Social costs of the pandemic will be felt for a decade

New analysis reveals gaps in public-policy making that must be addressed to tackle societal impacts
27/03: A couple are enjoying their one hour per day permitted lock down outing. Credit: LSHTM

Society will continue to feel the impacts of COVID-19 for a decade or more without an urgent public policy overhaul, warns an independent research report.

The report forecasts that significant intervention will be needed to avoid an acceleration towards poorer health, social and economic outcomes, and a more extreme pattern of inequality.

It was published by the British Academy, with a ‘deep dive’ of evidence contributed by Dr Alex Mold, Professor Virginia Berridge and Dr Suzanne Taylor of the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The team convened and engaged with over 200 academics, practitioners and policy specialists from across the humanities and social sciences, and drew together insights from civil society, communities and policymakers.

The interconnected trends highlighted included lack of trust in the government, widening geographic inequalities, worsening social development and mental health and access to education at all levels.

An accompanying policy analysis argues that these societal impacts have exposed several gaps in public policy-making that the Government now has the opportunity to address. The researchers suggest resolving tensions between local and central governance, strengthening and expanding community-led social infrastructure, improving the flow of knowledge and information between all levels of government, and empowering businesses and civic, educational and social institutions to act with a shared sense of social purpose.

Virginia Berridge, Professor of History and Health Policy at LSHTM, said: “There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound impact on society.  This report, which drew on insights from the social sciences and humanities is especially valuable for it its incorporation of history.  There is no way forward which does not build on the history of past health crises, how they were responded to, what changed, what did not, and why.”

Professor Dominic Abrams FBA, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent and lead author of the reports, said: “The evidence provides us with a vital insight into the immense social impact of COVID-19 and the substantial challenges we must address in the coming decade.

“There are multiple forms of inequality that create personal and societal obstacles to progress. Finding ways to create greater inclusiveness, tackle underlying mechanisms of inequality, and create the resourcefulness to share a better future will be our biggest challenge during this ‘COVID decade’.

“The COVID decade will also be profoundly shaped by policy decisions, and this offers us many opportunities. Government will need to establish a longer-term vision to tackle the impacts of COVID-19. This will involve working in partnership with places and people to address structural problems systematically, not just in a piecemeal way.”

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive of the British Academy, said: “A year from the start of the first lockdown, we all want this to be over. However, in truth, we are at the beginning of a COVID decade. Policymakers must look beyond the immediate health crisis to repair the profound social damage wrought by the pandemic.

“This means looking across education, employment, welfare, urban planning, community support and digital policies. It will require investing in civil society and our social infrastructure to strengthen our local communities, especially in our most deprived areas. We also need a more joined-up policy approach across government departments focusing on supporting children and young people whose lives have been so blighted by the pandemic.   

“Science has given us the vaccine to respond to the health crisis, but we will need social science and the humanities to meet the social, cultural and economic crises we face in the COVID decade.”



Evidence review:

The COVID Decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19. The British Academy

Policy report:

Shaping the COVID decade: addressing the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19. The British Academy


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