Aside from Jeff Bezos’ and the rest of the top one percent’s ever-swelling fortune, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on every demographic across the globe. And while I believe that community and shared responsibility are the two fundamentals to reaching the light at the end of this long and chaotic tunnel, I am also aware that each group is experiencing both the same and vastly different challenges.
Our generation is often characterized by meme culture and its openly dark and nihilistic humour. So, it’s unsurprising that such spaces on social media are where our shared thoughts and anxieties manifest. Reality for the ‘internet generation’ entirely moved online with the blink of an eye this spring. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok became virtual pseudo-societies. From these busy fora, it has become clear that our generation can’t just be reduced to the trends that make it onto the ‘For You Page’.
We are also a generation that has become quickly self-aware, unafraid to organise political activism online and criticise the wrongs being committed against us.
We are in truly unprecedented times, as Nicola Sturgeon will remind you every day. As a Scot, I do feel fortunate to be guided through the pandemic by a leader more transparent and forthcoming than the likes of Boris Johnson, but I don’t think unprecedentedness excuses the extent to which we have been overlooked.
We are a generation that has witnessed a tempest of social and political challenges. We saw our parents endure the 2008 crisis, our future as Europeans denied to us, and are now seeing a global pandemic that leaves a devastating recession inbound.
The UK-wide fiasco over secondary education results proved that poorly thought out and classist policy would have sufficed for both governments if it weren’t for such public disapproval. Before an about-turn from Holyrood, 75,000 school pupils in Scotland had their results downgraded. Students in the most disadvantaged areassaw their results slashed the most, potentiallyjeopardising the few places at university that students from less fortunate backgrounds obtain.
Yes, the pandemic is entirely unknown territory and a constant learning process. The unjust results algorithm was a mistake and not resolving it for our younger peers would have been a travesty of the system. However, I fear many young people, students, are still facing challenges that haven’t caught media attention and therefore go unnoticed.
In April, the Scottish government created a new hardship fund that allowed universities to provide disadvantaged students with discretionary emergency pay-outs. While this might have alleviated immediate financial stress, it has failed to consider the challenges that continue to mount as the pandemic persists.
Many students who can’t rely on financial support from family members have to supplement their student loanwith work. Lockdown made finding summer work an impossibility and with the end of the academic yearcame the end of loan payments. The National Union of Students found that the pandemic has caused 80% of students financial worry. How do the government expect unemployed students, unable to apply for Universal Credit, to support themselves without loan income? Obviously not through their support, as the campaign #SummerSAAS, supported by the National Union of Students and brought to the Scottish Parliament, amounted to nothing.
Unemployment is equally problematic coming into the academic year. Around 59% of students work part-time(or did). Like many of my peers, I am looking for a new job in Edinburgh but with endless rejections and 750fellow applicants for each post, the likelihood is slim. Also, Edinburgh’s disproportionately high (and increasing) rents mean that each year more of my student loan is consumed by the cost of accommodation.
While it seems that many will make the decision to stay at home for the coming semester, again it is the more disadvantaged students who will lose out. Lack of space, poor internet, and greater stress in the home will undoubtedly impact study and mental health.
Anxiety over our studies and finances isn’t the entire picture either. Wealthy and disadvantaged students alike are all facing the greater mental and emotional impact of the pandemic. It seems to me there is a disconnect between how our generation feels and what we are seeing in the media. Months pass and headlines professing the end of normality as we know it endure. The utter lack of optimism has become draining and with the reality being equally bleak (the majority of graduates this year have lost their jobs/job offers), it’s about time we were given better support and guidance. This is certainly not coming from universities, who have so far left returning students in the dark about how grades, study, and life on campus will be affected. Universities must also offer better support and counselling for their students. Young Minds’ report reveals that young people who already struggle with their mental health are now less supported and more at risk because of the pandemic.
As I said, despite the sarcasm and the memes, the last few months online have shown that this generation is open to change, adaptation, and wants to see a return to normality. Ideally a normality that has been improved, but that is still characterised by what we valued the most pre-coronavirus. We are a generation that has yet to build a lifetime’s savings, get on the property ladder and secure full-time employment. If the government is worried about our age group experiencing lockdown fatigue and causing a resurgence of the virus, they need to do more. We are being let down by poor guidance on what the road ahead looks like for young people and students.
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