UCL Department of Economics


Report: Decade-long impact of COVID-19 on society

23 March 2021

Sir Richard Blundell, UCL Professor of Political Economy, co-authors a Government-commissioned report on COVID-19 and Society: Shaping the COVID Decade.

Urban london street

Published by the British Academy on the anniversary of Britain’s first lockdown, the report discusses the long-term effect of the coronavirus pandemic on society, calling for increased government spending to avoid poorer health, social and economic outcomes and a more extreme pattern of inequality.

Professor Blundell said:

“To achieve the shifts we’re recommending, I don’t think we’re necessarily talking about new money but more a reorganisation of what we prioritise for spending. Yes, it will be expensive, but many other governments, including across the Atlantic, already seem willing to make that investment.”

The report has brought together over 200 academics highlighting the following trends:

  • Low and unstable levels of trust in the national government, undermining the ability to mobilise public behaviour
  • Widening geographic inequalities on measures such as health and wellbeing, local economic risk and resilience, and poverty
  • Worsening social development, relationships and mental health – impacts which will vary according to age, gender, race and ethnicity, and levels of social deprivation;
  • Severe strains on the capacity to support local community infrastructure, which has risen in importance during the pandemic
  • Lost – and likely unrecoverable – access to education at all levels, exacerbating existing socio-economic inequality, limiting access to digital skills and technology, and impeding progress towards a prosperous, high-skilled economy.

The report is accompanied by a wide-ranging and thorough policy analysis, Shaping the COVID decade, which argues that these societal impacts have exposed several gaps in public policy making that the government now has the opportunity to address. They include:

 Resolving tensions between the roles of local and central governance to improve local-level resilience and the response to local needs across the country

  • Strengthening and expanding the community-led social infrastructure that underpins services and support networks, particularly in deprived areas
  • Improving the flow of knowledge, data and information between all levels of government, different government departments, and between state and non-state decision-makers, making use of specific local and community knowledge
  • Eliminating the digital divide by treating digital infrastructure as a critical, life-changing public service
  • Empowering businesses and civic, educational and social institutions to act with a shared sense of social purpose

Professor Sir Richard Blundell is a Fellow of the British Academy and also Director of the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public policy at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).