COVID-19 Committee Contents

Summary of Conclusions and recommendations

1.Building on existing work exploring the relationship between health outcomes and socio-economic factors, we want to see the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities working with other Government departments and devolved administrations to assess lessons learned during the pandemic about the socio-economic determinants of health, and within that, racial disparities in treatment, care and outcomes. Co-ordinated Government policy should prioritise narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy so that no one group is left behind. (Paragraph 35)

2.Renewed efforts to build trusted relationships between the state and all groups within society, including racial and religious groups, young people, disabled people and others. Resilience requires us to recognise the different needs of these communities when it comes to building trust, and investing in building relationships over the long-term. The Department of Levelling Up and Communities should conduct an assessment of the relationship between both the national and local state and communities, and develop a plan for improving trust over time. (Paragraph 36)

3.Major efforts to build social capital through community-level public service innovation. This should start with a new wave of devolution to return power to local government, and beyond to local communities. The Department for Levelling Up and Communities should move to a three-year rolling financial settlement for local authorities, enabling them to plan more effectively and plan for the transformation of services, in partnership with community-level organisations. (Paragraph 37)

4.The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should make a renewed commitment to digital inclusion, including increasing access to affordable devices and data, and increasing digital skills training. Training and support for excluded people and communities will be best delivered in partnership with community organisations. (Paragraph 38)

5.The Online Safety Bill is a welcome effort to bring greater regulation to the online information economy, and reduce the harmful impact of disinformation and misinformation. There will, no doubt, be pressure to dilute the impact of these proposals and the Government must stand firm in resisting such pressure. Alongside this, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should work with platforms, media organisations and civil society to publish the lessons learned about our information systems from the pandemic, and build a public shared plan for industry, civic and Government approach in any future crisis. (Paragraph 39)

6.A new settlement between the devolved nations and the UK Government to better clarify roles and responsibilities, and build enduring agreements on issues that affect all the nations of the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 43)

7.The Cabinet Office should pull together an interdisciplinary team to co-ordinate the development of long-term policy planning, and implementation. (Paragraph 44)

8.A longer-term approach to funding public services and local government. In particular, we recommend in our Towns and Cities report that local government should move as swiftly as possible to a rolling three-year funding settlement. (Paragraph 45)

9.A new approach to efficiency, recognising the importance of some redundancy of provision in public services. In effect, the pandemic reminds us that surge capacity is an essential component of resilience, even if it looks expensive during normal times. This will require a major shift in our approach to workforce planning, in particular, which will need to continue to leverage volunteer and community capacity in a systematic way, alongside formal provision. In effect, we need to move away from a “just in time” model of provision to a “just in case” model for many services. (Paragraph 46)

10.We welcome the inclusion of life satisfaction, and disparities in life satisfaction across the UK, as an economic indicator in the recent budget and spending review. We recommend that the Treasury use wellbeing as the main indicator of societal and economic progress. (Paragraph 53)

11.We believe that developing wellbeing as a measure of successful Government activity, alongside the development of a Wellbeing State, would benefit from detailed exploration by a Parliamentary Select Committee. (Paragraph 54)

12.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. (Paragraph 61)

13.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. (Paragraph 66)

14.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. (Paragraph 68)

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

16.The pandemic-related acceleration of e-commerce, remote working and learning, online service delivery and business automation highlighted significant gaps in both our policy and legislative framework, and our preparedness as individuals and society for an increasingly online world. (Paragraph 76)

17.Rather than tackle these issues piecemeal, or letting responsibility sit solely in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Government needs to ensure that all departments are reviewing how the policy areas for which they are responsible have changed, and will change, as a result of this digital acceleration, including the impact on inequalities. (Paragraph 77)

18.We would also encourage all Select Committees to consider this in relation to their remits, and scrutinise the relevant Government department/s action on this matter. (Paragraph 78)

19.Our report makes a number of recommendations, many of which would merit future follow-up. In particular, given the relative lack of attention these issues seem to have received elsewhere, we would draw the House’s attention to: (Paragraph 79)

20.How well both initial training and Continuous Professional Development is preparing teachers and medical professionals to deliver online; (Paragraph 79)

21.Whether patient’s rights need to be strengthened in relation to accessing both online and in-person health services; (Paragraph 79)

22.How digital healthcare interventions (in both physical and mental healthcare) are being approved and evaluated; and (Paragraph 79)

23.The need for employment rights to be suitable for the digital age, including the need for new legislation to provide platform workers with defined and enhanced employment rights, consideration of a right to switch-off and exploration of the use of workplace monitoring and surveillance. (Paragraph 79)

24.The way that the pandemic confined many families to their houses, and restricted interactions with friends, family and services, has had severe consequences for some. There will be a lasting legacy of increased need for mental health services, domestic abuse services, Local Authority Children’s Services, third sector family support services and others, but the evidence we received suggests these services are nowhere near having the capacity to respond to this. (Paragraph 86)

25.The Government should commit to working with service providers to monitor and forecast the gap between need and capacity over the coming months and years, and to providing the additional funding that will be required to meet that gap. (Paragraph 87)

26.A number of Parliamentary Select Committees have already begun to examine the impact of the pandemic on these types of services, and we would encourage this scrutiny to continue for at least the next two years: it became clear during our inquiry that it may take some time for those who need help to come forward, or to be identified. (Paragraph 88)

27.We are particularly concerned at the lack of attention being given to the potential impact of the pandemic on infants and young children. While the long-term consequences for their physical, social and emotional development are unknown, there is emerging evidence of delayed learning and development amongst the most disadvantaged children, in particular. (Paragraph 89)

28.Staff working in early years settings do not have the training or resource to respond to the different and more challenging needs of those they will now be looking after. The Government should commit to providing adequate funding to support pre-school children to recover from the pandemic, in the same way as it has for school aged children. It should also commit to an ongoing research programme to monitor the impact on these children over the coming years, so that the long-term consequences are fully understood and can be responded to. (Paragraph 90)

29.How those born, or who were very young children, during the pandemic are faring in twelve months’ time might make a fruitful topic for a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry next year. (Paragraph 91)

30.The UK Government outlining, in its Levelling Up White Paper, its plans for further financial and legislative devolution of powers, to enable local authority leaders to deliver regeneration policies tailored to the needs of their specific areas; (Paragraph 96)

31.The Treasury Select Committee and Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee undertaking a detailed inquiry into the potential for introducing a new hypothecated online sales tax, paid by the consumer, to balance decreasing revenue from business rates; (Paragraph 96)

32.The UK Government introducing three-year rolling local government financial settlement, at an increased level; and (Paragraph 96)

33.The UK Government agreeing with the Local Government Association to create an improved resources equalisation scheme. (Paragraph 96)

34.The UK Government providing financial support to local authority leaders to enable the establishment of work hubs, pop-up retail units and arts and culture provision in our towns and cities; (Paragraph 97)

35.The UK Government working with local authorities to develop a blended approach to housing in our towns and cities; and (Paragraph 97)

36.The UK Government working with local authorities to develop a blended approach to public service provision in our towns and cities. (Paragraph 97)

37.Developing a method for actively engaging with the different groups, communities and neighbourhoods within their towns and cities, and ensure that these views are acted upon in developing their regeneration plans; (Paragraph 98)

38.Ensuring that investment in housing, public transport, public services and green spaces in town and city centres, is matched by the same investment in housing, public transport, public services and green spaces in those neighbourhoods that risk being left behind; and (Paragraph 98)

39.Developing a process for mainstreaming the consideration of inequalities when assessing proposals for improving housing, green spaces, public transport provision and public services, and ensuring that the views, and needs, of specific groups and communities are at the heart of the decision-making process. (Paragraph 98)

40.We encourage the Women and Equalities Select Committee to undertake a detailed inquiry exploring inequalities in our towns and cities; and (Paragraph 99)

41.We encourage the Transport Select Committee to undertake a detailed inquiry exploring the potential for introducing intermodal ticketing and payment systems for public transport in our towns and cities, alongside its potential impact on passenger numbers. (Paragraph 99)

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