Apr 22, 2020 | by Deborah Hardoon

Wellbeing impacts of the pandemic + call for research collaboration

The Covid – 19 crisis, and its unprecedented and far-reaching response, has affected every aspect of our wellbeing

Last week, data published by the ONS* found that:

  • Over four in five adults in Great Britain (84.2%) said they were ‘very worried’ or ‘somewhat worried’ about the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on their life right now. 
  • Just over half of adults (53.1%) said it was directly affecting their wellbeing**
  • Nearly half of adults (46.9%) reported high levels of anxiety.
  • Just over one in five adults (22.9%) said it was affecting their household finances.

Our relationships with others have been deeply affected by social distancing measures. Our interactions with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours have transformed overnight. There is a new intensity to the time we spend with those in our household.

At the same time, physical distance and virtual communications have become the new normal for engaging with those outside our households (if we can access virtual communications). People who are engaged in supporting the sick, those that are isolating, or key workers may  be experiencing a sense of purpose, while more broadly there are feelings of helplessness about the global pandemic.

Uneven impacts

It is clear that not everyone is equally affected by the crisis and its response. For example, the effect on people’s income is really biting for approximately 5%*** of people who are now struggling to pay their bills. For others, particularly those able to work from home, their income may have been unaffected. 

It is also clear that the range of responses to the current situation from people and communities can vary. Many of these responses are well supported by the evidence on what can work to improve our wellbeing. 

How are people coping?

As individuals, we have been taking up measures to reduce our anxiety levels and mental health.

  • Daily exercise was helping nearly half of adults in the ONS survey cope, and we know that engaging in physical activity outdoors with family members can support people’s wellbeing.
  • The most popular coping mechanism for people is staying in touch with friends and family, in line with the wellbeing evidence of the importance of relationships and alleviating loneliness.
  • As communities, there have been a range of ways in which support to the vulnerable has been organised and delivered, both formally at large scale and informally. The effect of this will be felt at the individual level, but will also affect community wellbeing.
  • Work has also been a coping mechanism, supporting the evidence that the job-related drivers of wellbeing go beyond extrinsic characteristics such as income.

Looking at short- and long-term wellbeing impacts

It is important that we look closely at the different effects on our wellbeing. What can be done by policy makers, charities, employers, communities,families, and individuals to mitigate the negative effects for different people and places? 

This is relevant now, but also in the future as we identify what’s really important to us. And finding out what works so that policies and interventions are possible and at what scale, in order to have widespread and sustainable positive wellbeing impacts in the UK. 

The UKRI funding call in response to Covid-19: collaboration opportunities 

We are a collaborating centre on evidence and practice that develops and translates evidence on wellbeing for policy makers and practitioners to implement in their work. We are interested in supporting and/or partnering with academic teams that are putting together research proposals looking at the crisis, its impact and interventions, from a wellbeing perspective. This research can then be used to inform action and decision-making.

We are particularly interested in research which looks at the different effects on different people, on key workers for example, people living in or at risk of poverty, or those with already limited support networks, identifying what can be done to support the most vulnerable and those with the lowest levels of wellbeing. We are keen to work with researchers that:

  • have a very practical approach to looking at the cost effectiveness of different interventions
  • seek to uncover the mechanisms through which our wellbeing is affected, that can be replicated in different contexts.

We are particularly interested in research that focuses on wellbeing in our communities and working lives. For example, how can local authorities best identify the most vulnerable in their area and offer support in a way that is cost effective and sustainable? How is trust, sense of belonging and cohesion in communities being shaped by formal and informal local responses to the crisis? What is the impact of existing formal and informal initiatives and policy? 

From a work perspective, with almost 40% of adults concerned about how Covid will affect their jobs, how can labour market policies mitigate the impacts of the huge changes to employment rate, job security and where and how we work? Are these strategies potentially challenging the essence of what we think of as ‘work’ and how it is valued? What can employers do to ensure that changes in job quality experienced by employees are mitigated across their workforce? What is the impact of current and future measures or initiatives implemented by employers in this regard?

If you are interested in working with us on a proposal for this call, please get in touch at evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org.


*based on a survey of 1,581 adults in Great Britain (79% response rate) sampled through the OPN conducted online between 27 March 2020 and 6 April 2020 (inclusive)
** Respondents were asked to check all answers that applied. This question asked respondents if “My well-being is being affected (for example, boredom, loneliness, anxiety and stress)”. The examples in brackets would encourage respondents to interpret wellbeing to be narrower than the Centre’s broader approach to including what matters to us in life. 
*** 22.9% of adults said the coronavirus was affecting their household finances. Of these, 22.1% said they were struggling to pay the bills. This is approximately 5% of all adults.

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