TEENAGERS and young people risk having their entire working lives “scarred” by the coronavirus crisis, MSPs have been told.

Benny Higgins, a member of the Scottish Government Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, said specific provisions must be put in place to protect this group. 

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop insisted the Scottish Government is determined the younger generation will not lose out because of Covid-19.

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It follows widespread concerns over the impact of school closures – particularly on youngsters from deprived backgrounds. 

The Institute of Fiscal Studies found children from deprived homes are rapidly falling behind their more affluent peers under home schooling, with better-off families spending a third more time each day on learning than those in the poorest 20 per cent of homes.

Meanwhile, research by the Resolution Foundation found young people are most likely to lose work and see wages fall, with a third of 18 to 24-year-olds earning less since the outbreak. 

It said these workers could see their pay lowered for years, while older workers could be forced into early retirement.

Mr Higgins, the former CEO of Tesco Bank, was giving evidence to Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee.

He said: “This has been on some levels the most unwanted but the most extraordinary social experiment of civilisation.”

He some some good things have emerged, such as the speed at which many people have adopted home working, although inequalities exist in this area.

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Elsewhere, he said: “We have to look specifically and make specific provision for the generation that actually could be really hurt by this and scarred in the long run.

“I would suggest at least one group is the late teenagers into their mid-twenties, coming out of secondary or tertiary education, into a very different world than they would have thought only a matter of months ago.”

Dame Julia Unwin, who also sits on the advisory group, added: “We know from all research over decades that if there is time lost from the labour market in that age group, the group Benny talked about, it’s a scar across their working lives and their incomes until they retire.

“One way or another we need to find ways in which companies could step up and make a different sort of offer with support from Government.

“[The UK Government’s] job retention has done that to a certain extent, but it’s not a long-term prospect, because actually being kept on 80% of wages at home doesn’t keep you very close to the labour market. 

“We need to get people back into work, and there are jobs in the recovery that we will need to make sure are targeted at that age group.

“Otherwise Scotland will pay quite a high price, a very high price, in 20, 30 years’ time. That’s really urgent.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the issue during her daily coronavirus briefing.

She said: “The challenges that this virus has created for us, both in a health sense and an economic sense, are significant and there’s no getting away from that.

“It will take an enormous effort to overcome in the months ahead.”

However, she stressed it should not be considered inevitable that young people will suffer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

She added: “It’s our job and our duty to try to make sure that we protect people and allow people to overcome these challenges. 

“And that’s particularly true of young people, both young people who have missed out on school education and younger people who are going into the labour market. 

“That will be a key focus of what we do in the period ahead.” 

Ms Hyslop said the impact of Covid-19 on the jobs market is expected to hit young people and women the hardest.

She added: “That means that we have to take special responsibility for these particular groups of people. 

“And certainly in terms of looking to the future, we’re setting out and we will set out, with the advice from the economic advisory group, the charting of the future for Scotland’s economy. 

“But it must involve more digitalisation and also a green recovery, and there are jobs and potential opportunities for young people there. 

“The skills and the training of young people for those new, future industries is going to be vital as part of this. 

“I’ll be working with the Deputy First Minister [John Swinney] particularly in developing that skills and training and jobs opportunity.”

Ms Hyslop said similar challenges had arisen following the financial crash, although Covid-19 “is of a different magnitude”.

She said: “We tackled it and we made sure that Scotland’s youth unemployment was one of the lowest across the European Union. 

“So we are aware of it.

“We’re determined that this generation will not lose out because of Covid. 

“But that responsibility is not just on Government.

“It’s going to be on companies to help employ them and help them be part of that society for the future.”