By Scott Wright

KATE STILL, director for The Prince’s Trust in Scotland, does not sugar coat the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on young people, the very citizens the charity exists to support.

Ms Still notes that older and vulnerable people have sadly borne the brunt of the physical fall-out from Covid-19, as the grim and still-rising death toll tragically shows. But the effects on the younger generation are very real, too. And, Ms Still says, there is a danger that they could be long standing unless we are careful.

The bald statistics hammer home the point. Last week, research from Paul Gregg, of the University of Bath,

a leading labour market expert,

warned that nearly one million 16- to 24-year-olds not in full-time education or employment will find it difficult to find work when the furlough scheme ends this month.

The report came hard on the heels of the latest official UK labour market statistics, which showed the unemployment rate for people aged 18 to 24 has risen to 13.1 per cent from 10.5%.

“If the health crisis impacted disproportionately on the elderly, [it] has disproportionately impacted on the prospects and the confidence of young people,” Ms Still said.

With 16- to 25-year-olds “disproportionately represented in the industries taking the biggest hit” from the pandemic, chiefly hospitality and retail, Ms Still concedes the challenges facing young people in the labour market remain profound.

And it is not as if the pandemic has not already taken its toll on the mental health of young adults, as the recent Young People In Lockdown report published by The Prince’s Trust and YouGov shows. “Basically, 43% of young people across the UK feel their anxiety levels have increased as a result of the crisis,” Ms Still said. “32% said they are overwhelmed by feelings of panic and anxiety. 52% said it will be harder than ever to get a job.”

The Prince’s Trust supports thousands of young people move into employment, education and training, and create businesses, in Scotland each year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it saw demand for its services soar in the early days of lockdown. Without the ability to meet people face to face, much of its initial focus was on “well-being” calls, helping young people deal with the many anxieties and concerns the crisis brought. The Trust has steadfastly provided web chat services throughout the crisis.

“We have maintained contact with young people throughout the lockdown period, but it was quite a big shift. It was a big cultural shift,” Ms Still said.

Challenges remain. The Trust continues to campaign for funding to erode “digital poverty”, and to provide help to those who find it difficult to work at home because of overcrowding.

“For some young people it is very difficult to keep your education going or keep your interest in what is happening or apply [for jobs] if you don’t actually have a laptop, or if you have one smartphone in your household,” Ms Still said. “There have been a lot of challenges around access to kit, and we have been advocating more funding for that for young people.”

Yet even in the darkest times, there are glimmers of hope. For one, the Trust has been able to widen the accessibility of its services, such as enterprise delivery, employability and personal and social development content, online.

A young person from Shetland was recently able to attend an enterprise course, which would not otherwise have been possible. “They would not have taken the opportunity to travel

to one of our centres to do that,”

Ms Still said.

Ms Still, who has spent her career in working in employability, education and youth services, points to the positive impact made by The Prince’s Trust and NatWest Entrepreneurial Relief Fund.

So far 102 applications have been approved, meaning £358,000 has been allocated to young people for their businesses since the fund’s launch in April. A further 77 applications are

still being assessed.

“That has been really, really critical for some young people who had fallen between the cracks,” Ms Still said. “They had started their own business, but the pandemic hit them, and then they really had to pivot their business to something else.”

Ms Still believes the response to the fund shows the “entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and kicking in Scotland”, and bridles at the view young people have been responsible for sparking the second wave of the pandemic.

“There is so much young people have been doing,” Ms Still said. “They have been the hardest-hit, but they have also been volunteering in their community and really spreading kindness and standing up for what is right.”

She added: “It’s a shame. Sometimes you are now hearing a narrative

that we are into a second wave [of coronavirus] because it is young people and I don’t believe that is true. Lots of young people have been really, really responsible in what they have been doing in terms of volunteering and standing up for the community.”

Ms Still does feel, though, that the Scottish Government’s Youth Guarantee, which promises the opportunity of work, education, or training everyone aged 16 to 24, is

a “great opportunity”.

“If they (young people) are left at home, that feeling of isolation and worthlessness would be a lifelong scarring effect,” Ms Still said.

“We know that from previous recessions. It leads to all sorts of problems in terms of people’s wellbeing and mental health, and actually their lifelong earning potential.

“And we can’t afford it. They are the generation that will be building the wealth and the future for this whole country, so we need to have them engaged, we need to build on their talents and utilise their talents, and help them develop their talents.”