Issue 286: 2021 07 01: Youth vs. Age

1 July 2021

Youth vs Age

A Covid outcome?

By Lynda Goetz

At the beginning of 2020 we did not know a great deal about Covid-19.  One of the things we did know, however, was that it appeared to affect the elderly far more than the young.  This prompted the economic journalist, Jeremy Warner, to write in an article on March 3 last year, 2Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the Covid-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents” and that the outcome might be “a cascade of wealth down from the older to the younger generations”.

Mr Warner was viciously attacked on social media and effectively forced to issue a grovelling apology, in particular for the use of the word ‘culling’, which it has to be said does objectively sound faintly horrifying (although we happily use the term with regard to other species).  Over a year later and with much more knowledge and understanding of Covid-19, it is only slowly dawning on some the unfathomable damage we have done to our children and young people with the measures taken and restrictions put in place to prevent the elderly and vulnerable from dying and from overwhelming ‘our NHS’.

The Daily Telegraph has started a Campaign for Children, pointing out that whatever the arguments and views over how right it was to prioritise the old over the young, we should now be putting the young first.  The last eighteen months have seemed long to most of us, but eighteen months in the life of a 60 year-old represents a mere fortieth (2.5%) of that lifetime.  Eighteen months in the life of a six-year old is 25% or a quarter of their life.  It is small wonder that the impression created on children by the strange, isolated and socially-distanced life they have been forced to lead over the last year and a half has been massive and in many cases damaging.

Even for teenagers, students and young people about to enter or newly entered into the job market, the impact on their lives both present and into the future is huge.  Experiences, which those only a decade older took for granted, have been denied to them.  This is time they will not get back.  At a crucial stage in their lives, when they should be making or enriching friendships, learning about themselves in relation to others and importantly being in a learning environment, this online generation has been turned further in on itself by being forced to stay at home and conduct their education as well as much of their social life via a screen.  Little surprise then that mental health of children and young people has become an issue and that the ordinary confidence displayed by many youngsters has, for large numbers, ebbed away.

Even now, as we eagerly await our postponed ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19th, we are being softened up for life that increasingly is not looking like ‘LBC’ (Life Before Covid).  Dentists, vets and medical professionals are all anticipating months, if not years, of a working environment governed by restrictions and the wearing of PPE.  Boris Johnson and his advisors are warning of a ‘rough winter’ with increased cases of ‘flu and the likelihood of the NHS being overwhelmed again.  (Another lockdown?)  As for the young, Gavin Williamson is already talking about next year’s GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels being subject to ‘mitigations and adjustments’.  If that is to be the case, this will be the third year in which exams will have been affected.  One of the reasons would appear to be the militant stance taken by the teaching unions, which have seen this as an opportunity to test their strength against the government.  The constant, but unreliable, testing of children has resulted in unparalleled disruption to their education as they are forced to self-isolate, in some cases on numerous occasions, whenever a child in their ‘bubble’ (I still cannot bring myself to use the word without inverted commas) tests positive.  With the elderly and vulnerable now vaccinated (unless they have from choice refused vaccination), who are these children protecting?  Each other?  Children generally barely suffer any symptoms even if they do get Covid.  Their teachers?  Transmission to staff is limited and again most are now vaccinated at least once.  This disruptive regime should not be recommenced when school returns in September.  A return to normality does not include this.

Which brings us to the question of vaccinations for the under-18s.  This is an issue the government has been considering for some time now.  The main argument ‘for’ would be that it would do away with any question of a return to the system of constant unreliable lateral flow testing being endured in schools currently.  Children could join adults in freedoms resulting from being fully vaccinated.  The main argument ‘against’ would be, yet again, ‘for whom is it being done?’  Why should children be vaccinated against something they don’t really suffer from, if all those who are vulnerable have already been vaccinated?  A vote ‘for’ would seem to suggest once again that we value the elderly over the young.  Surely, as a species, as a society, this is the wrong way round?

The young are our future.  The elderly may, up to a point, represent experience, an essential ingredient in the mix which makes societies work and thrive.  Some may also have wisdom, but the young have enthusiasm, dynamism and new ideas.  This may need tempering with the understanding which comes with age, but there comes a point where age renders us less useful, or even useless and indeed as dependent as a young child – but without the future.  As we live longer, this stage is being prolonged.  As I heard someone say on the radio recently in a rare discussion on Death (not the statistics of death, nor some sad personal story of a death), ‘We are not living longer; we are dying longer’.

It does not take a degree in medicine or indeed philosophy to see the truth in this.  The health of many in their eighties and nineties is poor.  They have heart problems and respiratory problems; they have obesity problems and the problems arising from these; many have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.  Large numbers are kept alive by the huge advances that have been made in treatments and medicines.  These people are not independent.  They require care of some sort whether it be from their family or provided from their lifetime savings or by the state.  This issue of social care is another of the as-yet-unexploded grenades the government is trying hard to work out how to handle.

Jeremy Warner’s comments, as offensive as many found them, were a truth which we all appear to want to avoid in current times.  Death cannot unfortunately be abolished, although it can be delayed.  The question is, is delaying it the right thing when this appears to come, not only at the expense of quality of life, but seemingly too at the expense of our young?  The Covid generations will, in all likelihood, end up footing a large proportion of the bill for the help which has been put in place to keep the economy going.  No doubt the economy will recover: many individuals – those who fell through the support network, those for whom the timing was crucially bad, those who succumbed to despair and those whose education was terminally disrupted – may never do so.  We owe it to our children and young people to ensure that if LBC cannot be resumed, ‘normality’ is not a world in which the young are on a treadmill paying for the freedoms and endless hospital bills of the old.



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