by UnHerd
Friday, 9
July 2021

Young people don’t want a Great Reset

Returning to pre-pandemic normality won't fix structural disadvantages
by UnHerd
Young people are losing their patience

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…

Join the discussion

  • I’m not sure that there is something cumulative going on too. When I worked as a Street Pastor 8-10 years ago we would regularly encounter groups of up to 20 teenagers hanging out in parks. Over the following few years these groups just dissipated. I concluded that it was the rise of social media – Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime, etc. Instead of having to travel somewhere especially in inclement weather they stayed home and ‘conversed’. Social media is NOT human interaction and cannot create close friendships. Although this may have had some possible benefits (such as falling teenage pregnancy and drinking) the downside will be human loneliness: the lack of interaction in the flesh.

  • Balance is required – such an obvious thing. The internet is an amazing tool and over the years I have met amazing people via the Internet, including my husband almost 20 years ago – it was the power of the written word.
    Nothing though can ultimately replace face to face relationships and friendships and society is doomed if one simply lives online.

  • If there is a real increase in depression among our youth (as opposed to an increase in the tendency to claim that you are depressed to pollsters) maybe the monumental increase in divorce and separation is the real culprit. 50% of marriages now end in divorce (that’s without counting the parents that split up without marrying). I have never met a child whose parents got divorced who wasn’t traumatised by the experience and i expect that trauma lasts far into adulthood. I would think this is far more likely an explanation for “feelings of alienation, isolation and despair” than housing costs, the job market, social media or vaccine disparities. I suspect it is not discussed because divorce is now so common that society can’t face up to the pain we have caused our kids. Far easier to blame “structural disadvantages”.

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