Coronavirus: The Government’s Betrayal of Students and Young People | Will Hallowell
The lack of support for young people, and particularly students, throughout the pandemic means a missed opportunity for the Government to have won our trust and support.
We all know that, stereotypically, young politically engaged – probably first-time voting – adults and teens, lean towards the Left. Perhaps this is because younger people are impressionable, or even naïve – a fair explanation for some of the unconditional loyalty devoted to left-wing politics by students and young adults. Perhaps it also because the Conservative Party fails to engage with younger voters, which unhelpfully reinforces the stereotype of the noisy, left-wing university student. Is this because right-wing politics has no room for young people, or simply because there has been a lack of attempt to engage young voters and teens? Whatever the reason for the Conservatives’ historic lack of support from younger generations, it is a missed opportunity. The pandemic presented the possibility of enabling a change in the way young people think, to grab our votes for electoral gain; but, unfortunately for the Government it is has not been exploited – and if anything, has given younger people and students even fewer reasons to vote Tory.
“‘U-turn’ if you want to”
The Government’s first mistake was the A-Level exam results calamity last year; the algorithm used to calculate sixth form students’ grades was a scandal. Some had their grades totally under – or indeed, over – estimated; others were lucky, leaving uncertainty over the prospect of getting into university. I myself, was very lucky, given that I had an unconditional offer at my first choice university before the pandemic, and that in all fairness I probably received better grades than I deserved. This forced the now incredibly unpopular Gavin Williamson to perform the famous ‘U-turn’, which this Conservative Government has been criticised for doing on several occasions over the course of the pandemic.
When this Government scandal unfolded, and aspiring university-goers took to the streets of London with sharpie-graffitied placards, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked us to remember who is to blame for this failure of students when the next election comes around. With the lack of support consistently shown towards us in the last eighteen months, I’m fearful that they surely will.
A year later there has been another A-Level grade scandal – the unfortunate grade inflation which occurred, damaging the validity of top grades, again leaving students up and down the country with uncertainty over university places.
Then after the Government encouraging the country to Eat Out to Help Out to aide economic recovery, young people were blamed for a surge in Covid cases – or perhaps a more accurate description is that we were scapegoated, and arguably even demonised.
Lack of financial support
Fast forward to the New Year period: lockdown number three. I wrote at the time that I believed it was a good idea to lock the country down nationally for one final time, pining for some restoration of normality coming out of it. What is unforgivable is the Government’s complete lack of fiscal support for university students throughout this period. As expected the majority of students went home in December, only to find that after the third lockdown was introduced we could not go back to our accommodations, having been offered almost no support with regards to rent.
From the end of the year until mid-April the Government told us we were not to return to university campuses. What should have been introduced then was a subsidy scheme for landlords and private accommodation providers, as well as for university accommodation. That certainly didn’t happen.
Instead, some support was given to those living in halls let by the universities, with an agreement to reduce rent – subsidised by the Government – on the promise that students would stay at home until a later period. Whilst some private providers did, voluntarily, offer the same agreement, others did not – I found myself in the latter circumstance, as I would presume the majority of students living in private halls and accommodation did too. So, we were prohibited from returning to campuses whilst simultaneously paying lots of money we didn’t have for rooms we weren’t using.
Your papers, please
One of the Government’s biggest betrayals of young people through the Covid crisis is the authoritarianism of the vaccine passport policy. Yet again, it is young people who are being punished.
While it is the social responsibility for all who are medically fit to get vaccinated – and it was fair for Michael Gove to label those who are unvaccinated by choice “selfish” – it is not the role of governments to seize control of bodily autonomy, a freedom afforded to those who live in liberal democracy. It seems the Government has forgotten that it is not us who serve it, but it that serves us.
It is utterly absurd that the Government should mandate who can and cannot be granted the freedom to go clubbing or attend university. Rightly, plans were scrapped to introduce mandatory vaccinations for attending lecture theatres and living in halls; this was another quick U-turn. However, unfortunately it seems too late, politically, to reverse plans to make double vaccination mandatory for nightclub entry.
After plans for mandatory vaccinations for lecture theatres and halls were dropped, the Government took a lighter approach for vaccine persuasion. Now, young people are to be bribed, not “incentivised”, into taking the vaccine with discounted takeaways and taxi journeys – but it is totally ironic that this news came just a week or so after the announcement for plans for a diet-based social credit system.
The Government has treated young people, and students in particular, so poorly throughout the course of the pandemic – and still we are being punished. As a doubly vaccinated student and NHS worker, it is both foolish (and selfish as Mr Gove quite rightly pointed out) not to get vaccinated. However, this comes down to individual choice, and no government should have the power to restrict such freedoms – it should seem obvious that a dangerous precedent could be set.
Boris Johnson was elected as Prime Minister on the mandate of a liberal, freedom and democracy-loving representative of the people. His leadership should reflect that.
A missed opportunity
The pandemic presented the perfect opportunity for the Government to win the support of teens and young voters – and in particular: students. It was an opportunity to break the Tory typecast – to show that the Conservatives do care for the interests of younger people despite the left-wing narrative.
It isn’t hard to see why younger people have little faith in, and support for, Boris Johnson’s Government, given that we’ve been demonised and scapegoated as the “selfish” Covid “super-spreaders” throughout the pandemic, when in reality we have sacrificed a great deal, not least our education, our social lives, stability of our futures, and for graduates of the Classes of Covid: their employment prospects.
So if anything, poor uptake of the vaccine amongst younger people should serve not a symbol of belligerence or ignorance, or even selfishness, but as an “up yours” to the politicians who demand absolute, unwavering obedience after having neglected us for the last eighteen months.