‘Debilitating’ effects of pandemic linger on for Britain’s young

<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Young people have been “disastrously” affected by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two pieces of research that show happiness and confidence has plunged to an all-time low.

Both studies detail the wide-ranging ways in which young people continue to suffer. The hardships include poorer mental and physical health, as well as extensive learning loss that experts say will undoubtedly affect their futures.

“While many see the pandemic as being over, the after-effects are far from over for our country’s youngsters, particularly those from less well-off households,” said Sir Peter Lampl, the founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, which co-led one of the research projects with University College London that involved 13,000 respondents.

“It’s abundantly clear that the pandemic is continuing to deeply affect the lives of young people,” he added.

The findings echo the concerns expressed in the second part of the Guardian’s the Covid generation series, published on Sunday, in which young people analyse how the pandemic is still affecting their lives and their plans for the future 18 months on from the end of the third national lockdown.

Jonathan Townsend, the UK chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, which spoke to 2,025 young people aged 16 to 25, said: “The pandemic is still having a debilitating impact on young people’s plans, confidence and hopes for a positive future.

“The significant disruption to their education during this period has left these young people worried about their skills and qualifications, and lacking confidence in their ability to secure a job or achieve their future career goals.”

Its research found that almost half of the young people questioned felt hopeless about the future. It was the lowest outcome in the 14 years the trust has been running its NatWest youth index, including in its launch during the global financial crisis.

Half of the young people questioned said they were worried they had been left with permanent knowledge and skill gaps that would prevent them from getting jobs in the future.

The trust’s research echoes data from the Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities (Cosmo) study by the Sutton Trust and UCL.

The Cosmo study found that almost half of young people said they had not caught up with learning they had missed during the pandemic, ranging from 43% of those who had not had Covid to 59% who had long Covid.

Almost one in five young people, including those who had not been infected, said their GCSE grades were worse than they expected, rising to one-third of those who had long Covid.

The pandemic sapped young people of their motivation to study, the research found, with half of those who had not had Covid saying they felt less motivated, rising to 57% of those with long Covid.

Concern for the future was acute, with 40% of those questioned saying the pandemic had left them unprepared to take their next steps in education and training. This figure was higher for those who had had severe long Covid, with half saying they felt unprepared.

As a result of the learning and confidence they had lost because of the pandemic, two-thirds of those questioned in the Cosmo survey said they had changed their education and career plans for the future.

This finding was echoed by the Prince’s Trust research, which found that more than a quarter of respondents from poorer backgrounds were planning to finish their education early so they could start earning money, compared with 15% of young people overall.

Olly Parker, the head of external affairs at the charity YoungMinds, said the research was a “shocking yet sadly familiar snapshot of how the pandemic has fundamentally altered the lives of so many young people and questioned their hopes and confidence in the future”.

Ndidi Okezie, the chief executive of the charity UK Youth, agreed. “Today’s young people are facing a series of immense challenges that cannot be underestimated,” she said. “The lingering effects of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis are having a profound impact on young people’s education, mental wellbeing, their financial security and indeed their confidence in the future.”