There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected different generations in different ways. While the virus itself has disproportionately targeted the elderly, the cost of the pandemic as a whole has arguably been borne more heavily by young, especially less advantaged young people.
This is certainly the view of Nick Maughan, a British investor and philanthropist whose charity–The Nick Maughan Foundation, or ‘NMF’–was founded in the middle of 2020 “to further a range of philanthropic initiatives in education, the environment and civic support schemes for disenfranchised communities”. High on the foundation’s list of priorities is the daunting task of combatting the educational attainment gap between more and less advantaged young people, which Maughan contends has been gravely exacerbated over the course of the last eighteen months.
The NMF founder put it starkly when writing in the UK’s influential Conservative Home website in February of this year, stating that “all young people have been dealt a bad hand by the indirect effects of the pandemic: school closures, disrupted social lives, stifled educations, scuppered paths to university, the looming prospect of insurmountable debt, and diminished prospects for gainful employment. However, some young people are more equal than others.”
This month, the foundation launched its flagship Boxwise programme across the UK. Centred around boxing classes, the 13-week programme which helps vulnerable young people build confidence, improve their physical and mental health & wellbeing before offering upskilling programmes and routes to further education and employment after courses are successfully completed.
Since April Boxwise has opened across five London sites and this month will see venues rollout nationwide including in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, as well as disability boxing centres in Sheffield and Wales. Over 100 young people have already graduated from its 13-week programme. The organization sees itself doubling this number of graduates by October and hopes to continue its fast growth across the country.
Such initiatives are timely in the UK, where youth gang violence is at an all-time high. Richard Ogden, who co-founded Boxwise with Maughan, argues that the lockdown provided a false reading in terms of violent crime reduction. Indeed, within London alone, there has been an exponential rise in gang related murders since April 2020, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
On a national scale, the impact of “County Lines” drug trafficking, the practice of trafficking drugs into smaller towns away from major cities, continues to wreak havoc across small rural communities. Traffickers are known to recruit vulnerable children, including children in pupil referral units who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers.
One of NMF’s principal goals is to help in part fill the gap left by youth work budgets that have been severely cut–to the tune of £500 million–over the course of the past decade, leaving many disadvantaged young people vulnerable to dangerous distractions, with no safe haven through which to develop their skills and talents outside of the classroom.
It is also committed to responding to the large rise in the requests for provision of mental health services for young people since the lockdown was implemented. Young Minds, a charity combatting mental health issues in young people, produced multiple surveys over the course of the pandemic looking into the impact of lockdowns. They found that the last eighteen months have had a devastating impact on many of the young people they heard from – with many reporting they incurred deep anxiety, have started self-harming, are having panic attacks, or are losing motivation and hope for the future.
Amongst 2,438 young people aged 13-25 who were surveyed earlier this year, 67% believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health, while 79% of respondents agreed that their mental health would start to improve when most restrictions were lifted. Such respondents are the type of demographic that NMF is trying to reach through Boxwise – those young people who will benefit most from enhanced social contact, physical activity and economic opportunities after a miserable eighteen months.
For Maughan the question of tackling youth inequality now is also a matter of investing in the future, or else face the consequences of a lost generation – what he has termed ‘generation Covid’ – in the decades to come.