Understanding the Covid decade

New British Academy report, and interview with Dr Rowena Hill.

A British Academy report has suggested the social, cultural and economic impacts of Covid-19 will persist for at least a decade. The authors, including experts in psychology, history, social and public policy and geography, explored evidence of the potential societal effects of the pandemic in three key areas – health and wellbeing, communities culture and belonging, and knowledge, employment and skills.

The Covid Decade: Understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 was commissioned by the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. It was led by Professor of Social Psychology Dominic Abrams (University of Kent) who also led on an accompanying report Shaping the COVID decade, which considers gaps in public policymaking.

Many of the impacts of Covid-19, the authors wrote, are likely to be an acceleration of existing trends and pointed to nine areas of long-term societal impact. These included the exacerbation of structural inequalities and health inequalities, a greater awareness of the importance of mental health, as well as a decline in both trust in the UK government and feelings of national unity.

Our editor Dr Jon Sutton recently spoke with Dr Rowena Hill (Nottingham Trent University), a member of the now-decommissioned cross-governmental C19 National Foresight Group, for the third time since the start of the pandemic. They discussed uncertainty and recovery in the face of Covid-19.

In an earlier interview Hill had spoken of the pandemic in terms of phases of response, adaptation, stabilisation and recovery. She said that in terms of the recovery phase, we needed to accept that recovery to what we were is not possible. ‘It’s not about restoring what we had… Recovery following Covid-19 will need to be the creation of a future. We need to create new norms which accommodate adaptation and stabilisation phases. We need to do that for the next two to five years until we learn to successfully live alongside Covid-19 and manage it as best we can, so we will continue to be in all four stages simultaneously for the next few years. Then we can move with more certainty to the new future.’

People, organisations, communities and sectors have a need to plan, Hill said, but the pandemic is not over, and no one can say when it will be. ‘We talk a lot in interventions and emotional wellness of sitting with uncertainty, but we’re asking people to engage with uncertainty as a necessity and try and live successfully with it.’

Hill pointed to ‘the true energy and blend across our work and home domains’ as an area which ‘needs innovation and a different approach. How can we truly achieve a healthy work life balance, rather than treating everything as a relentless “to do” list? This would also offer learning to sectors and roles which cannot work from home too. The psychological challenge to gather and focus enough energy, flexibility and agility to look at all the current and future adaptations we will need to make, and the creation and move to a new future, is also a great psychological challenge. Do we have enough left in the tank after everything we continue to go through to do it with kindness, equity… and to do it well?’ 

For the British Academy report see tinyurl.com/BAcoviddec

For the interview with Rowena Hill see https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/recovery-will-need-be-creation-future

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