How are young adults being supported during COVID-19 and beyond? A global scan of policy responses

This research scan explores how governments around the world have tried to mitigate the pandemic’s negative repercussions on young adults, typically aged 18-25. Relevant policies were collected by contributors to the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) and the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), who surveyed 191 countries and found relevant policies in 23 countries

Introduction

Recent studies on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic show that young adults (18-30 years old) have a higher prevalence of distress, anxiety, and depression compared with all other adult groups (Cao et al., 2020; Huang and Zhao, 2020; Qui et al., 2020; Rossi et al., 2020). As young adults’ identity development process hinges on continuous investment in social and extra-familial relationships more than other adult cohorts, measures such as school closures, curfews and lockdowns have significant negative effects on their individual and social development (Sica et al., 2018; Parola et al., 2020).

The pandemic has had an even more negative effect on young adults with special healthcare needs (Alonzi et al., 2020; Košir et al., 2020). Young adults suffering from physical conditions for example, chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis reported significant negative changes in the way they could manage the disease, with frequent cancelled or postponed visits or exams and modified or postponed pharmacological treatment (Donisi et al., 2021). Other studies have highlighted the negative effects of the pandemic on young adults with a mental and/or physical disability, with more than 90% of respondents reporting a negative impact on their mental health (Theis et al., 2021).

Moreover, studies focusing on other potential effects of the pandemic on young adults have found they have faced significant disruption of their daily lives, which for some has meant having to put their lifeplans on hold, while others feel like they have been pushed through life stages more rapidly due to the pandemic (Delbosc & McCarthy, 2021).

Governments have tried to address the adverse effects of the pandemic on young adults by focusing on different policy areas most notably education, mental health and wellbeing, job/income support, community engagement, adult social care and healthcare. (The wealth of education policies implemented by governments over the course of the pandemic has been covered in a previous research scan by OxCGRT and INGSA, so is not discussed here.)

  • Regarding mental health and wellbeing, governments have tried to mitigate the effects of lockdown measures by instituting mental health platforms, publishing guidance for those struggling to cope with restrictive measures, and expanding existing forms of mental health support, such as counselling and phone helplines.
  • Regarding adult social care, in their COVID-19 response plan, the Welsh government has identified a support gap for young carers (16-18), and has tried to enhance their ability to carry out their caring duties by supplying laptops with unlimited data plans.
  • Notably, unlike most countries, China has classified young adults as a priority category for COVID-19 vaccination because of their high degree of mobility increasing the possibility of infection and diffusion.
  • Other governments have focused on trying to reduce the effects of the economic fallout caused by the pandemic through the provision of various forms of job and income support, including creating or expanding existing programmes aimed at helping the transition from education to the job market and providing non-formal education and skills training. Some have tried to engage youth organisations and young adults.
  • Some countries have opted for comprehensive plans to address several issues at the same time, including initiatives for education, employment and mental health. Several of the described policies see national or local governments acting in partnership with supranational, multilateral organisations such as the World Bank.

Multi-faceted policy plans

In Egypt, Plan International Egypt’s COVID-19 response plan not only aims to prevent the spread of the virus but also to address the emotional, social and economic impacts of it. Their efforts will focus on vulnerable girls and young women while supporting community youth-led initiatives that address the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, they will engage with young people, especially women, in their planning processes and collaborate with the Ministry of Youth to provide digital platforms for young people to share their experiences and learnings.

In New Zealand, the Youth Plan (2) focuses on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 among Maori, Pacific, LGBTQ and disabled youth aged 17-24. The plan addresses young adults’ wellbeing, creates a safe digital environment, promotes healthy relationships, enables more access to mental health services, and allows young people to lead their own initiatives in their local community.

In Pakistan, Unicef and the Punjab Skills Development Fund (PSDF), a fund set up by the government of Punjab, developed a Non-Formal Education to Job Placement programme in order to assist young adults aged 10-19 who do not have access to formal education. This programme helps those young adults by providing them with literacy, numerical and entrepreneurial skills as well as assisting them to enter the labour market.

In Vietnam, the National Assembly passed the Youth Law which prioritises education, employment, entrepreneurship, healthcare and sports for minority youth. The policy also gives a priority to ethnic minorities employed by the government to receive training, leadership positions and management planning.

In Myanmar, the National Strategic Plan for Youth Policy’s goals are to get young adults involved in the development of Myanmar and to help them through COVID-19. However, the current status of the plan is unknown given the military coup that took place a little over a month after the plan’s launch in December 2020.

Community engagement and governance

In Senegal, the COVID-19 youth engagement initiative promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was launched through various groups of young agricultural entrepreneurs across the country and through the national youth council, Conseil National de la Jeunesse du Sénégal (CNJS). The CNJS invited rural youth to participate in policymaking by sharing their experiences and expectations through a variety of channels.

In Slovenia, the Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth has conducted online surveys (2) on the activities run by Slovenian youth organisations to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis and to monitor developments in the digital youth work sector.

In the United Kingdom, the government has instituted a £16 million Youth COVID-19 Support Fund which is open to grassroots youth clubs, uniformed youth groups and national umbrella organisations. The fund aims to mitigate the impact of lost income during the winter period due to the pandemic, and ensure services providing vital support can remain open.

Job/income support

In the Bahamas, the Parliament announced it will expand the Accelerate Youth Apprenticeship Programme to include additional opportunities for young Bahamians and provide training in the construction sector aimed at supporting local reconstruction.

In Ethiopia, on 30 September 2020, it was reported that the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank had approved US$400 million to assist the Government of Ethiopia in its effort to improve the income of urban youth under the Urban Productive Safety Nets and Jobs Project. The project is designed to strengthen employment services by providing support to an apprenticeship programme, among others.

In Gambia, Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC), in partnership with the European Union-funded Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), launched the KMC Mayor GMD1 Million Challenge to support young innovative entrepreneurs with smart and effective solutions to help address the challenges caused by COVID-19.

In Nepal, the government worked with the World Bank by injecting $120 million to offer employment opportunities for poor and vulnerable youth in Nepal. This project, called Youth Employment Transformation Initiative, aimed to employ more than 75,000 young adults in 2020.

In Nigeria, the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (approved by the Federal Executive Council on 24 June 2020) had a ₦50bn (US$1.2bn) budget for direct labour in National Infrastructure Projects to create jobs for youths in relevant priority sectors.

In New Zealand, the government approved $14.7 million (US$10.7m) to finance organisations providing education, skills training, pre-employment and jobs pathway projects for young adults from vulnerable communities as a response to the impact of COVID-19.

In Papua New Guinea, the government borrowed US$35 million from the World Bank to launch the Second Urban Youth Employment Project for Papua New Guinea. This project aims to provide basic skills and job training to young people.

In South Africa, the government expanded the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), a measure aimed at employing young adults (aged 18-24) by reducing the amount of taxes paid by employers. The incentive was expanded to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on the job market.

In the United Kingdom, the government provided extra funding to expand its traineeship scheme to help young people (aged 16-24) into work.

Mental health and wellbeing

In Bermuda, Mental health guidance (2) was published on the Government of Bermuda website which highlights the significance of mental health and the ways to manage challenges for different age groups under the current COVID-19 restrictions.  Moreover, an emotional wellbeing hotline was launched in an effort to support and reduce the stress among adults and children due to COVID-19.

In Chile, the Ministry of Health launched the government programme ‘SaludableMente’: a web network where people can access guidance, support and tools to face the pandemic and strengthen their mental health. In addition to information for the general population, there are eight target groups including children and young adults. There are conventional COVID-19 protection resources and strategies for keeping active and busy during lockdown conditions (i.e., guidebooks for self-care), while young adults can also directly contact mental health professionals.

In Finland, the government expanded its programme to provide low-threshold psychosocial support through one‑stop youth centres (Ohjaamo).

In France, the government has increased the capacity of integrated mental health and education support available to university students, and is accelerating the rollout of mental health first-aid programmes in universities.

In Guam, the government published resources and tools designed for young adults to keep them healthy during COVID-19 as they venture out, including (but not limited to) symptoms of coronavirus, social distancing, personal and social activities, and so on.

In Kazakhstan, the National Centre for Mental Health at the Ministry of Health and Unicef launched an online mental health platform. This platform enabled people to seek online counselling services, and one of the target demographics included adolescents.

Healthcare

In China, the government has indicated young adults and university students as a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination, in light of their high mobility and thus higher likelihood of transporting and spreading the virus (1, 2, 3).

Adult social care

In Wales, the government identified a gap in support offered to young carers (aged 16-18) during the early stages of the pandemic. To help young carers carry out their responsibilities, the Welsh government supplied 440 Chromebooks with unlimited data plans.

Education policy highlights

In Afghanistan, due to the school closures starting on 14 March 2020, the Ministry of Education launched a plan for youth and adult literacy (2). This plan allows youth and adults to learn via the government’s website, YouTube, TV, radio, and small group lessons. A month after its implementation, the programme had reached more than 70% of provinces and been accessed by more than 39,000 individuals.

In Canada, the federal government has introduced changes to the Canada student grants and loans to support students facing financial strain under COVID-19. The measures include doubling the Canada student grants amounts, exemption from the fixed student and spousal contributions, and increasing the cap on student loans. As of April 2021, the government has also suspended the accumulation of interest on student loans until 31 March 2022.

In Denmark, the Parliament plans to set aside 600 million kroner on wellbeing for children and young people affected by lockdown and school closures. Most policies contained in the plan focus on interventions to be carried out within a school environment, such as extra classes, special wellbeing schemes, and mentoring. Each school has the possibility of deciding which actions to take and in what capacity.

In England, under the Get Help With Technology programme, government-funded support is available for schools and colleges to get set up on one of two free-to-use digital education platforms: G Suite for Education (Google Classroom) or Office 365 Education (Microsoft Teams). Moreover, students affected by the pandemic can apply for internet access support through increased data for mobile phones or 4G wireless routers.

In India, the government launched New Education Policy (2), which plans to increase university enrolment from 26.3% (2018) to 50% (2035). This policy also allows higher education institutions to engage in remote learning and Ivy League universities to open branches in India.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education set up a new website for online education resources and guidance called Learning from Home, which provides fundamental schooling at home. In addition, the new ClassroomNZ2020 (2, 3, 4) online learning platform offers schools and students optional access to additional online courses developed by Te Kura, a state-funded distance education provider. While they do not replace online teaching done by schools, they ensure that every student in New Zealand has access to an entirely remote curriculum.

In South Korea, students have received free mobile data access to education websites through a zero-rating policy in cooperation with the three major communications companies (KT, LG, and SK). Also, to fully support students from low-income families, the government installed Internet service at their homes and provided a monthly subsidy of US$17 for internet fees (1).

Finally, in Sri Lanka, free and concessionary access packages for platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams were provided to schools and students via internet service providers. Servers associated with Learning Management Systems were zero-rated by order of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to ensure free access. New servers were created to host educational content related to studies (1).

Authors of this global scan

Martina Di Folco, Naomi Simon-Kumar, Toby Phillips, Tatjana Buklijas, Sakina Bano Mendha, Tiwalade Ighomuaye, Akhila K Jayaram, Jiayi Li, Caitlin Sarro, Anthony Sudarmawan, Zijia Tan, Shubo Zhang, Yuxi Zhang, Ziqi Zhou.

Summary of policies

Country Summary
Afghanistan Continuing literacy and non-formal education through electronic and social media
Bahamas Expansion of apprenticeship scheme in the construction sector
Bermuda Dedicated mental health guidance and institution of hotline for children and young adults to help them cope with the Covid-19 crisis
Canada Changes to student grants and loans
Chile Government programme to support the mental health and wellbeing of students
China Young adults as a priority group for COVID-19 vaccines
Denmark 600 million kroner for school-based initiatives to aid well-being in students (i.e., extra classes, mentoring)
Egypt, Arab Rep. Comprehensive plan to address to socioeconomic effects of COVID-19 on youth, particularly women
Ethiopia US $400 million for the Urban Productive Safety Nets and Jobs Project 
Finland Provide low-threshold psychosocial support for young people
France Mental health and education support to university students
Gambia Challenge Fund for young entrepreneurs
India New Education Policy aims to send 50% of young adults (18-21 years old) to college by the 2030s
Kazakhstan Online mental health platform launched by National Centre for Mental Health of the Ministry of Healthcare and Unicef
Myanmar National plan to involve young people in Myanmar’s development and help them get through the COVID-19 crisis 
Nepal $120 million initiative to provide employment for poor and vulnerable young people
New Zealand The Youth Plan helps marginalised youth in their response to COVID-19, including Learning from home and ClassroomNZ2020 platforms, and $14.7m for employment and training
Nigeria Creating jobs for young people in priority sectors
Pakistan Programme to assist young people aged 10-19 who have no access to formal education with training and job placements
Papua New Guinea $35 million employment plan to provide basic skills and job training for youth
Senegal Engaging young people in policymaking through digital communication
Slovenia Online surveys on the activities run by Slovenian youth organisations
South Africa Expansion of tax benefits for employers who employ young adults (18-29 years)
South Korea Government partnership with private telecommunications companies; funding for low-income students
Sri Lanka Partnership with internet providers to provide free access to remote learning packages; Learning Management Systems servers zero-rated, new servers set up
United Kingdom £16.5 million Youth COVID-19 Support Fund; Get Help with Technology programme; Chromebooks for young carers (Wales)
Vietnam Comprehensive policy plan addressing education, employment, entrepreneurship, healthcare and sports for minority youth