Why the pandemic has only worsened existing trends such as rising mental health issues among young people or economic inactivity rates rather than being their root cause.
There have been quite a few stories coming out recently which seem to blame the Covid pandemic for all sorts of ills, with the underlying suggestion being that we should have perhaps not locked down or not offered people the option of furlough. None of these seem to mention what the alternative scenario might be, except perhaps to cite Sweden as an example, which is a very different country. They could cite the US or Brazil.
The pandemic has variously been blamed for inequality, mental health problems, particularly among young people and people leaving the workplace [becoming workshy, in some circles] due to sickness and people working on holidays or sick leave. Yet all of these things were already trends before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated them, and many other things, but it was by no means the cause of them.
Take people working on holidays and sick leave to start with. I have written many, many stories about this since way before the pandemic. Technology enables people to check their emails anywhere and fear of returning to an inundation and that many demand urgent replies mean people have been doing a bit of work, or maybe a lot of work, while on holiday for years. Even when people put out of office on, they often reply within the day of being emailed. This has nothing to do with working from home, although working from home perhaps makes it less likely that a person will take a day off sick. This is not a good thing. If you’re sick you should, of course, rest and recover, but the intensity of work these days makes that difficult.
The same goes for people dropping out of work due to illness. Economic inactivity numbers have been rising for years. They rose further in the pandemic, of course, but there are so many reasons that the numbers have been going up which were also exacerbated by the pandemic – the ageing workforce, the problems facing healthcare and particularly social care, increasing inequality, the lack of attention to health prevention, the rise in job insecurity and so forth.
Mental health issues among young people are at epidemic levels and have also been so for years. Being cut off from friends during Covid and falling behind at school have undoubtedly made things worse for many, particularly those with less access to IT and a good space to work. University students have definitely found things incredibly hard – there is a generation of students who will probably never fully recover, but mental health has been worsening for years.
The pandemic has, of course, had a terrible impact in many respects, but it is not the only disruption we have faced in recent years. Conflict in different parts of the world leading to rising energy prices and a knock-on impact on other costs, Brexit and much more have also increased inequality and all the problems associated with it. Climate catastrophe has caused havoc across the world and will continue to do so, at greater and greater cost. There is a political agenda going on which seems to want to blame Covid lockdowns for all ills. There are, of course, all sorts of different routes we could have taken during the pandemic, for instance, over prioritising schools or over the timing of lockdown. But what matters now is, having seen how the pandemic has exacerbated the huge underlying faults in our system, how we look to address them in realistic, practical ways.