Are ‘Generation Covid’ already lost?

Cutting funds to services at a time where we need more rather than less will cost us all in the long-term.

There are increasing numbers of children experiencing mental health problems, as well as many children whose conditions have gotten worse due to the pandemic. This is set against a backdrop of further cuts to services – over the last decade the Government has cut funding for early intervention children’s services by 1.7bn and public health funding, which funds mental health services and school nurses, has been reduced by £800 million since 2015. Surely now more than ever these services need to see an increase in spending in real terms?

Experts are warning that funding for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is not enough to meet the growing need for specialist support. This can lead to staff getting burned out as they struggle to cope with ever greater demand – even before the pandemic referral rates to CAMHS were outstripping workforce expansion. This also has the effect of creating long waiting times or delays for treatment (all leading to conditions deteriorating rather than improving). Even worse, the support may just simply not be there at all – one suicidal teenager had to be placed in inappropriate accommodation after there wasn’t a single secure bed available anywhere in the UK last week.

There is growing evidence that the economic and social impact of COVID-19 is worst for young people aged 12-24, particularly in terms of jobs and mental health. Young people have seen their job prospects and earnings hit hardest of all age groups and those from a deprived background are the worst hit. About 30% of children (9 in a class of 30) were living in poverty before then pandemic and this is expected to increase. Educationally, those from private schools had far more full days of teaching than state school pupils during lockdown (74 vs 38%), showing that the pandemic has deepened inequalities that were already present.

SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which advises the Government, has warned that children and young people are at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’ due to the collatoral damage of the pandemic. They are set to face a massive loss of economic and social opportunities as a direct result of COVID-19 with real consequences to their mental and physical health.

The transition to adulthood is a major developmental period where young people gradually take on new roles and responsibilities in education, employment, housing and relationships in order to become self-sufficient and independent adults. It’s also during this time that they explore their identity, answering questions about who they are. However, young people lacking sufficient support at this time can struggle to navigate all the developmental challenges involved and this can lead to experiencing worse long-term outcomes as they fail to grow and develop.

It is crucial that young people are given the support they need in order to become successful adults – any cuts to services and support may save money in the short-term but it will end up costing society and especially ‘Generation Covid’ far more in the long-term.

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