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Opinion

Think of the kids. Our response to Covid affects them too

Telling young people that, if they carry on like that they might end up on a life support machine if they don’t watch out, cuts no ice

I was speaking to a barber the other day as he cut my long-grown hair, saying I had done a pig’s ear of a job cutting it myself, and we fell to talking about lockdowns not locks, about social distancing and young people.

Imagining what he would have been like as a 20-year-old, being told that he couldn’t do this, that and the other, he said he would not have concurred. Being young is being feisty, unaware of dangers and committed to fun and joyfulness.

How right he was. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if John Anthony Bird, yours truly, had been told to stay indoors, avoid kissing strange girls, and stand six feet from the world; and what the outcome would have been.

Youth and being young are largely about being fearless; and telling young people that hey might end up on a life support machine if they don’t watch out cuts no ice.

The whole of civilisation has made the tenacity of youth the backbone of their armies, irrespective of which country or which cause. Historically the young have rushed out to engage with danger.

So how do we moderate them, teach them caution, especially when nearly all the music that is made to pump into their ears, or the movies made for their consumption, are about risk-taking fighters and superhuman men and women?

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I am far from my youth but not so far from the memories of it that I can’t still  taste the feeling of back then, when all I wanted to do was take risks and irritate the status quo.

That doesn’t mean to say that we don’t have responsible young people; it’s just that the first bloods of life are often, by their intensity, fiery.

Added to this is that there are many of us, because of the nature of the way consumerism has developed to keep us eternally young, who still bathe in the kindling fires of those early days. In short there’s a lot of us only half grown up, and I have been as guilty as many, feeling I am 15 again and I’m going to climb on that bloody rock and jump into that sea.

The market place encourages us to seek an eternal youth, to avoid growing old, even though at times it feels fraudulent and silly.

We will though have to dig deep again and follow the diktats of the government (though could we, it might have been worth asking, have followed the German model and the Swedish example?). Of course, the desire to keep the NHS safe is the overriding consideration. And as I have said on countless occasions, the NHS has been like a social sponge, soaking up many of the problems thrown up by poverty. Leading to an 85 per cent capacity rate (which is almost full) of people who, through age and the illness of nutrition thrown up by being the working poor, means we have little wriggle room.

I am far from my youth but not so far from the memories of it that I can’t still  taste the feeling of back then, when all I wanted to do was take risks and irritate the status quo

I have expressed also, again and again, that we have to avoid an avalanche of mass homelessness, now the government has lifted the ban on evictions; insisting that we do not let people made unemployed by Covid-19 vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. That would be the biggest calamity that dwarfs the former way that people fell homeless. This would be instant homelessness of a cruel and nasty kind. That would undermine our children and our children’s children. That would put future generations into decline and desperation even before the moment of their conception; yes, even before their mum and dad themselves were conceived.

That is why we believe that our Ride Out Recession Alliance – RORA – needs to become the biggest pressure group imaginable. That it can gain supporters so that we can pressure the government into spending their money wisely and keep people in their homes. And help them get jobs, and skill them up if they have fallen out of work.

RORA, and our Today for Tomorrow campaign behind the Future Generations Bill, are borne of the same avid concern that we need to get this right, for us now and for our descendants.

As we enter this new period of threat we have to make sure that the old, the infirm and the vulnerable are kept safe. And at the same time we have to try and encourage the economy to continue in whatever form it can. But equally we need to build a spirit of endurance and resilience, a feeling that we will clear these health and social fences, and not be weighed down by the bleakness of the picture as it is painted.

In some sense, RORA is an upbeat declaration of war against accepting defeat and social dislocation, unaccepting that we have to slip into a repeat of ‘The Hungry 30s’ rather than rise up and ride out.

Job creation must be the biggest investment that the government has to make to avoid destroying our social fabric. They must prioritise health, of course, but keeping the social fabric going is as much a health issue as anything.

We have to find ways of uniting people of all ages. There are signs that this can be done, but there is more to do. We have to keep the young on board as we pass through the constraints of the pandemic.

RORA continues growing to help do as much of that as possible.

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue

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