flawed economy-first policies. 

However, despite our urge to raise our fists in outrage immediately, we have to be reasonable. Hancock does have a right to point out how young people should be cautious about spreading infection. It is undeniable that rates of infections are particularly high amongst younger people. In August alone there were 3,995 new coronavirus cases among those in their 20s, compared with just 1,560 among people over 60. So, advice and guidance during these times are certainly warranted. 

But to vilify young people as virus spreaders across the nation with lazy generalisations about how “irresponsible” they are, is unfair, inaccurate, and just continues to prove how confusing government guidelines have been. You cannot go from telling people it is their “patriotic duty” to go out to the pub and then blame social gatherings for the spike in cases. And you certainly cannot actively encourage students to go to university then impost the ‘rule of six’ just weeks before they return to university campuses. 

actively encouraging students to come to university only to welcome them with small poky student accommodation, is not acceptable.  

Travelling to university is a lot of students’ first time living away from home. Such a huge change is hard enough. To go through this in the middle of a pandemic with restrictions on socialising and a likelihood of isolation periods poses a threat not just to students’ physical health, but their mental health too. Many students are going to struggle with a lack of face-to-face contact. So actively encouraging students to come to university only to welcome them with small poky student accommodation, is not acceptable.  

The 2019-2020 academic year has already been draining enough; with the cancelling of A-Level exams and the uncertainty of university placements. Young people have been hit hard and they deserve adequate support from the government and their universities. Student mental health has reached a crisis point in the U.K, with disclosures and diagnoses rising each year, and COVID-19 has already detached young people from many of their support networks. It is universities’ duty of care to support every student’s wellbeing this year by giving them regular contact and support. Sadly, this has not been the case. 

You cannot tear away every piece of social interaction away from people and then not support them. And you certainly cannot expect there not to be repercussions.  Demonising young people will only increase their disillusionment with the government, leading to an inevitable breakdown of trust, influence and faith in their policies. As such, this policy has been counter-productive. The number of house parties and large gatherings held during fresher’s week highlights young people’s frustration with the government.   Whilst being completely irresponsible, from a student’s perspective, I can see how it would feel like a liberating form of retaliation after months of the government continuously letting them down. In that sense, can you blame them? 

To those of you on twitter currently berating young people as selfish, trouble makers for speaking out about their grievances. Picture things from their perspective. You’ve moved somewhere hours away from your home. You don’t know anyone. Nine grand a year is coming out of your bank account just to sit in a room and do classes online. The government introduces the possibility of not going home for Christmas. And you may even be stuck in isolation with people you don’t know. And what do you get? Nothing. 

Stop playing the blame game over the pandemic. It’s time to support students, not blame them.

By Katie Heyes

image via Pexels Free Photos

References: 

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54066831 

 https://www.mypossibleself.com/blog/four-statistics-uk-student-mental- 

health-crisis/ 

 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8705361/Coronavirus-NOT-control- 

Britain-Matt-Hancock-claims.html 

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