The Covid decade: Exploring the long-term implications of Covid-19 and how we jump start recovery

How will the pandemic impact our lives in the next decade and how should city makers respond to deliver more equitable places? To open our major 2021 programme, Building recovery: Closing the gap we invited Dr Molly Morgan Jones, Director of Policy at the British Academy to share their wide-ranging research into the Covid decade, exploring the long-term implications of Covid-19 and how we jump start recovery.

The Covid Decade and Shaping the Covid Decade bring together the work of more than 200 social science and humanities experts to help understand the long shadow the pandemic will cast over society and to propose a ground-breaking set of policy responses.

The Covid decade: session video

The challenges

The research team at the British Academy identified a complex web of interrelated factors that make up the likely impacts of Covid. The three headline themes are:

  • Health and wellbeing – impacts have not been felt uniformly. Those in disadvantaged positions are hit hardest making them more susceptible to infection. The answer is not as simple as ethnicity, socio-economic status, poverty, geography or what sector you work in. We need to unpack the interdependency of these factors to understand how to best overcome them.
  • Communities, culture and belonging – this has proved vital during the pandemic. Evidence shows that people living in neighbourhoods which have strong community-led support systems fared much better. Investing in social infrastructure will build the future resilience of neighbourhoods.
  • Knowledge, employment and skills – those living in areas suffering from a lack of long-term investment have been worst hit. The severity of the impact is dependent on location, level of education, type of employment and socio-economic status. Covid has escalated trends that were already there. Future interventions must target these areas to holt further disadvantage.

Policy responses

To address these challenges the research team developed a set of seven policy goals for the public, private and civic society sectors, taking account of three key factors: people, place and timescale. Of the seven, Molly took us through the four most relevant to city makers.

  • Build multi-level governance structures – national, regional and local levels must operate in partnership, with both vertical and lateral collaboration. Is now the time to rebalance the roles and powers of central and local government?
  • Strengthen and expand community-led social infrastructure – we must look closely at the critical role of communities in rebuilding trust and cohesion after the crisis, ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to strengthen trust both within and between different groups and communities. Centres such as colleges, places of worship and sports clubs provide facilities that support community empowerment. These are critical to help meet the wider recovery need for greater economic productivity and resilience.
  • Create a more agile education and training system – this requires rethinking the types of knowledge and skills needed in a new social and economic environment. The emphasis should be on using education and training as a catalyst to develop and enhance our future while making us better prepared for the challenges we could face.
  • Reimagine urban spaces – polls reveal a desire for some to leave London, so policies need to protect against unsustainable urban-to-rural migration and suburban sprawl; urban density is key to this. The evidence shows that high covid infection rates are not directly related to density alone, structural inequalities are a much stronger factor. There is some evidence that maintaining density could be part of the solution and help cities be more resilient if buildings are sustainably and equitably designed.

Discussion and Q&A

Resourcing the change – lack of funding to implement these recommendations is an issue but much can be achieved by embracing new ways of working. Specifically, there is an opportunity to rethink the role of national, regional and local government and how resources can be shared. The evidence clearly demonstrates that it is critical to understand the actors at the hyperlocal level and how to best tap into this.

Investing in future skills – there is a growing consensus that addressing the employment crisis goes well beyond finding jobs to nurturing the broader skills base we’ll need for the future. The key role for the private sector is to deliver more social value through training, apprenticeships and jobs. Further Education colleges could help facilitate connections between education, business and people to create a culture of lifelong learning.

Taking the long view – the long-term impacts of Covid cannot be solved with short-term government grants. It’s time to rethink the system if we’re going to rebuild and recover. A stronger debate around devolution is needed. Activity that sustains the current structural inequalities has to cease.

Addressing inequalities – there is a disproportionate impact of Covid on specific groups for example disabled people, women and young people (see the evidence section in this report, Employment knowledge and skill section). However, both impacts and solutions should not be thought of in terms of a single group. The relationships between groups are important to understand and we must ensure people don’t fall between the gaps.

In summary the socio and economic impacts of Covid will cast a long shadow into the future and be felt very differently by different people. We are looking at a Covid decade. The findings from the research from the British Academy make a clear case for greater understanding of the interdependencies of the impacts, and that solutions must therefore be equally integrated and connected. Working collectively is key.

More information

For more information on FoL’s programme: Building recovery: closing the gap.