The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK Government's official source of information, reveals that the COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing restrictions have had the biggest impact on young people between the ages 16-24-years-old. The April 2021 ONS report "Mapping loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic" comes to confirm what community-based UK programmes such as the youth-led "You are Not Alone" project have been saying all along.

Young people are at risk not only by COVID-19

Qualitative and quantitative data that we have been collecting through the project that the FRED youth-led campaign has been running since April 2020 in London show that children and young people have been severely impacted by the lockdown.

The "You are Not Alone" project set up and run by young people from across the UK collected data which reveal increased levels of loneliness by 500% compared to previous years, while over 70% of those calling the project's helpline indicated worrying levels of anxiety, stress and depression. 23% of the young people calling the helpline also indicated intentions of self-harming. Alcohol and drug abuse were also common.

It is now confirmed by the ONS statistics and the RJ4All International Institute, which hosts the FRED youth-led campaign, that the youth groups that are impacted the most by the pandemic and its implications on mental health are those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, black and minority ethnic communities as well as those out of education and employment.

COVID-19 discriminates

Last year, appearing on BBC News, Baroness Doreen Lawrence pointed out that COVID-19 has thrived on racial discrimination. Her warnings were later confirmed by government statistics that showed that black and minority ethnic groups in the UK are more likely to be affected and die by the virus, while there is less engagement and low awareness among these communities.

As the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) continue to collect their data on COVID-19's discriminatory impacts, we must act now to avoid further disadvantage and poverty.

Tailored and user-led poverty relief programmes

Evidence that I have been collecting over 10 years of community action shows that it is more likely for marginalised communities to trust and get engaged with health and other poverty relief programmes if these are run by their own people.

For example, the success of the youth-led You are Not Alone project is down to the fact that it was conceived and run by young people who were suffering themselves from the impacts of the pandemic. Using mediums that young people can relate to including social media such as YouTube and Facebook as well as chat rooms and mobile applications, the youth-led project appeared in the local press and supported over 2000 individuals from London.

The coronavirus crisis will leave a lasting mark on the UK government and us as parents, educators, public servants and community leaders.

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