Blog: Impact of the pandemic on young people

Compared with many areas, Suffolk has coped well with the Covid-19 pandemic. Infection rates have been amongst the lowest in the country. Although we have lost too many Suffolk people to this terrible disease, the level of fatalities has, thankfully, not been at the rates experienced elsewhere nationally or even globally. Significant progress continues to be made in combatting the disease but, as we all know, there is no room for complacency, so we must all continue follow the guidelines and do our level best to eliminate the threat of a second spike.

The Constabulary has been fully involved in helping to enforce the guidelines and, I’m pleased to say, people in Suffolk have overwhelmingly applied their common sense. That’s why the number of penalty notices issued is around 400 since the lockdown started in March.

Personally, I am pleased there is an all-party parliamentary inquiry into the handling of the pandemic (Suffolk’s MP Dan Poulter is a vice chairman) and the recent announcement by Boris Johnson of an independent inquiry is to be welcomed. There are lessons to be learned.

It is now time for us all to do whatever we can to keep the pandemic at bay and think of what can be done to rectify the serious damage done to the economy. As Police and Crime Commissioner I am very concerned at the potential increase in levels of crime and disorder, which is associated with high levels of economic and social deprivation.

Unprecedented quantities of taxpayers’ money has been mobilised to deal with pandemic and without this assistance the effects would be catastrophic. Rishi Sunak has promised to do whatever it takes to fire up the economy, but we all know that eventually this debt will have to be paid back.

I am very concerned about the implications for the younger generation – it is they who are suffering the highest rates of unemployment, facing the challenge of accessing the housing market and student loan repayments. So what can be done locally?

It’s easier to find a job when you have experience and a good track record as the whole process of job hunting is now even more competitive. All organisations (especially in the public sector) must do much more to enable work experience and work placements for young people and ramp up the opportunities for apprenticeships.

Increasing the awareness and supply of high quality training and reskilling places will also help people to remain economically active as the effects of the pandemic inevitably result in economic change and different demand patterns.

Growing overall demand in the economy is also crucial and the message from the resilience forum about supporting local businesses is something I have always tried to do personally.

In the public sector significant extra demand can be generated through the procurement process to support the economy in Suffolk and across the UK and I believe there is a great deal of public support for this. According to the Suffolk Growth Group, our county spends nearly £2 billion on goods and services annually, and only around half is spent locally. By using a more flexible approach and placing more emphasis on the social value of our purchases we can and must make a difference – a ten per cent increase of purchasing power locally adds an extra £200 million to the county’s economy

Nearly all public sector bodies have capital expenditure programmes, including the Constabulary. A PCC, I am looking at bringing these programmes forward whenever possible to help boost demand by sensible use of capital reserves and an examination of affordable borrowing options as interest rates are the lowest on record.

There are many other ideas well worth considering – one I entirely agree with, as a signal to our young people, is to reduce the interest rates charged on student loans and fees. The current rate of over six per cent is completely unacceptable when the base rate is so low. This seems to be completely unreasonable and very unfair so let’s get it changed. This would send a strong signal to youngsters that we’re all in this together and by working together we will succeed. After all, the young are vital for Suffolk’s future!

Published in the Bury Free Press July 2020