Problem 1: low-skilled unemployment. Almost 4 million additional people in the UK’s labour market have been made redundant or furloughed since the end of 2019. Disproportionately young, and poorly educated, these people have tended to be particularly concentrated in hospitality, retail, and support service roles – jobs which may not return post-COVID. Moreover, they were already falling behind in their skills relative to those required in a much more automated, digitally driven future.
Problem 2: mental health crisis. Already prior to COVID-19, one in four adults and significant numbers of teenagers in the UK were suffering from a mental health problem. COVID-19 has hugely exacerbated this, from “milder” issues such as anxiety and depression, to severe conditions (see eg., rise in hospital beads for mental illness). The more insidious effects may not seen for decades: e.g., one of the biggest predictors of someone’s mental health is their mother’s mental health when they were children. Many, many more mothers will have been unwell during the crisis; and many, many children’s mental health will have been compromised due to school closures. This is a ticking time bomb, threatening the very prosperity that the country has spent so many decades buiding.
Problem 3. At the same time, there are huge staff shortages – current and projected – in our healthcare, social care and education sectors. COVID-19, and the health problems mentioned above, have made the need for staff more urgent. All projections show that, with an ageing population and growing need for reskilling and upskilling, the number of jobs in these sectors will continue to grow.
This is a life-time opportunity to create meaningful work for people who for whatever reason left school at 16 (around 25% of UK workforce), AND supply the resources needed to keep the nation happy and healthy.