It has become a truism that the COVID pandemic has created unprecedented change. It’s impacts will need to be taken into account as the UK emerges on the other side. From the need to prioritise greater integration of health and care, support resilience and security of supply chains in critical areas, and adapting town centres and commercial hubs to new ‘hybrid’ models of working, a fundamental assessment of how we operate and what policies need to reflect this is beginning to be undertaken.
One unintended consequence of the experience of the past year – and one that, as yet, is to be fully realised or grasped – has been the impact on younger generations, who in many senses have put their lives on hold to protect older demographics from the pandemic. Of course, it goes without saying that this has been completely the right thing to do. However, as the UK emerges from the immediate crisis period there is a growing awareness of the need to support young people who are likely to find themselves disproportionally impacted by rises in unemployment and, more generally, coping with the cost of living.
For the government, this provides an opportunity to herald another change in emphasis – and give greater focus and attention to policies that will bring benefit to younger generations and younger voters, something that has been a perennial thorn in the side of Conservative policymakers in recent years. It isn’t difficult to see how a effective and widely supported political narrative could be developed; highlighting how younger generations have sacrificed a year – and that now is the time to repay them.
With the Chancellor’s Budget emphasising jobs and skills, it is clear that a focus on supporting those towards the younger end of the age spectrum is developing – the post-COVID reset is an opportunity to reshape the UK’s skills base, ensuring the labour market of the next five-, ten- and twenty-years can support high-skilled, high-value jobs and careers.
The government can and should go further. Nowhere is this more the case than in housing – where challenges and opposition to development have long hampered attempts to bolster supply and, ultimately, affordability. Arguably, there will not be a better opportunity for an administration to push hard in this area and deliver policies that tackle housing, affordability and quality concerns.
More widely, we should look to use this time to give proper consideration to intergenerational fairness – a concept that has been floating around policy circles for a number of years (indeed, there are think-tanks largely given over solely to looking at the issue). Translating ideas and rhetoric into tangible and acceptable policies, though, is much harder. But framed in the right way, the government has a golden opportunity to ‘repay’ younger generations for their efforts in recent times. It shouldn’t be wasted.