The lockdown public health response to the Covid-19 emergency has no doubt saved countless lives as we all try to deal with this unprecedented pandemic.
However, the unfortunate side-effect of this necessary and urgent action to protect lives is a brewing economic crisis. Though the shape and scale of the ensuing economic downturn is yet to fully reveal itself, a consensus is emerging that it will dwarf the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis.
The spectre of 2008 still looms large in all of our memories. Its legacy can be seen everywhere in our economy, not least in the effects of the brutal Tory austerity imposed on deprived communities in its aftermath.
While the causes of both crises are very different, those who will suffer the most remain the same. Young people will once again be among the first to be caught up in the fallout.
In the so-called recovery since 2008, insecure, exploitative and low-paid employment replaced more stable and better-paid jobs, as businesses sought to get back on their feet with cheaper labour costs. Precarious work and emigration ensued, leaving an insecurity still felt in communities across Ireland.
This time, local economists are predicting that youth unemployment in the North could reach a staggering 25%. Those industries most at risk from the effects of the public health lockdown, namely hospitality, accommodation and tourism, are those where the greatest share of young people work. Some 35% of those working in the hospitality and accommodation sector are aged 18 to 24. These are also the sectors in which work is the least secure and zero hours contracts are most common.
For the second time in just over a decade, young people will bear the brunt of an economic crisis, stifling their potential and setting back their life ambitions.
Currently young people have poorer workers' rights and lower wages than their parents did. As a result, student loans and extortionate mortgages mean a lifetime of debt is now a feature of their personal finances. They will inherit a climate trashed by the powerful and wealthy in an economic system which simply doesn't recognise the value of the natural world.
In short, we need a plan to rebuild the economy, when the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, that seeks to meaningfully address these longstanding grievances of young people while providing secure and long-term employment opportunities.
This crisis has exposed the areas where we will need much of this employment. To enable further remote working and build resilience against Covid-19 we need to expand the digital economy, software development, cyber-security, delivery services, and, crucially, the green economy. This will require investing in digital infrastructure, the skills of young people, and innovation through research funding. Support must be given to young people to reskill and be offered opportunities in new industries.
But more broadly any recovery must be a Just Transition to a fairer, greener, and safer economy, which gives young people a brighter future to look forward to. It must provide them with the affordable housing, clean environment, physical and mental health services, and public transport they deserve. Young people cannot be made expendable for the second crisis in their lifetime. This crisis is the opportunity to build a fairer society for future generations.
Caoimhe Archibald is Sinn Fein MLA for East Londonderry and the Chairperson of the Economy Committee