Jul 8, 2020 | by Deborah Hardoon

Wellbeing at the heart of Covid recovery

What impact has the pandemic and associated lockdown had on people’s wellbeing? What is necessary to protect the wellbeing of those most affected? What does ‘good’ look like for the UK’s future?

These were the questions considered by parliamentarians at an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting held last week

The group for Compassion in Politics held this meeting at a pivotal time for recovery thinking and planning in the UK. It was the same day that the Prime Minister announced a ‘new deal’ putting jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the economic growth strategy and a few days before some businesses in the hospitality industry reopened in England with new Covid safe practices in place. 

Covid has highlighted the UK’s wellbeing and inequality issues

The Covid Social Study, a UCL survey led by Dr Daisy Fancourt of over 70,000 participants, shows that:

  • Mental health and loneliness appears worse than before Covid-19 with young adults, people from low income households, people with mental illness and people from Black, Asian heritage and minority ethnicity groups disproportionately at risk.
  • People who were already in lower socioeconomic brackets are more likely to face adverse experiences, including losing a job, having problems accessing food and being unable to pay bills. They are also more likely to worry about the risk of these adversities, with worry having the same negative effect on mental health as the actual experience.
  • Compliance with government guidelines is directly related to mental health – While mental health clearly matters in and of itself, the study found that looking after people’s mental health is fundamental to the successful management of the pandemic too.

The response so far: policies and behaviours highlighting the importance of wellbeing

The past few months have raised awareness and appreciation of the importance of social solidarity and sense of community and mental health as being critical aspects of our wellbeing, according to Lord Professor Richard Layard. Using existing tools of government decision making – and identifying wellbeing as the ultimate goal – could lead to greater investments in crucial social infrastructure.

Businesses have recognised how important employee wellbeing is for their survival, many increasing their activities in this area in the past few months, shares Louise Aston, from Business in the Community

There has been an agility and adaptability of communities and charities in response to the virus and the lockdown, particularly at the very local level, highlights Dawn Austwick, CEO of the National Lottery Community Fund. It is a reminder that communities – and belonging to communities – have an intrinsic wellbeing value in their own right, beyond what they do to provide services and support to people.

What we need now: wellbeing at the heart of the recovery

The OECD has identified three ways 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, for example: isolation.
  3. Build resilience in systems, including social capital and trust.

Professor Michael Marmot – author of the landmark 2010 Marmot Review, and the recently updated version – goes on to identify five areas to focus on for a wellbeing-centred recovery:

  1. Invest in early child development and education – because the effects of children not being in school will have large and long last effects, particularly on the most vulnerable children. 
  2. Improve working conditions – particularly for the drivers, delivery people, cashiers, frontliners, social carers that all our lives depend upon.
  3. Have proper job security and training systems – we know that having a job is vital to our wellbeing, over and above the income that work generates.
  4. Secure income – a minimum wage that is sufficient for people to live off.
  5. Secure healthy and sustainable places to live and work – particularly as more people work from home changing the way that we think about public space, our homes, city centres, and how to bring people together.

Parliamentarians discussing how wellbeing can be core to policy making is not new. Last year, the APPG for Wellbeing Economics highlighted what a wellbeing approach would look like with respect to children, business and spending priorities as well as what we can learn from how it is already being done

What is new is the speed at which profound and radical changes have been made to the way we live. These expose new vulnerabilities, as well as new possibilities for people and places. This has also been a time that has highlighted and exacerbated deep inequalities in our society, where Covid has affected so many aspects of our wellbeing, our health, our work, our homes, the quality of our relationships, in ways that have been felt by some much more than others. 

MP Debbie Abrahams, Chair of the APPG meeting last week reflects 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”.

This is the basis for the Covid Legacy Act that has been prepared by the cross party group of parliamentarians and shared with the Chancellor.

So now is an opportunity 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.  

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