British Academy, The COVID decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 – open access report

British Academy, The COVID decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 – open access report

The British Academy was asked by the Government Office for Science to produce an independent review on the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19. This report outlines the evidence across a range of areas, building upon a series of expert reviews, engagement, synthesis and analysis across the research community in the Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts (SHAPE). It is accompanied by a separate report, Shaping the COVID decade, which considers how policymakers might respond. History shows that pandemics and other crises can be catalysts to rebuild society in new ways, but that this requires vision and interconnectivity between policymakers at local, regional and national levels.

With the advent of vaccines and the imminent ending of lockdowns, we might think that the impact of COVID-19 is coming to an end. This would be wrong. We are in a COVID decade: the social, economic and cultural effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow into the future – perhaps longer than a decade – and the sooner we begin to understand, the better placed we will be to address them.

There are of course many impacts which flowed from lockdowns, including not being able to see family and friends, travel or take part in leisure activities. These should ease quickly as lockdown comes to an end. But there are a set of deeper impacts on health and wellbeing, communities and cohesion, and skills, employment and the economy which will have profound effects upon the UK for many years to come. In sum, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and differences and created new ones, as well as exposing critical societal needs and strengths. These can emerge differently across places, and along different time courses, for individuals, communities, regions, nations and the UK as a whole.

We organised the evidence into three areas of societal effect. As we gathered evidence in these three areas, we continually assessed it according to five cross-cutting themes – governance, inequalities, cohesion, trust and sustainability – which the reader will find reflected across the chapters. Throughout the process of collating and assessing the evidence, the dimensions of place (physical and social context, locality), scale (individual, community, regional, national) and time (past, present, future; short, medium and longer term) played a significant role in assessing the nature of the societal impacts and how they might play out, altering their long-term effects. The three societal areas we chose to help structure our evidence collection and, ultimately, this report were:

Health and wellbeing – covering physical and mental health (including young people and work), wellbeing, and the environment we live in

Communities, culture and belonging – covering communities and civil society, cities and towns, family and kinship, and arts, media, culture, heritage and sport

Knowledge, employment and skills – covering education (compulsory and tertiary), skills, knowledge and research, and work and employment

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