Is releasing younger workers the best route out of lockdown?


With the economy grinding to a halt as the lock-down continues,  proposals about how  some younger workers might be freed from at least a  part of it, emerged last week.

Researchers at Warwick University Business School  argue that young people between 20-30, not living with their parents should be released from lock-down.  ‘In comparison to other age groups, the young are substantially safe’.  The main benefits, the paper argues, will be economic.  Out of the 4.2 million in this category, 2.6 work in the private sector.

It’s claimed they could  ‘restart or open small businesses, restaurants, transport services, to buy and sell cars and houses, and much else’.  And because they ‘are predominantly resilient to the virus, young adults are ideal as drivers and support staff across the UK’s delivery infrastructure’.

It’s true, young people are the most likely group to suffer economically from the lock down – and particularly from the massive economic downturn that will follow, but  the specific advantages for the economy from unlocking a rather narrow cohort  are not clear cut .

A significant proportion of  20-30 year olds in professional or ‘graduate’ employment are continuing to ‘work from home’  – others have already been ‘furloughed’ and not able to take on other roles, while many of the who have already lost their jobs already, might have had to move back with parents anyway and thus be ineligible.  Those young people on either side of the age group might  feel particularly aggrieved. Neither is it  clear if the proposals would apply to students – many of whom have lost part-time jobs and have no income.

In addition, the proposals  include severe social restrictions. ‘Those released would also have to give a strict undertaking, upheld by the law, that they would avoid  all other older adults’.  This is largely unworkable. Young people at work are as dependent on older workers as much as older workers are on them.

The economic benefits aside,  the report warns that  young adults aged 20-30 ‘ if kept cooped up’ could become increasingly restless over time and flout the current restrictions, creating a domino effect that undermines public safety.  Fears  that young people, least affected by the virus but made to pay a high price, will increasing ignore the restrictions, are growing.

Meanwhile researchers at UCL have gone much further, claiming school closures are likely to have a relatively small impact on the spread of Covid-19 and should be weighed against their profound economic and social consequences.

Fortunately, political leaders  are not yet ready to consider this.




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