Impact of pandemic on wellbeing of the young and the economy must not be trivialised | Larry Elliott

From the outset it was obvious the coronavirus pandemic would be brutal on the UK’s young people. Just how brutal has only become apparent over time.

Children, teenagers and adults in their early 20s were the least likely to have adverse physical consequences but suffered most from the restrictions put in place to prevent the virus spreading. Children were deprived of education. Teenagers were stuck in their homes and unable to see their friends in person.

The concentration of young adults working in hospitality meant they were most vulnerable to being furloughed or losing their jobs. It was a recipe for an increase in unhappiness and mental illness – and so it has proved. People in their early 20s are more likely to be out of work because of ill health than those in their early 40s.

All this would be bad enough had young people gone into the pandemic in good shape. But as a new academic paper shows, the mental health of young people has been deteriorating for a decade and a half. This is not just a UK phenomenon. The same has been found to be happening in more than 30 other countries.

It used to be assumed that there was a U-shaped trend to wellbeing, with happiness declining as young people entered middle age and then rising again as they got older. David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, and his two co-authors of the paper, Alex Bryson and Xiaowei Xu, show that this is no longer the case. Their evidence suggests the younger you are, the unhappier you are. In the UK and the US the trend is particularly pronounced among young white women.

The study looks at whether people feel anxious or are in despair, with the latter measured by asking survey respondents how many days out of the last 30 their mental health has not been good. If someone says every day is a bad mental health day, they are classified as suffering from despair.

Approximately 8% of all UK respondents were classed as being in despair in 2009-10, rising to 12% in 2020-21. Among men under 25, despair has doubled from 5% to 11% since 2009. The percentage of young women in despair rose even more sharply, from 8% in 2011 to 20% by 2020. It also doubled (from 9% to 18%) among women aged 25-44. The increase among older women was much less pronounced.

The deterioration in the mental wellbeing of the young can be traced back to the scarring effects of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2008-09. This was a time when the banks almost went bust, the supply of credit dried up, economies contracted and unemployment rose sharply. The paper argues that the employment prospects of new entrants to the labour market at the time of the GFC may have suffered irreparable damage.

The period since has been one of wage stagnation. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the average UK worker is about 40% – or almost £14,000 a year – worse off than if earnings had continued to grow in line with their pre-financial crisis trend.

Incomes of young people have been especially hard hit, so much so that the current generation is likely to be the first for a century to be poorer than their parents, and have levels of home ownership comparable with their grandparents. There are clearly economic reasons behind rising unhappiness among young people, although these do not explain why reported levels of wellbeing have fallen among 10- to 16-year-olds who are yet to enter the world of work.

More recently, three other factors may have played a part, the authors of the paper say. The first is the underfunding of mental health treatment in the US and the UK, where delays in access to care may have prolonged spells of ill health.

The second is the increasing use of smartphones, which became more widely available at about the same time as the upward trend in cases of despair began to appear.

skip past newsletter promotion

“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the rise in ill-being of the young is associated with the rise in the use of the internet and smartphones. The timing fits almost exactly, both the use of the internet and the declining mental health of the young, and especially for young females, both started climbing from around 2011,” the paper says.

Finally, there is the impact of Covid, which, although it cannot explain the deterioration in mental health among the young during the GFC and its aftermath, may well have accelerated the trend. Putting young people in effect under house arrest was always asking for trouble.

Government ministers are worried about the negative impact inactivity is having on the economy, and will have further cause for concern when the latest labour market figures are released on Tuesday. These will show that the number of people out of the labour force because of ill health is up by a third on pre-pandemic levels.

Rishi Sunak recently announced a crackdown on sickness and disability benefits in order to end a “sicknote culture” and “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life”. The prime minister is in danger of trivialising the deep-rooted nature of a problem that will only be solved by tackling the causes of unhappiness and increasing the budget for mental health services.

It may mean age restrictions on access to social media for children. It certainly means that when there is another pandemic, the full long-term costs on all age groups of lockdown restrictions are taken into account. That wasn’t the case in 2020, with disastrous results.

Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Verve Times is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a Comment