July 9, 2021 - 5:00pm

Young people have suffered immensely during the pandemic. A 70% spike in demand for mental health services, a rise in financial insecurity and accounting for over 80% of the jobs lost in the past year have all contributed to feelings of isolation, alienation and despair. Now, as double vaccinated adults book their summer holidays, the young must again wait.

Small wonder, then, that the pandemic has accelerated a collapse of social trust among young people. According to a new report by Onward, the proportion of under-35s saying they have just one or no close friends has trebled in 10 years, from 7% to 22% while the share with four or more has fallen from 64% to 40%. Compared to just 20 years ago, under-35s are half as likely to say they regularly speak to neighbours and a third less likely to borrow and exchange favours with them.

Social trust by age group. Credit: Onward

The authors of the report state that the pandemic has contributed to an ‘epidemic of loneliness’ among young people, which chimes with an ONS report earlier this year that found those areas with greater concentrations of young people to have higher rates of loneliness. It is a bleak picture and one that long predates lockdown:

According to the authors, these figures reveal a “paradox of virtue” where:

on the one hand, young people are ostensibly the most socially conscious generations in recent history, with more progressive views on social issues, such as inequality and the environment, than both older generations and previous generations of young people. But on the other hand, they are easily the least socially attached to interpersonal networks or to their neighbourhood, and on most measures of social capital the gap between younger and older generations is widening, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Will Tanner, Onward

There are, of course, familiar culprits: social media, a lack of job opportunities, rising housing costs and student fees. These are problems that have existed for a better part of a decade and the frustration for young people is that no one seems to be listening. This is perhaps best captured by the boomer-led “Great Reset” movement and its attendant slogan “you will own nothing and you will be happy”.  

Implicit in this slogan is the idea that if we could just rewind the clock 16 months, all will be well again. But there are serious, structural disadvantages facing young people that have not been adequately addressed — if at all — by this Government or any before them. Until they do, the young will start to become more politically unpredictable, the signs of which are already emerging: millennials and Gen Z are the most authoritarian out of any generation and, as a report from the IEA found this week, over two-thirds prefer socialism over capitalism.

Onward’s authors do make some proposals, ranging from the introduction of a national civic service — in which every young person undertakes 10 days of voluntary activity each year — to building half a million new homes for young people. But these are only small steps in the right direction. For bold, systemic change to take place, it will have to occur at a Government level. If only there was a Prime Minister with an 81-seat majority and a level-up programme who could do something about it…