Young adults best route out of lockdown, study suggests

Releasing young adults who no longer live with parents could be the best way out of the lockdown in the UK, and could help policymakers balance the health risks associated with COVID-19 and the need to avoid an 'extraordinary recession'. This is among the findings of a paper written by experts at the University of Warwick and Warwick Business School.

Data from the Office of National Statistics and the Annual Population Survey suggest this could allow 4.2 million young adults to resume their daily lives.Of those, 2.6 million work in the private sector and are more likely to lose their jobs or income during a prolonged lockdown. Releasing them to resume work would allow them to fulfil vital roles in the UK’s transport and delivery network, or open small businesses to stimulate the economy, the research suggests.

Preventing half of young private sector workers from losing their jobs could generate an additional £13 billion-a-year for the economy, it adds.

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick, said: “The rationale for lockdown is to save lives in the short to medium term. However, severe damage is being done to the economy, future incomes, unemployment rates, levels of national debt, and the freedoms we enjoy as a modern society. Before long, some balance will have to be struck.”

The study warns that young adults aged 20-30 could become increasingly restless over time and flout the lockdown restrictions, creating a domino effect that undermines public safety.
Though young adults are statistically less likely to die from coronavirus or develop severe symptoms, the researchers calculated that this policy could result in an estimated 630 extra premature deaths. It went on to say the government would have to communicate the rationale for the age restrictions clearly to older adults to minimise resentment and police officers would have to enforce them.

Older adults could be offered hope of resuming normal life in the future through a strategy of staged release, using antibody testing to identify those who had already recovered from coronavirus.

Nick Powdthavee, Professor of Behavioural Economics at Warwick Business School, said: “We support the existing lockdown strategy, but in the future it will be necessary to allow citizens to go back to some kind of normal life. Unless a vaccine is suddenly discovered there are no risk-free or painless ways forward.

“If this policy were enacted, there would still be tragic cases and some pressure on the NHS, but the effects would be far smaller than if the wider population were released. It could allow our society and economy to move forward in the footsteps of the young, while allowing older workers to share the economic rewards by providing supervision, mentoring, and managerial assistance electronically through sources such as Skype, Zoom, and Facetime.”

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