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Matt Hancock. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

Matt Hancock. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

The government is trying to scapegoat young people, but it's their drive back to work and schools that is behind the rise in infections, argues Caitlin Southern

Following the news of the recent spike in Covid-19 infections, particularly among younger people, the government has been quick to attack them, plying the increasingly worn but always effective trope that the young are inherently irresponsible. They are blamed for going out when government policy has actively encouraged them to do so, blamed for not abiding by social distancing when many work in public facing jobs that require them to be in close contact with others, and blamed for not wearing masks when the rules are vague and unenforced.

The dangers inherent in reopening schools and universities are downplayed, with health and wellbeing portrayed as less important than hurrying through the education of the next generation of workers. This education could be delayed and picked up again when it is safer but the emphasis on meeting targets by artificial deadlines is heavily ingrained in a society geared towards short term profitability rather than personal fulfilment.

The reopening of pubs, bars and restaurants along with the August ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme has helped to generate a feeling that the worst is over and that it must be safe to socialise. After months in lockdown it’s no surprise that people want to spend time with friends and family, or that they would want to believe that the danger is minimal. They are being encouraged to vent the months of pent up energy, frustration and anxiety in economically profitable ways as the government once again puts the needs of business owners before the welfare of the population.

By forcing young people back into workplaces the Tories are making them take more risks, whether they are returning to customer facing roles or not. Occupying the same space as other people is always going to make the risk of virus transmission much greater than working from home simply because of the increased numbers in a common area, while the confused messaging on workplace appropriate PPE has seen many workers relying on ineffectual splash visors rather than masks or even being encouraged to forgo respiratory protection entirely.

The return to schools is similarly to blame for the rise in infections as young people face their parents being financially punished if they are hesitant to enter classrooms that were shockingly overcrowded even before the pandemic hit. The lack of both space and adequate numbers of staff means that social distancing is impossible if school students are expected to meet their learning goals in the unnecessarily competitive educational environment. Similarly the insistence on university students attending physical classes rather than utilising online learning tools will only push cases higher, as the attendant increase in proximity that comes with student accommodation and large lecture halls leads to a perfect environment for the spread of any illness.

With the vague messaging, ever changing advice and determination to get back to some sort of normal, however artificial it may be, our government is the irresponsible party here. The young people that are being sacrificed both physically to the virus and symbolically to the media in order to weaken resistance to the increasingly brutal regime are not to blame for the complete shambles that this Tory government has presided over.

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