COVID-19 Committee Contents

Chapter 4: The role of Select Committees

55.Beginning our work during the first lockdown, this new Committee was instructed to “undertake a cross-cutting approach”, “focused not upon the ‘here and now’ but … the longer-term implications”, potentially including “societal wellbeing, the economy and industrial strategy, cultural and voluntary activity, the role of the UK within international organisations, and environmental and technological developments arising from our response to the pandemic.”22

56.It was a time of extraordinary upheaval and disruption to our daily lives, with Government, academics and businesses all discovering the inadequacy of existing data sources to meet the needs of the pandemic response. New systems were set up to collect data about symptoms, travel patterns, economic activity and more. The efforts put into these innovations helped the Committee understand how difficult it would be to gather the evidence we needed if we only used traditional methods of engagement to reach the public and expert witnesses.

57.We therefore agreed to take a slightly different approach to gathering evidence and issued a public call for contributions.23 We used various methods to hear from thousands of people: organisations and academics who were examining this question themselves, but also large numbers of members of the public. This approach helped the Committee to hear new voices, and allowed us to connect with the lived experiences of citizens through a unique period of time, and give citizens a voice in Parliament at a time when Government was ever-present in people’s lives.

58.We held an oral evidence session with other organisations who were also collecting views on the long-term implications of COVID-1924 and we had an open call for written evidence that received over 300 responses.25 We held eight online discussion groups with members of the public (including specific sessions with older people, younger people, parents and people with learning disabilities). 37 groups used the discussion packs we created to gather views from a total of over 4,000 people,26 and 366 academics and researchers responded to a survey run for the Committee by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. We also received over 500 social media posts and nearly 6,000 people shared their views via questionnaires created by the campaign group Organise and by the charity Scope.

59.However, it has been difficult for the Committee to match our ambition to bring diverse voices into Parliament, to maximise our—and the House’s—understanding of the complexity and heterogeneity of citizens’ experiences during this pandemic, and the implications for the future. This could not have been more important, and yet we did not accomplish all we set out to do.

60.Parliament should always strive to connect with, and understand the experience of, the diverse communities that make up our country. However, this Committee set out to gather evidence about a pandemic that is having radically different impacts on people of different ethnicities, widening health and socio-economic inequality, trapping disabled people at home for months on end, and putting new pressures on homeless people, victims of domestic violence, those with serious mental health conditions and more. Given this context, we needed to hear from people who could represent and/or present evidence about these kinds of impacts. It is a matter of enormous regret to us that we failed sufficiently to engage with, and gather evidence from, these marginalised communities.

61.We believe that more needs to be done to ensure that Parliament engages with the diverse communities within the UK. We encourage future Select Committees to consider how best to improve connections between Parliament and the diverse citizens of our country. We encourage future Committees to continue to innovate in methods of public engagement, and invite citizen-led submissions of evidence where appropriate to Committees’ work. We want to see Committees improving their methods for finding, and inviting, diverse expert witnesses to give evidence, as well as inviting those with lived experience, to give both written and oral evidence in future, and ensure those from marginalised communities are actively encouraged as well as practically supported to do so.

62.COVID-19 is having a vast and hard to measure impact on the nation’s society, economy, and wellbeing. This was always, and remains, an era of fast and accelerating change: shifting global power, the rising threat of climate change; exponential innovation in technology and access to information; demographic change and more. The pandemic is eating up resources and capacity while accelerating these changes and making it harder than ever for governments to keep up. In effect, we are further behind than we could ever have anticipated when it comes to adapting our system of government, our economy, and our society to the challenges of the 21st century.

63.As we look beyond the short-term impact of this crisis, we should reflect that COVID-19 is an opportunity to learn lessons about our resilience, and those things we must understand to grapple with the more dramatic developments in the coming decades. We must improve our resilience because future catastrophes could be even worse.

64.The proposals set out above would enable us to develop a new approach, building the resilience and the wellbeing of the nation, on the back of a stronger system of government and a shared commitment from all parties, and all tiers of government, to collaborate when it comes to managing the greatest risks we face as a nation.

65.Parliamentary Select Committees have a vital role to play in helping us to develop this agenda, propose cross-party approaches, and in effect help the nation to catch up with the shifting policy landscape.

66.We encourage other Select Committees to undertake inquiries exploring the impact not just of the pandemic but the wider trends associated with it on their subject-areas, looking five, ten and twenty-years into the future.

67.More specifically, our existing work has highlighted particular areas that should be explored in further detail by the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.

68.We would like to see Parliamentary Select Committees undertaking urgent work on the long-term implications of the pandemic for those policy areas, such as social care, mental health and climate change, that we did not have an opportunity to explore, as well as undertaking timely follow-up work on the topics, such as inequalities, digital transformation, parents and families, and towns and cities, that we have explored in some detail.

69.We have collected a wealth of evidence on the impact of the pandemic on the lives of people across the country. As such:

70.We encourage future Select Committees to make full use of our evidence when exploring the impact of the pandemic.

22 Liaison Committee, A Covid-19 Committee (1st Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 56)

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

24 UK Parliament, ‘Long-term implications of the pandemic discussed with leading’: [accessed 25 November 2021]

25 UK Parliament, Call for evidence: Life beyond COVID: [accessed 25 November 2021]

26 UK Parliament, ‘Resources to help schools and community groups contribute to Committee inquiry’: [accessed 25 November 2021]

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