How should we address unequal impacts of COVID-19 on UK society?

Woman with medical face mask stands on the crowded street

Credit: Viacheslav Peretiatko/GettyImages

COVID-19 has shone a powerful light on the need for policymakers to have access to a wide variety of different types (and sources) of knowledge.

This knowledge will aid their decision-making in both the short and longer terms.

This is just as true now as the UK gradually opens up (paying careful attention to the spread of new variants).

But with COVID-19 having affected so many different communities in many different ways, how do national, regional and local policymakers go about deciding what the priorities for action should be?

International Public Policy Observatory

This is a key question for the International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO).

IPPO is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded collaboration of universities and thinktanks.

It was established to enable better understanding of policymakers’ needs throughout the UK.

IPPO links these demands with the most robust evidence emerging in relation to the many social impacts of the pandemic.

Communities hardest hit by COVID-19

Whether considering the wellbeing of locked-down schoolchildren (IPPO website) or the best way to support homeless people (IPPO website), IPPO is paying particular attention to those communities who have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

These communities may also not be at the top of the agenda when it comes to recovery strategies, whether because:

Action on inequalities

That’s why IPPO is hosting a major action on inequalities event (Eventbrite website) on 15 June 2021 (10:00 to 13:00 BST).

We’re bringing together policymakers and researchers, business and civil society from all parts of the UK.

We’ll look at what’s known, and what now needs to be done, with regard to the many socioeconomic inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic:

  • how can the direct and indirect scars best be healed?
  • where are the priorities for action clear
  • where do we urgently need more research?

What we know

For example, we know that:

  • mortality associated with the pandemic has been much higher in elderly people, poorer groups and ethnic minorities
  • the economic impact has been unevenly distributed across the population
  • the economic fallout is likely to be felt for years
  • low-paid workers were more likely to have jobs in sectors that suspended activities, including hospitality and tourism
  • low-income workers were more likely to work in essential services such as nursing, policing, teaching, cleaning, waste removal and as shop assistants. In these occupations they had a higher likelihood of being exposed to COVID-19
  • the risk of contagion was also elevated by crowded homes, apartment buildings with communal lifts and entrances, and for people who could not work from home and were more reliant on public transport.


IPPO’s action on inequalities event will lay a basis for evidence-gathering.

It is designed not only to improve understanding of these unequal (and interconnected) impacts of the pandemic, but to encourage use of this understanding to help decision-makers frame policy agendas.

As with all IPPO workstreams, we start by identifying policymaker needs and demands rather than being led by curiosity-driven agendas.

That is why ESRC is funding IPPO and its sibling, the Economics Observatory.

Event agenda

The IPPO event will kick off with a plenary session from 10:00 to 11:00 featuring a range of speakers including:

  • Professor Alison Park (ESRC’s interim Executive Chair)
  • Will Hutton (President of the Academy of Social Sciences)
  • Danny Dorling (Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford)
  • Talat Yaqoob (Commentator, consultant and equality campaigner)
  • Hetan Shah (Chief Executive of the British Academy).

This will be followed by seven parallel working groups (11:00 to 12:00) discussing priority actions in the following areas:

  • jobs and precariousness
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities
  • gender-sensitive recovery
  • how to include disabled voices in recovery planning
  • spatial and regional inequalities
  • recovery needs of young adults
  • data inequalities, gaps and deficiencies.

You can register for the action on inequalities event via Eventbrite and select your preferred working group

Social impacts of COVID-19

The social impacts of COVID-19 are vast and far-reaching, particularly on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

But just as research led to the development of effective vaccines with unprecedented speed, so it can help mitigate the pandemic’s effects on society’s most vulnerable communities.

If it reaches policymakers in a clear and timely fashion it will help them to address this social crisis in an evidence-based way.

That is IPPO’s challenge.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more, sign up for our newsletter (Mailchimp website) or follow us @covidandsociety.

IPPO is supported by a £2 million two-year grant from ESRC. To find out more read: ESRC-funded observatories will help tackle impacts of COVID-19.

Article by Mike Herd, editor and communications lead, IPPO.

Last updated: 7 June 2021

NOTE Council web content is being transitioned to this website – let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.