Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been exploring its implications for the nation’s health and health inequalities. The measures taken to control the spread of the virus have had huge implications for people’s health in both direct and indirect ways. We also know that some groups are being affected much more than others – factors such as age, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic circumstance all contribute to how people are impacted. Our work looks at the pandemic in its broadest context and considers the socioeconomic impacts it has had – as well as the health inequalities that have been laid bare – during these past months. 

Here, we bring together some of our latest articles relating to the pandemic, health and health inequalities, and you can explore how we are responding to COVID-19 on our website.

COVID-19, health and health inequalities blog series

Our blog series explores emerging evidence on the unequal impact of the pandemic, the wider governmental and societal response in the UK and implications for the future.

In our May round up, we focused particularly on how children and young people are being affected, and the economic effects of the pandemic. While children and young people are at much lower risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, various evidence suggested that they may be hit hardest by measures put in place to control the virus. By our June round up, data were available for the whole lockdown period and the early stages of lockdown easing. The new data helped us start to understand why people in more socioeconomically deprived areas and people from black and minority ethnic groups were at greater risk of serious illness. We reported on a review from Public Health England that highlighted the role that racism, discrimination, stigma, fear and trust have played in the unequal impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic communities. 

Additional blogs have explored in more detail the evidence on COVID-19 in black and minority ethnic groups, and emerging evidence on COVID-19’s impact on mental health and health inequalities. Drivers of worsening mental health during the pandemic include social isolation, job and financial losses, housing insecurity, working in a front-line service, loss of coping mechanisms, and reduced access to mental health services.

As we move into a new phase, with further localised outbreaks and local lockdown measures likely, our next round up will look at the unequal impact of the pandemic on different local areas, and on employment, finances and mental health.

Impact of changes to employment and finances on mental health

In these extraordinary times, there have been new and widespread risks to people’s mental health. In late June, we published analysis exploring how changes in people’s economic circumstances related to their mental health during the early lockdown period. It uses data collected in a YouGov survey of 6,005 respondents between 6 and 11 May 2020.

Regardless of income, the likelihood of poor mental health was higher if families had experienced a deterioration of their finances during lockdown or expected one in the next three months. However, in the poorest 20% of families, almost three-quarters (72%) reporting a worse financial position had poor mental health, compared to around half (48%) in the richest 20% of families.

During a pandemic, and one of the greatest and most sudden economic shocks the UK has experienced, the impact on the nation’s mental health must be taken into account in government decision making. The measures taken to protect incomes and restore the economy will be key in determining the future health of the country.

Building on lockdown learning

A Health Foundation long read, published earlier this month, noted some positive aspects of the pandemic response which we might want to retain in future to build a recovery that supports everyone’s health and wellbeing. There are lessons to be drawn in areas such as: mutual aid and voluntary action; prevention-led strategies; housing security; employment and rebuilding healthy places where everyone has the chance to thrive. 

Two aspects of inequality that have risen to prominence during the pandemic are the digital divide and the consequences of racial and ethnic discrimination. Health outcomes from COVID-19 were starkly divided along demographic lines, with black men and women more than four times as likely to die from COVID-19 as people of white British ethnicity. And as organisations scrambled to move services online, digital exclusion became more apparent. 

The heightened awareness of the discrimination experienced by sections of our society must not be lost. We can learn lessons from the response to the pandemic to create a fairer and healthier society for all.

Living in poverty was bad for health long before the pandemic

The shutdown of the economy has had an enormous impact on the income of millions of people in the UK. Our latest long read explores the connection between income and health. The facts are stark: people in the bottom 40% for income are almost twice as likely to report poor health than those in the top 20%.

Research on the impact of the lockdown on incomes so far has found an average loss of 8% of net income. The consequences of a reduction in earnings tend to be more severe for lower-income families and the pattern of job losses and furloughing seen so far suggests that the future economic consequences of the pandemic may be borne by those on lower incomes.

Mitigating the impact of the pandemic on deprived communities should be a key concern for government and health leaders. The government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda must include investment to level up health outcomes, finally addressing health inequalities in earnest and recognising the nation’s health as an asset.

August webinar 

Join us as we explore health and health inequalities and share our learning so far, in a webinar on 12 August 2020.

The webinar will focus on the economic impact and on groups of people who have been particularly affected such as young people and people from black and minority ethnic groups.

We'll hear from three speakers who will share their perspectives on the pandemic:

  • Muna Abdel Aziz – Director of Public Health, Salford City Council
  • Evie Basch – Leaders Unlocked
  • Mike Brewer – Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Economist, the Resolution Foundation.
  • Tim Elwell-Sutton – Assistant Director of Strategic Partnerships, the Health Foundation
  • Jennifer Dixon – Chief Executive, the Health Foundation

Find out more and register on our website.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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