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‘It feels like we’re being forgotten’: Young people on the impact of Covid

The pandemic has left many young people struggling to find work, feeling unsupported and unsure of what the future holds

When aspiring actor Sam Malley released a short film in the summer of 2020, it received rave reviews across his native Black Country. 

The directorial debut, called The Chase, which Malley also wrote, was showcased at film festivals and saw him featured in the local press. 

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But the pandemic inevitably meant the 24-year-old wasn’t able to fully capitalise on the success of the independent project, which took him more than two years to produce on a shoestring budget while working full-time as a bin man.

Like hundreds of thousands of young people across the country, Malley says his future is up in the air. He was furloughed from his second job at an Escape Room company in Birmingham and was due to start a new role which has been halted by the latest national lockdown. 

One year on from the UK’s first confirmed case, many young people say they are struggling to find work, feel unsupported through the crisis and are unsure what the future holds. 

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Malley told the Big Issue that while he was lucky to have work lined up, the situation for many young people was bleak. 

“Work opportunities for young people are so low and a lot of companies see younger people as less vulnerable so they are the ones who are losing their jobs,” he said. 

“It’s hard, especially when a lot of the young people don’t have the right experience, other companies are not going to take them on.” 

This is something Anna Farley, also based in the West Midlands, has experienced first hand. Farley, 28, worked for a solicitors in Birmingham but was let go due to the pandemic. 

She’s now getting by as a freelance producer on a documentary but admits there isn’t much work around and she has “faced a lot of rejection”. 

“It’s just really stressful for everyone,” she said. “Particularly if you’re freelancing and looking for work. At the moment, the pandemic has had a massive effect.” 

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Farley has been looking for another full-time job and sent more than 20 applications, none of which have been successful. She said the hunt has been made more challenging due to a lack of feedback from prospective employers. 

She added: “I had the generic email saying, ‘Oh, no, you’re not quite what we’re looking for’ which is nice because you know where you stand, but the one thing I would say is they haven’t given any feedback. 

“Pretty much all the jobs have said that they can’t give feedback right now, so that’s really frustrating because you don’t know what you need to do or what they’re looking for.

“I imagine they’re probably so busy and have so many applicants but it does feel a bit harder because of that as well.”

Farley had hoped to move out of her parents’ house but losing her job has forced her to eat into her savings and put any potential plans on the back-burner. 

“There’s nothing you can really do about it,” she added. “Maybe the Government could provide some more support for first time buyers but I doubt they will.” 

The situation is also difficult for those attempting to kickstart their careers and enter the job market for the first time. Bec Oakes, from Burscough, West Lancashire, recently graduated from the University of Manchester and has found graduate schemes she wanted to apply for put on pause or overwhelmed with applicants. 

“I got quite far in the application process for the BBC graduate scheme in Manchester, which I really had my heart set on,” said the 25-year-old, who is hoping to become a journalist. 

“And then, all of a sudden, I got an email saying that due to the pandemic it wasn’t going forward for the year ahead, and at that point I was like, ‘Oh, crap, what do I do now?’”. 

Oakes has been working in a local supermarket to keep her afloat, which she says she has enjoyed more than she thought. 

“With a dramatic decrease in jobs, I knew that I needed to find another position elsewhere to keep going financially until those jobs started becoming available again,” she added. 

“I think out of all paid jobs I’ve had so far, [working in a supermarket] is the one I have enjoyed the most, which I didn’t expect when I first joined.

“While it’s not ideal and obviously not what I’d like to be doing for the rest of my life, I’ve got a job, I’m making money, I’m putting money into savings because I’m still living with my parents and I think until more career suited options come along I could be in a much worse position.” 

But Oakes said she has been one of the lucky ones and says young people “feel like they’re being forgotten” by the Government during the pandemic. 

“It seems to be people of university age and the five or so years that follow who are getting completely forgotten about,” she added. 

She said students and young people needed to be supported from a mental health perspective as many weren’t getting the assistance they needed. 

This was echoed by Malley, who said even though he hadn’t been to university, he feared many young people, particularly students, had been left behind. 

“I think young people have been hit very hard, especially when it’s come to universities and their fees and stuff,” he said. 

“It’s so frustrating that the young people aren’t getting the opportunities, they’re just not getting seen enough. 

“In a few years, young people will be the ones driving this country, and we need to be driving it towards a brighter, better future. 

“At the moment, that’s not what is gonna happen. I can only hope that companies do open up their doors again and we can start hiring, but it’s such a fragile time and the pandemic is just affecting everyone in different ways. Most young people are getting torn between here and there.” 

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