The ‘Rebuilding a Resilient Britain’ project was launched in July 2020 to bring together researchers, funding bodies and policy makers to identify evidence and uncover research gaps around a set of cross-cutting Areas of Research Interest (ARIs).
ESRC/ARI Fellows Professor Annette Boaz and Dr Kathryn Oliver, funded by the ESRC and working with the Government Office for Science ARI team and government departmental Chief Scientific Advisers, identified a set of topics and themes relevant across all departments and sectors that should be addressed as a priority. This project is the first step in identifying areas to focus on as the UK recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nine themes were identified: Vulnerable Communities; Supporting Services; Trust in Public Institutions; Crime Prevention; Supporting Lower-Carbon Local Economies; Land Use; The Future of Work; Local and National Growth; Trade and Aid. Working groups were set up to identify existing evidence, gaps in the evidence base, and unanswered research questions, many of which are relevant to longitudinal population studies and research. A recurring issue across all the themes centres around the need for improved collection, use and linkage of data at every step of the process to help generate meaningful and timely insights.
Evidence gaps: Vulnerabilities
The necessity for improved use of data is particularly pertinent for vulnerable and minority populations, where there is need to improve the identification process through data linkage, to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on these communities. This requires improved data collection for minority populations and linkage regarding recording of ethnicity.
There is a need to use more detailed characterisation of ethnicity, moving away from broad groupings such as “BAME” and “white”. Some of the UK longitudinal studies already have detailed recording of ethnicity and are in a position to explore the factors that account for different experiences of the pandemic among ethnic minority groups. However, a wider push for better data collection among these groups is required.
Research is needed into the role that services such as arts engagement and volunteering play in protecting people from becoming vulnerable, especially in light of the pandemic, where these opportunities have likely been reduced. Longitudinal research is in a unique position to investigate causal relationships between arts engagement and volunteering on well-being, and how vulnerabilities have changed over the course of the pandemic.
Evidence gaps: Supporting Services
Gaps remain on the impact of the pandemic for child development, not only in terms of cognitive development, but also in terms of social and emotional development, physical health and executive functions. Continued follow up to understand the impact of the pandemic on children into later life is needed, along with a broader investigation in the role of inequalities and wider social determinants of health.
Further research is needed to understand how changes to services and service provisions, such as increased virtual and digital provisions, impacts vulnerable individuals (including children and adolescents), and what the future consequences of these changes will be.
Evidence gaps: The Future of Work
Longitudinal research will be important in understanding the long term impact of the pandemic on future flexible working patterns, work opportunities and job security. Research is needed into the consequences working from home has on productivity, inequalities and experience among different groups of people:
- For the self-employed, minority ethnic groups and those with long term health conditions or disabilities, the change in working patterns has impacts that need greater exploration.
- For older employees, more research is needed into the impact of job loss, or risk of job loss, and how this feeds in to their working lives and retirement plans.
Evidence Gaps: Local and National Growth
Research is needed into the short and long-term impacts of school and university closures on children and adolescents, including on educational attainment and future career prospects. In particular, there is an urgent need to understand how the pandemic has affected the most disadvantaged young people. Future long-term studies should investigate the wider impact of the support that has been provided to groups particularly affected by the pandemic, to identify important determinants of successful outcomes.
Unanswered questions relevant to longitudinal research include:
- How has COVID-19 affected ethnic minority groups in different ways and what factors account for these differences (i.e. healthcare, housing, occupational exposure, cultural practices and behavioural differences)?
- What are the impacts of COVID-19 on early child development and the effects into later life?
- What impacts are there on children outside of cognitive development, that influence their school readiness?
- What is the impact of changes to services and delivery methods, and the impact of combined changes to services?
- What is the impact of the pandemic on the workforce, including immediate and long term impacts on well-being, organisational impacts, career developments and virtual working?
- What are the current and future trends in disabilities and health conditions?
- What extent do family circumstances, childcare, housing, etc. feed into options for career progression?
- What are the reasons for COVID-19 having greater risk of job loss among older (and younger) workers?
- What is the experiences of work for different cohorts, and how might this affect future health outcomes?