ESRC funds the new Economics Observatory

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The ESRC has funded the new Economics Observatory, a collective initiative by the economic research community to answer questions from policymakers and the public about the economics of the COVID-19 crisis and the recovery.

The UK is currently at the start of what could be the deepest recession in living memory. Sound and non-partisan advice is needed to inform decision-makers across all parts of society, from government to individuals, about the choices they face in dealing with the crisis and the recovery.

The Economics Observatory will bring together expert researchers from across the UK to answer policy questions in a way that is easy to understand.

Writers will explain where there is consensus, why there is debate and disagreement, and when they don’t have the answers, they will explain why.

Questions asked and answered so far include ‘How might the crisis affect children from poorer backgrounds?’ and ‘Coronavirus and the economy: what are the trade offs?’.

The articles are written for policymakers, the media, the public, students and teachers who are interested in the economics of COVID-19 and the implications for households, organisations and public policy.

Working from home’s impact on wellbeing

The impact of the unprecedented shift towards full-time home-based work (HBW), brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, is the focus of a major new study funded by the ESRC.

The Working@Home project, led by Professor Abigail Marks of Stirling Management School, will examine:

  • how the impact of enforced HBW varies across socio-economic groups
  • whether it enforces negative gender roles
  • heightened domestic tensions fuelled by social distancing and employment insecurities.

Professor Marks said:

The pandemic has forced organisations to embrace home-based working at breakneck speed, with little opportunity to consider the impact on workers.

This research aims to identify the key challenges which HBW poses for workers and those they live with, and to develop coping strategies.

The UK-wide Working@Home research project will interview and track 60 participants experiencing a new form of HBW and undertake a large-scale survey.

Impact of COVID-19 on economic inequality and employment progression

COVID-19 is not only a global health pandemic, it has brought whole sectors of the economy grinding to a halt.

In late March 2020, Professor Abi Adams-Prassl and colleagues from the University of Oxford’s economics department collected survey data from a representative sample of UK workers.

The initial survey found large and significant differences in how workers of different income levels, ages, and employed under different work arrangements are impacted by the economic disruption caused by COVID-19.

Now, ESRC has funded Professor Adams-Prassl to conduct five follow up survey waves to track the impact of the crisis on different groups of workers and assess the effectiveness of different policies.

Initial results from the first survey found that younger and lower-income workers have been disproportionately affected by the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

The benefits system: during the pandemic and beyond

Researchers from the University of Salford have been funded by ESRC to provide rapid evidence on how the benefits system is responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and whether people receiving benefits like Universal Credit are getting the incomes and employment support they need.

Professor Lisa Scullion from the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit will lead the project in collaboration with partners across England. Around 8,000 new and existing benefit claimants will be surveyed online, and in-depth interviews will be held with around 80 people over time.

Professor Lisa Scullion said:

The benefits system has been a key part of the coronavirus response, but it is under extraordinary pressure with around two million new claims since the start of the pandemic.

The project will seek to provide data on whether claimants are receiving the income they need, when they need it, and how support has been impacted by the need for social distancing.

Lisa explains:

This project will provide rapid large-scale evidence for policymakers on how well we are meeting these challenges. It is vital that we understand how people are managing to navigate the benefits system, particularly as face-to-face support has been suspended.

We also need to ensure that appropriate support is in place to help people to return to work when they are able.

ESRC-funded observatory will tackle impacts of COVID-19

A new observatory will add to the insight provided by the Economics Observatory (ECO).

University College London (UCL) will lead the International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO).

This will help decision makers develop strategies to deal with the social, economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is a collaboration between:

  • UCL
  • Cardiff University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Auckland
  • University of Oxford
  • think tanks, including:
    • International Network for Government Science
    • academic news publisher The Conversation.

The IPPO will give UK policymakers access to resources, evidence and analysis of global policy responses to COVID-19. This will mean they can make better decisions when dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

The observatory will create ‘living maps’ of evidence and policy to cut through the vast amounts of social research and policy responses on COVID-19 and provide a searchable database of research.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the ESRC, said:

The coronavirus pandemic raises a great many questions. Policymakers have to make often unprecedented decisions, some most urgent, others to address the longer-term recovery and wider challenges.

Evidence is growing rapidly about different approaches, in the UK and globally. The IPPO and ECO will give policymakers vital insights into the research, the knowledge being gained, what options are being trialled and what can work.

Last updated: 9 June 2023

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