Our young people have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic. Pupils have experienced extensive disruption to their education through the shift to learning remotely. University students especially have had to grapple with the unimaginable difficulty of uprooting their lives to an entirely new city, only to be locked down in their accommodation, unable to return to families and unable to make the most of the university experience that they had expected. Apprentices have faced huge uncertainty about their future employment and training. Young families are more likely to be in insecure, rented housing without access to gardens or outdoor spaces. Young workers are more likely to be the first in line for redundancy if firms are forced to make job losses.
The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that over two million jobs will be lost as a result of the pandemic, meaning even for those workers who do keep their jobs the future world of work is likely to be ever-more competitive and harder to move up the career ladder.
I’ve always said that young people aren’t just our future, they are our present too. But they need support if we are going to avert the economic catastrophe of a generation of workers lost to Covid.
That’s why I’ve done all I can to support our young people. I’ve worked closely with our local authorities, schools, businesses and third-sector organisations to tackle the digital divide and ensure that all our students have access to a suitable device, decent internet connection and the digital literacy skills to get online. I’ve supported Labour’s calls for extensions to the evictions ban and to keep the lifeline of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. I’ve pushed the Government to do the right thing and increase self-isolation support so workers in precarious employment do not face the invidious choice between doing the right thing by their community and putting food on the table.
This action was necessary to provide short-term support in the most challenging of times. Now, as we emerge from the other side of lockdown – and attention turns once again to the arduous task of rebuilding and renewing our regional economy – we’ve got to put young people at the heart of our economic recovery.
That’s exactly what we are doing in South Yorkshire through the Young People’s Pledge.
We are introducing an 80p flat single rate on our bus networks for all residents aged 11 to 21, to run for one year until 21 June 2022. This will enable young passengers to access an affordable bus service to get around for work, education and leisure. It will invest £6m into our bus networks, increase patronage levels and enable us to invest in green buses. Moreover, it will help support our hospitality and leisure sectors by increasing footfall to High Streets and town centres.
Alongside our flagship fares policy, South Yorkshire leaders and I are investing over £23m in targeted support for young people and Further Education. We are funding part of our Renewal Action Plan to create new apprenticeships, training and lifelong learning opportunities. We are ensuring that all young people get a second chance at taking vital qualifications such as Maths, English and Digital Literacy to set them up for life. And we are investing in essential upgrades to our colleges to ensure they have state-of-the-art facilities.
That’s the difference it makes having a Mayor and Council Leaders committed to investing in the next generation and giving them the tools to shape the future of our region, and our country. Because where you grow up shouldn’t determine where you end up.