8 July 2021

How businesses can help build a more resilient generation

By Lord Bird and David Harrison 

Covid-19 has split the country by age. While older generations have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s health effects, they were better prepared to weather the economic storm. On the other hand, younger generations face an uncertain economic outlook with potentially long-lasting changes in the jobs market and an enormous amount of personal debt.

But the pandemic didn’t create these conditions, it simply brought change forwards and magnified how economic exclusion has impacted young people since the financial crash. Personal financial education is largely absent in schools and a decline in property ownership and savings means younger generations are ill prepared to withstand economic headwinds. 

The current state of affairs is a reflection of our collective failure to equip younger generations with the tools they need to be anti-fragile – in other words, to gain an advantage as conditions around them change. A collective shift in approach and new thinking across all facets of society will now be essential to improve the outcomes of our younger generations.

Politicians can help drive this shift in approach. The Future Generations Bill currently being passed in the Lords requires public bodies to act in a manner which ensures that the needs of the present are met without compromising future generations. As we deal with the huge debt burden, the bill will ensure measures to reduce it will not disproportionately come at the expense of our children.

But businesses have a vital part to play too – governments can’t, and in many cases shouldn’t, plug all the gaps that exist in the economy. That’s why the Bill also requires companies to consider the impact of their activities on the UK’s well-being – whether that be cultural, social or economic. Businesses and social enterprises not only have a vested interest in protecting the future prospects of younger generations, but also the tools to make meaningful change. A good example of this is the partnership between David’s company, True Potential, the Open University and the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility. Together they provide free online practical financial education courses, taken by over 500,000 people in the UK, while also creating practical job opportunities.

Politicians can provide the direction we need, but when businesses and social enterprises can, and should, do more to play their part. Between us, we have the expertise, resources and presence across this country to tackle financial exclusion by offering a different approach to education and practical experience. For instance, the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility and Big Issue recently teamed up to create a pathway to work for disadvantaged young people who had fallen out of mainstream education. Students took part in the Harrison Prize practical workshops, designed to encourage them to apply technology to an array of different tech problems, with all participants being given the opportunity to gain real-life paid work experience at True Potential. 

It’s an approach that works. Over 90% of students attending the Harrison Centre progress into jobs or further education once they leave. 

The Government has spent huge amounts of money alleviating this crisis, but now the key is preventing another one for our younger people in the years ahead. Safeguarding future generations by equipping them with the right tools to be resilient is undoubtedly in the interest of politicians, businesses and civil society – we all have an interest in achieving it. 

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Lord Bird is co-founder of The Big Issue and David Harrison is Chairman of True Potential, one of the UK's largest wealth management firms.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.