On UN international Youth Day, it is important to remember the impact that COVID-19 has had on the lives of young people around the world. As with many other crisis events, the pandemic has been an intensifier - while some of the most fortunate in society have seen improvements to their wealth and quality of life, many more have seen existing disadvantage compounded either by the virus itself or by the restrictions that governments have been forced to introduce to combat its spread.  

The spectacle of a 22-year-old Premiership footballer using his influence to force a government u-turn on free school meals last year caught the national interest for many reasons, but it is important to remember that behind the headlines was a situation in which families were finding themselves unable to feed some of the country’s most vulnerable children. At the same time, the Health Foundation reports that as the pandemic began, one in three households (32% or 7.6 million) in England already had at least one major housing problem relating to overcrowding, affordability or poor-quality housing. A year and a half, and three lockdowns later, it’s not difficult to imagine how challenging this has been for the young people in these households to keep up with their peers. Frequent disruptions to schooling have forced them to work at home in what will often have been conditions not conducive to effective learning.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s summary of early research into the impact of COVID on pupils’ attainment in several G8 countries suggests a significant widening of the gap between disadvantaged young people and their peers. In the UK this potentially means the rolling back of more than 10 years of progress in addressing the barriers to social mobility which exist in and around the school system.

This is the case even when judged solely on the simple, basic measurements of performance in core academic subjects, but of course young people have missed out in so many other ways - in their social development, and crucially in their exposure to the world of work. Although it is hoped that education may be returning to something close to normality in the coming months, school leaders, who will be under pressure to make up for lost time and lost learning, may find it difficult for some time to come. This is particularly true when it comes to finding enough opportunities for their students to develop key skills in areas such as such as enterprise and employability.

What's being done to Help Young People?

I am privileged and proud to be involved with two organisations who are tackling these challenges head on:

At The Co-operative College, our ground-breaking Youth Co-operative Action programme, supported by the Co-op Foundation and the#iwill Fund, focuses on youth activism, inspiring a new generation of young people aged between 12-20 to use co-operative values and principles to make a change where they live. Delivered in towns and cities across England, in collaboration with local charity partners, each cohort is encouraged to think differently to solve problems in their community and understand the real power of their voice. Empowered with the skills, knowledge and platform to tell their story, they work together to inspire real, meaningful change.

Young people from The Co-operative College Youth Co-operative Action Programme in London

Despite ongoing constraints imposed by the pandemic, which have required a shift towards a more blended delivery model to ensure continuity of the programmes, there are now exciting plans being developed to extend the programme and work with communities in which young people may be at acute risk of being drawn into anti-social behaviour and the criminal justice system.

The DHL (UK) Foundation works with charity and school partners to support disadvantaged children and young people to get access to the best possible education, the chance to develop essential life skills and to secure meaningful and sustainable employment. The Foundation works in partnership with DHL businesses in the UK, likeminded charity partners and DHL employees to deliver change-making programmes and meaningful opportunities to make a difference. In 2021 the Foundation has embarked on new partnerships to broaden the scope of its impact, including in the crucially important area of mental health.

What initiatives do you know of that are taking place right now to help young people? Comment below and let us know.

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