COVID-19 Committee Contents

Living in a COVID World: A Long-term Approach to Resilience and Wellbeing

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.It is difficult to overestimate the consequences, both short and long-term, of the COVID-19 pandemic which has torn through the world from 2020 and which continues to affect billions of lives. A full list of these consequences would need to cover everything from the direct impact of lost lives and damaged health to the economic and social ripple effects of widespread lockdowns and social distancing, which have widened inequality within, and between, nations. That list would incorporate disrupted supply chains and labour shortages as well as digital innovation and remote working; it would include both the flourishing of communities, compassion and volunteering and the vastly increased visibility of unjust disparities between different economic, racial, and social groups.

2.These consequences are far-reaching, profound, and most importantly, permanent. When this Committee was established, in the early days of the pandemic, we focused our work on trying to identify what a post-COVID world would look like.6 18 months later it is clear that we will never be entirely free of COVID-19. Instead, we must look forward to a new normal, adapted to the social, health and economic consequences of this period of our history.

3.A bigger immediate concern to many people, is that our current COVID world is changing and will continue to change. As the Committee was discussing this report, a new variant—the Omicron variant—was discovered. We cannot foretell how many more variants will develop, or how COVID-19 will mutate in future. As a result, we must develop our resilience to the ever-changing COVID landscape. This resilience must not be confined to wealthier countries, or those with the capacity and capability to develop vaccines against new variants, but must be a truly global resilience.

4.At the time of writing, there are six times more booster doses being administered every day, than first doses, and only 3% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, compared to over 60% of people in high and upper-middle income countries.7 This vaccine inequality must be tackled to ensure that COVID-19 variants, cases and deaths are kept to a minimum. As the UK has taken a lead in vaccine development, we must now take a lead in vaccine distribution. Only through the development of a concerted global resilience to COVID-19 will we have any chance of mitigating its devastating impact—until we are all vaccinated, we are all at risk.

5.It is still far too early to be certain how the pandemic’s economic and social consequences will unfold over the coming ten years—a period researchers for the British Academy have already christened the ‘COVID decade.8 And it has, of course, been impossible to fully disentangle the impacts of the pandemic from the wider trends of the era through which we are living—an era of exponential change driven by technology, demography, climate change and shifting global power. Some of those changes are being accelerated by the pandemic, while others form a backdrop to it: a transformative era in which the pandemic may come to be seen as a devastating, but relatively small, part of this century’s history. As a result, we focused our work on a number of individual inquiries concentrating on some of the specific social and economic impacts of the pandemic that are easiest to model, predict and respond to. This report summarises those findings, on digital society,9 on families,10 and on the future of our towns and cities.11

6.Nevertheless, these focused inquiries, alongside our consultation with the public, experts, and colleagues have also given us the opportunity to build a picture of how the UK might learn lessons from the pandemic at a macro level. They suggest how we might prepare ourselves for the likely scenarios we face in this shifting global landscape. That is what we set out here: a picture of a new approach to resilience, a new confidence in our ability to adapt in the face of change, and a fresh understanding of the role and purpose of the democratic state in the 21st century. The pandemic has taught us not just what we can do, but what we must do, if we want to thrive as a society and a nation in the future.

7.This pandemic, while devastating in its impact, was both predictable and predicted. It demonstrates how vital it is for us to be better prepared for long-term, structural and systemic risks—the immediate costs of preparedness may be large, but they are far smaller than the costs of catastrophes for which we have not prepared ourselves. We face a host of relatively low probability but high impact risks. Our efforts to monitor those risks, and prepare for them, must be brought out of the deep recesses of academia and into the heart of Government. But the greatest risk we face is not “low probability”, instead it is inevitable. That risk is climate change.

8.As the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser set out at COP26, the pandemic’s impact on wellbeing and the economy are smaller than the global risks we face if we do not move to a more sustainable economic and social model, and soon.12 We must shift the state to focus far more on the long-term, and face climate change, future pandemics, and any other future risks, with the same spirit of possibility that brought us together in early 2020. The extraordinary response of Government, business, civil society and individuals through the pandemic shows that we are capable of far more change, far more quickly, than anyone anticipated.

9.However, the pandemic has also exposed an unpleasant truth, that had been ignored for far too long—that devastating inequalities continue to exist within our country, and blight the life chances of too many people. These inequalities pre-dated the pandemic, but have been exposed, as never before, by it.

10.The last two years have also taught us much about the true meaning of resilience and preparedness. It has become clearer than ever that national-level resilience is critically undermined by high levels of financial and health inequality, especially when this is accentuated by racial injustice. As we prepare for a future with more frequent systemic shocks, a focus on robust supply chains and the security of critical national infrastructure is not enough. To be resilient, a nation needs strong social capital and community connection within, and between, diverse communities; it needs higher levels of social and economic equity; it needs resilient and adaptable public services; and it needs good relationships between the different tiers of government.

11.The need to build resilience is so fundamental that to do so successfully, we must rethink the role and purpose of the state. COVID-19 continues to shine a harsh spotlight on systemic failures and weaknesses in our society, widening already existing inequalities and underlining a new and important digital inequality, that affect us all. We therefore need a radical reset to avoid sliding back to business as usual.

12.The concept of the Welfare State emerged after the First World War, a phrase coined by Archbishop of York, William Temple, who argued it was time to move from the “Warfare State” to one which sought the actualisation of its citizens for their own benefit.13 Most of the UK’s Welfare State was introduced after the disruption and upheaval of the Second World War which led voters to demand a new settlement. This pandemic is the greatest shock in the post-war era; it is time for a new evolution of the state, from “Welfare” to “Wellbeing”.

13.The Wellbeing State would take securing the wellbeing of its citizens as its central purpose. This would shift us away from a focus on economic growth as a goal in and of itself; economic factors are a vital input to individual and societal wellbeing, but they should be considered an input, not the purpose. As one witness to our Committee, Professor Lord Layard, put it: “The evidence suggests that if we wanted to increase the well-being of the people, we would be focusing much more on social infrastructure—health, education and community services.”14

14.Making this shift would help enable us to move away from short-term economic policy-making, build up social and community capital within and between Britain’s diverse communities, and tackle the inequalities that hold back individuals, communities and the nation as a whole. Together, these changes will give us the best chance of resilience in the coming era of climate, demographic, economic and technological change, and the best chance to retain control of our nation’s destiny as global power shifts.

6 UK Parliament, ‘New Committee asks people to share their views on life beyond COVID-19’: [accessed 4 October 2021]

8 The British Academy, The COVID Decade: Understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19: [accessed 25 November 2021]

9 COVID-19 Committee, Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World (1st Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 263)

10 UK Parliament, ‘The long-term impact of the pandemic on parents and families’: [accessed 4 October 2021]

11 COVID-19 Committee, Towns and Cities: Local Power is the Path to Recovery (2nd Report, Session 2021–22, HL Paper 115)

12 ‘COP26: Climate change a far bigger problem than Covid, warns Sir Patrick Vallance’, Evening Standard (9 November 2021): [accessed 25 November 2021]

13 William Temple Foundation, ‘Archbishop William Temple’: [accessed 25 November 2021]

14 Q 17 (Professor Lord Layard, Community Wellbeing Programme Co-Director, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics)

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