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Sep 10, 2020 | by Joanne Smithson

How can we protect the wellbeing of those most affected by Covid-19?

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Sign up to receive this special focus eight-email series on wellbeing, inequalities, and Covid-19 . Takes 30 seconds and you get one email a week, for eight weeks, packed with evidence-informed insight and resources you can use now. register here


Although the whole of the UK has been affected by Covid-19 and its social and economic consequences, it is clear that the impact has been different for different people. This means that more than ever, we need think about how to  ‘build back’ in a way that maximises wellbeing. 

If a policy helps people to thrive, it’s a success. Local and national decision makers need to look at how and why the drivers of wellbeing/misery might have been compounded or improved for some people. 

The OECD has already identified three ways in which wellbeing can inform recovery planning:

  1. Identify pre-existing vulnerabilities to target support, especially socioeconomic disadvantage.
  2. Highlight areas not previously on the government’s radar.
  3. Build resilience in systems, including social capital and trust.

At the Centre for What Works Wellbeing, we have been collecting and analysing evidence on how different individuals and groups have been affected, and changes that have occurred in all areas of our wellbeing. 

As well as the health risks posed by the disease itself, we have also looked at other physical and mental health outcomes arising from the response to the pandemic, changes to economic circumstances, and changes to social and environmental factors that have manifested over the past few months. It includes evidence that draws on official statistics, as well as insights from experts.  

We have put the main findings into an eight-week evidence email series that can help inform a wellbeing approach to Covid recovery policies and practices. Areas of inequality that we cover include relationships, ethnicity, mental health, gender, disability, families, young people and jobs. 

Each week we will share insights, based on the evidence, into what is needed for recovery plans in order to put wellbeing at the heart of the response.

Key findings

Insights from the evidence series so far include:

  • Not having the quantity and quality of relationships that we would want can directly affect our wellbeing, but people that are lonely also share many characteristics also associated with low wellbeing. This includes poor health and being unemployed, and this compounds the negative wellbeing impacts they may have experienced. To ensure recovery activity effectively targets loneliness reduction, evidence identifies three key areas: 
    • Invest in supporting relationships.
    • Provide the means and opportunity for people to leave damaging or toxic relationships.
    • Target the most at-risk groups.
  • The social and economic impacts of Covid-19 have had a disproportionate impact on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. In addition to the increased risk from the virus itself, people from ethnic minorities have been more affected by job losses and associated financial impacts, compounding existing economic inequalities. We know that the amount of income and wealth we have matters for our wellbeing, but it also matters how much we have compared to others. So where the economic gap widens, our wellbeing is affected even more. 
  • There is an overlap in risk profiles that could entrench misery. People most at risk of worsening mental health are likely to have a similar profile to those at risk of the physical health impacts from catching the virus and the economic and social impacts from job losses and social distancing measures. These compounding factors exacerbate the wellbeing inequalities already apparent in the UK. A wellbeing based recovery focuses on: 
    • Supporting and restoring access to mental health services. 
    • Nurturing the positive impacts on mental health that have resulted from changes to our way of life, such as the increase in exercise, sleep and visits to green spaces.
    • Building connective infrastructure. 

Putting wellbeing at the heart of the recovery

MP Debbie Abrahams, Chair of the APPG Compassion in Politics reflected last month that:

“We need new priorities, new ambitions, and new ways of being and that has to come from the Government as much as it has already emerged from the people. I believe now is the moment when public health, wellbeing, and happiness can be made the priority in government decision-making”.

There is an opportunity now to draw on the growing body of evidence of what works to improve our wellbeing. We can use this evidence to respond to the challenges that lie ahead, while being clear about what a good life looks like, for us all.  As Alan Higgins, Head of Programme for Liverpool City Region at Public Health England North West says: 

“Right now, when policy is being developed quickly to respond to changing situations and changing appetite for action, it is important, more than ever, to have access to condensed and trusted summaries of the evidence base for interventions on wellbeing.  This series from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing provides that evidence supported with graphics to help present the information and links to develop it further.”

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