COVID-19: responses in a rapidly changing society


The COVID-19 virus is changing the way we live our lives, and our society and economy is having to adapt. From the closure of schools and the changes to assessment to the role of civil society and the effects on workers, our research can help to make sense of some of these changes. In the coming weeks, to explore these issues and share our insights, WISERD will be publishing a series of blog posts. 

WISERD has built up considerable expertise in research on civil society. Our previous ESRC-funded civil society research centre provided an opportunity to look at volunteering, the voluntary sector’s role in providing social care, ageing and the participation of older people in civil society, the foundational economy, labour markets and the role of trade unions. This work continues as part of our new ESRC-funded centre ‘Changing Perspectives on Civic Stratification and Civil Repair’. WISERD’s extensive research into education, particularly in relation to children’s welfare and educational inequality, will also offer new insight in a context of school closures and teacher assessment.

NHS England’s recent call for volunteers to help protect those most at risk from COVID-19 saw over 750,000 people sign up online within days. WISERD research has examined the ways in which the voluntary sector is increasingly involved in the development and delivery of social care as well as looking at the factors which determine people’s likelihood to volunteer in health and social care in England and Wales.

The government response to limit the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic shock to the UK labour market, with unprecedented changes in the pattern of demand across industries and a particularly dramatic shift towards homeworking. Despite large-scale policy intervention in the labour market aimed to reduce layoffs, the impact of the pandemic is unlikely to be felt equally across workers.

WISERD’s research on labour market inequality has previously established the scale of disadvantage faced by protected groups including in relation to employment and pay, and has traced how this varies across regions and time, such as in response to equality legislation and the economic cycle. Our future work will now be important in identifying and understanding the differential short and long-term effects of the pandemic between groups of workers such as those defined by gender, education, age, race, disability or region, and informing a targeted policy response to support those most affected.

Trade unions have been acting to defend workers’ rights in this precarious economic situation which sees many working on the frontline. WISERD research has analysed the response of unions to the changing world of work and our new civil society research looks at the gig economy, an area where many workers are now particularly vulnerable, both physically and financially.

Covid-19 is having a significant impact on the UK housing sector, leaving many of the most vulnerable people in society facing considerable uncertainty. Our researchers work with the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. Follow their blog for updates on the key housing issues raised by the pandemic.

With schools across the UK closed and exams cancelled, WISERD researchers will share their thoughts on the impact that school closures will have on children and young people’s academic progress, their welfare and educational inequalities. Drawing on recent analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study data they will explore the role that teacher bias could have in pupil assessments. Civil society research looking at youth unemployment in the devolved nations will now take place against a shift in political rhetoric around social security and a vastly different economic context.

Our foundational economy work envisages how things could be different in a post-COVID-19 world. The foundational economy is that part of the economy which produces essential goods and services consumed by all, regardless of income and status. This crisis has highlighted the vulnerabilities in our current economic model and raised awareness of the key parts of our economy and society that cannot be allowed to stop – those jobs being carried out by ‘key workers’. This part of the economy is well suited to developing new models of co-production for the design and delivery of public services such as education, care for the elderly and housing, where local authorities can work with civil society.

Taking this different approach to areas of our lives, such as the provision of food in schools and social care, requires politicians to leave behind the austerity agenda and instead tap into the power of purchase in more strategic and transformational ways to promote public health, social justice and ecological integrity. A recent paper, ‘What Comes after the Pandemic?’, produced by the Foundational Economy Collective, which is working with the WISERD Foundational Economy Network, challenges mainstream ideas about what economic policy should be and details a ten-point platform for renewal.

At Aberystwyth University WISERD researchers have been working in partnership with the Welsh Local Government Association on the ROBUST project. Considering rural – urban connections and with a focus on sustainable food, infrastructures, and culture, these themes have become all the more important in the COVID-19 crisis. With global supply chains experiencing massive disruptions, those processes which carry food into, out of, and across Wales have been heavily impacted.  Their research is therefore tracking emerging local responses, from village shops shifting to online delivery to guerrilla gardeners planting community crops.

Internationally our research will need to adapt to the changing global context. Professor W. John Morgan, Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, is looking at the humanitarian impact of the pandemic as part of his research into the role of international bodies, such as UNESCO, in supporting co-operation for the common good.

WISERD researchers on the Horizon 2020 IMAJINE project are adapting their research on territorial inequalities and spatial justice to examine questions around the crisis, including whether inequalities in healthcare provision contribute to the impact of COVID-19, perceptions of spatial justice in responses to the pandemic, and issues of multi-level governance in managing the crisis. They are also drawing on their analysis of the uneven impacts of the 2008 economic crisis and evaluation of the effectiveness of EU cohesion policies to consider how governments can best respond to regional inequalities in the economic impact of the current crisis.

To follow the blog series visit our website regularly or follow us on Twitter @WISERDNews


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