IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Families in Tower Hamlets: impacts of COVID-19

This project aimed to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on families in Tower Hamlets.

Woman standing in front of rainbow painting on wall. Image: Ashkan Forouzani via Unsplash

This project is about everyday life in the midst of a pandemic. We worked with our partners Born in Bradford, a cohort study aiming to reduce health inequalities, to examine the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on family life with young children.

We have also collaborated with members of the International Network on Leave Policies and Research who are studying how parents are managing work, care and home schooling in more than 15 countries. We are interested in the experiences of mothers, fathers and wider kin, and families of all ethnic backgrounds, those in paid work and those not.

Study findings will help support Tower Hamlets council to shape its service offer to all families with young children, especially those newly impoverished and those designated vulnerable: pregnant women, and children.

The project ran from June 2020 to March 2022.


Impact of COVID-19

Employment, community support and advice, physical and mental health, parenting and family relationships, and family work-care arrangements, are likely to be substantially altered by the current conditions, with consequences for children’s health and development. 


As we move through the pandemic, local authorities’ management of recovery from COVID-19 requires nuanced data on individuals’ and households’ material and interpersonal strategies to shape deployment of scarce resources. We also wanted to capture new forms of help and support that have emerged within communities during the pandemic. 


Inequalities are extreme in Tower Hamlets, making it an exemplar local authority as strategies that are successful in mitigating the adverse impacts of COVID-19 are likely to be transferable to other places with less extreme conditions. 

With a fast rising and young population, very high housing density, and around 40 per cent of households living in poverty, families in Tower Hamlets have much to offer in terms of lessons about inequalities in living with the pandemic.

The borough is highly ethnically diverse: about one third of the population is Bangladeshi and over half are from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. There are stark health inequalities: life expectancy, infant mortality, child dental health and obesity all show poorer outcomes compared to London as a whole (Public Health England 2019).


This project aimed to:

  • understand how families, including those defined as vulnerable, deploy their interpersonal, economic and social resources to manage risks associated with living in lockdown restrictions and its aftermath
  • provide new and detailed knowledge to support service delivery in the local authority to promote economic regeneration, social cohesion and address polarised inequalities
  • seek evidence of localised adoption and potential of peer, familial and community mutual aid strategies that aid personal and structural recovery pathways as well as identifying need. 
  • A longitudinal survey of 992 parents of children aged 0-4, and parents to be. The survey ran July-November 2020 and February - April 2021.
  • A longitudinal qualitative panel of 22 households sampled from the survey was carried out in January - March 2021 and October-November 2021. Interviews explored the impact of the pandemic on family health, income, relationships, children's lives, wider kin and community in-depth. 
  • Community Assets Mapping in 2020 mapped the changes to support services available to families, including the emergence of new forms of support (e.g., mutual aid).

This study ran in the neighbouring borough of Newham, which has similar demographic characteristics. Through sharing research tools we will enable Newham to discover the specific impacts of the pandemic on children, families and pregnant women living in the borough.


Principal Investigator


Research Fellows