Co-op Group urges help for the ‘ghosted generation’ of youth set back by the pandemic

Two thirds of young people fear they will be permanently disadvantaged by the pandemic, from education onwards

Children as young as 10 are afraid the Covid-19 pandemic will set them back for the rest of their lives, a new study from the Co-op Group reveals.

The report, the Ghosted Generation, is one of the largest post-pandemic studies of its kind, asking more than 5,000 10-25-year olds about their attitudes, life chances and aspirations.

It finds that almost two thirds (60%) 13-25-year olds feel their generation will be permanently disadvantaged by the pandemic, starting with a devastating impact on their education.

The Group is urging more support for young people as the UK emerges from the pandemic, and says it is making its own efforts to develop opportunities, through apprenticeships, virtual work experience and its Young Members Board.

Among school-aged children, the research shows nearly 47% of 10-15-year olds feel they have fallen behind in the past year, with 59% also feeling the pressure to catch up quickly. And 29% of young people say the pandemic has made them less likely to continue with further education entirely.

When it comes to careers, there are similiar fears, with 55% feeling young people have been pushed to the back of the queue on job opportunities, and 28% of 16-25 year olds feeling that the pandemic has ruined their career dreams. Two thirds (65%) also believe that competition to get a job has increased so much it feels impossible.

More than half (58%) of young people feel the government has failed their generation in its handling of the pandemic, and 37% feel the odds are now stacked against them.

Young people still have hopes and dreams, but the survey says they feel pessimistic about achieving them: 90% of young people aspire to be financially secure, but only 67% believe they will achieve this. Most – 83% – want to own a home but only 66% feel this is within their reach.

Over three quarters – 74% – want to earn more than their parents but only 60% feel this is possible; 53% want to run their own business but only 42% feel this is possible.

The research suggests the government faces serious challenges with its levelling up agenda, with many young people feeling their life path is already set by the age of 20: 39% of 20-25-year olds feel their future path has already been decided for them.

This finding is even more stark amongst young ethnic minorities, with over 42% of black young people 40% of Asian young people believing their future path has already been decided, compared to only 28% of white young people.

Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells said: “Young people are the DNA of the future of this country, and we simply cannot have a situation where the majority of them – the ghosted generation – feel like they cannot change their path or improve their life chances. And where black and Asian young people are more likely to feel that way.

“This research shows the ambition is there and we see first-hand that talent is spread in every community, but opportunity is not.

“At the Co-op we have made it our priority to listen to what young people need to help more of them get on in life, no matter where they live or their background. That’s why we have an active Young Members’ Board for our business and are continually looking for new ways to develop opportunities for them, including our new Apprenticeship Matchmaking Levy scheme and innovative virtual work experience programme.”

Urging for more national support for young people, he added: “To make up the lost ground, truly build back better and make sure no young person or community gets left behind, we need urgent bold, joined up action across government, business and education to make sure young people are actively considered in decision making.

“We believe changes, such as the development of a government youth strategy and introduction of a Youth Minister in cabinet with cross departmental responsibility, would better enable the voices and needs of young people to be better heard and met.”

Asked what would be the most helpful for their future, young people suggested local hubs to support their education, training and careers, a Youth Productivity Index to help the government understand where to invest money, and personalised and holistic support for young people out of education/employment/training and for those most at risk of long-term unemployment.

Tommy Kirkwood, from the Group’s Young Members Board, said: “As a young person who represents the voices of other young members in the Co-op and throughout communities, it’s clear that compared to other generations, young people have been disproportionately impacted upon by the pandemic.

“To ensure all young people feel supported in the aftermath of the pandemic, those in charge need to let our voices be heard and listen, giving young people a say about their future, and the future of our society.”

Jack Parsons of The Youth Group said: “Many young people are feeling hopeless, unworthy and valueless. Young people have so much value which is why now is the time to invest in ensuring a great future is within reach. We all have a role to play to change the narrative and I am excited to see the work the co-op will undertake to reduce these worrying stats that have come directly from young people.”

Former Conservative education secretary Justine Greening, who now campaigns for social mobility, said: “This is vital research by the Co-op because meeting the ambitions and aspirations of young people is at the heart of what levelling up in our country means.

“This research shows us what that aspiration looks like for young people – training and careers, the chance to start a business, owning your own home, but also where they see the challenges – for example, getting good advice at the right time.

“If we can work collectively to tackle those challenges then we can make a real difference improving the futures of young people, and in doing so, the future of the country as a whole. The Co-op is a brilliant example of a purpose-led organisation which recognises its wider role within the community and is determined to now work with others to drive change on the ground.”

In response to the findings, the Group has worked with leading charities and organisations to provide a key resource hub for young people to help them take control of their futures, with input from The Youth Group, MIND, Inspire, SAMH, Youth Endowment Fund, UK Youth, Dial Global, Saeed Atcha MBE and Hope Collective.