MOST OF US who have reached middle age or beyond can look back to our younger days and think of a year which really set the course for the rest of our lives.
In our late teens or twenties, what happened in a single year was often highly significant. Whether we started a new job, went to university, met a life partner, established a first home or gave birth to a child, those events were real milestones. Even a live event, like a gig, concert, exhibition or festival may have opened up new avenues of thought, new fields of interest, new political convictions or ways of living.
For the past year, all these possibilities have been either cancelled, or strictly curtailed and made much more difficult. For those of us who are no longer young, a year is a significant chunk of time, but it’s probably much less likely to have contained a life-changing event. So, I for one am deeply impressed by the way the young people of the UK have behaved in this pandemic. They have shown a degree of selflessness and altruism for which I don’t think they have been given enough credit.
As we entered the pandemic, children and young people were already getting a raw deal from British society. For low income families, support had been cut relentlessly for a decade, and whilst parents or grandparents may have enjoyed relatively secure jobs and affordable homes, young adults face a labour market with little security, poorer terms and conditions, and housing that swallows up far too much of their income. Now, as we emerge from lockdown, it looks as if it is this younger generation that will also pay the highest economic price in terms of job losses and blighted career prospects.
And yet, despite being at the sharp end of so much social injustice, young people have behaved very well in the pandemic – far better than perhaps we had a right to expect. Certainly those I know, in their late teens and twenties and just starting out in life, have been diligently following guidance and abiding by lockdown rules. In some cases, where there was a clinically vulnerable person in their household, they have been even more conscientious than their older relatives, determined not to be responsible for bringing Covid into the home. In their behaviour they have shown, on a daily basis, selfless consideration for their families and communities. Celebrating their 18th and 21st birthdays in a family bubble probably wasn’t what most had hoped for, but there was little complaint.
And of course, we should never forget that many of the key workers who have kept society going, and those who have been at the frontline of combatting the pandemic were themselves very young. Care workers, newly qualified healthcare staff, medical and nursing students – they were all enlisted into a battle which none of us would feel ready to fight. Thrown in at the deep end, many will have seen things they would want to forget but will never be able to. The experience will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives.
This generation will at best have missed out on many of the important things they should have experienced over the past year, and at worst will have been traumatised from working in care homes, hospital wards and ICUs.
Last April, in the early months of the pandemic, ITV news reported on a beautiful friendship between care home resident Ken Benbow, 94, and care worker Kia Tobin, 17. Mentioned almost in passing was the fact that Kia had moved into the care home to minimise the risk of transmitting Covid to the residents.
As a country we often look to the past and speak about people like Ken as belonging to our ‘greatest generation’ – and of course it’s only right that we should cherish and honour them. But perhaps now it is also time to recognise the qualities and achievements of our current generation, to look to the future and to think about how we can help to make the country a better and a fairer place for them.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. Her latest book is Illness, Disability and Caring: A Bible study for individuals and groups (DLT, 2020). Her latest articles can be found here. Past columns (up to 2020) are archived here. You can follow Bernadette on Twitter: @BernaMeaden