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Recovery plans must address Social Impact of COVID-19

In a recent opinion piece in the Irish Times, Liam Delaney, Professor of Economics at UCD, and Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics made a case for the need for graphs on coronavirus misery as well as mortality[1].  They argued that, as the crisis continues, the impact of social distancing measures on mental health, loneliness, domestic violence, physical health, child development and nutrition, and addiction were "long overdue".  Deterioration in these areas, and the policy responses required to remedy them, are important impacts of COVID-19, in addition to the illness and mortality rates.  The societal and financial costs must be factored into any recovery plan.  However, it is impossible to truly measure these societal and financial costs without the necessary data.

The results of the survey on the Social Impact of COVID-19, published on the 8th May 2020, therefore provide important insights into how COVID-19 and the associated policy responses are being experienced by the population.  Job precarity; mental health, stress and anxiety; physical health of those with higher restriction on movement; and consumption of alcohol and tobacco have all increased as a result of the current crisis.  This experience must be taken into consideration in the formulation of policies to shape our society and economy post-COVID-19.  If recovery focuses solely on economic growth / deficit reduction and does not account for the personal and societal impacts, we risk replicating the damage caused by the 2008 crisis and exacerbating existing inequalities.

Social Justice Ireland has repeatedly called for the introduction of a new Social Contract.  This new Social Contract should have as its aim the achievement of the common good. The common good depends on having the social systems, institutions and environments on which we all depend working in a manner that benefits all people.  In seeking to deliver the common good, a new Social Contract – relevant for the 21st Century – must anticipate many developments, including future technological progress and the changing world of work; demographic changes; migration; and the need to care for the environment. But it must also tackle the problems Ireland currently faces; the immediate COVID-19 crisis and those persistent problems in Irish society for which we have yet to provide a solution. It must have equality, fairness and social justice at its heart, and it must ensure that nobody is left behind.

As part of the new Social Contract, Ireland as a society should aim to deliver public services and social infrastructure equivalent to those delivered by the similarly developed economies of Western Europe, i.e. the EU-15. Irish people expect these standards.

The full Report is available on the CSO website here.

The CSO provide the following summary of the main findings:

Well-being

  • In April 2020, 12.2% of respondents aged 18 and over rated their overall life satisfaction as High, a reduction of almost three-quarters on the 2018 rate of 44.3%. The corresponding rate in 2013 was 31.4%
  • Respondents aged 18-34 were the least likely to report High overall life satisfaction, and had the largest decrease of all age groups between 2018 and April 2020 (48.8% to 10.2%).
  • In both 2013 and 2018 approximately 60% of respondents rated their satisfaction with personal relationships as High, falling to 42.4% in April 2020.
  • Married respondents were the most likely to rate their satisfaction with their personal relationships as High in April 2020 (51.0%), 2018 (68.4%) and 2013 (70.0%).
  • The share of respondents aged 18-34 who felt they could Not access non-material help (e.g. somebody to talk to, help with doing something), in April 2020 was over four times higher than the corresponding figure in 2018, increasing from 3.4% to 16.0%. The figure for respondents aged 70 and above was 8.7% in April 2020, double that of the 2018 figure of 4.2%.
  • In April 2020, 26.6% of respondents reported feeling lonely At least some of the time in the past four weeks, up from 16.9% in 2018.
  • Almost one third (32.4%) of respondents felt downhearted or depressed At least some of the time in the four weeks prior to interview, compared to just over one in ten (13.4%) in 2018 and two in ten (21.3%) in 2013.
  • In April 2020 62.0% of respondents aged 18 and over reported being happy All or most of the time in the past four weeks, a decrease on the 2018 and 2013 figures of 80.4% and 76.5% respectively.

Personal Concerns

  • Almost two thirds (63.4%) of respondents were Very or Extremely concerned about somebody else’s health, while just over one quarter (25.8%) were Very or Extremely concerned about their own health
  • Of respondents living in multiple person households, the majority (76.9%) were Somewhat or Very concerned about household stress from confinement, while 6.0% were Somewhat or Very concerned about violence in the home.
  • Over one in five (20.6%) of respondents aged 70 and over were Very concerned about household stress from confinement

Changes in Consumption

  • More than one in five (22.2%) said that their alcohol consumption had Increased, 17.2% said their consumption had Decreased.
  • Male and female respondents reported similar percentage increases in their consumption of alcohol, 20.9% and 23.4% respectively. A higher proportion of male respondents (26.0%) reported a decrease in alcohol consumption compared with females (8.6%).
  • Over 30% of respondents aged 18-44 reported an increase in their alcohol consumption. Nearly a quarter (22.9%) of respondents aged 18-34 also reported a decrease in alcohol consumption. More than three quarters (77.1%) of respondents age 70+ reported No change.
  • Respondents with low well-being scores had higher increases in alcohol consumption. Respondents that felt very nervous, downhearted or depressed or lonely at least some of the time over the past four weeks reported an increase in their alcohol consumption (29.3%, 29.5% and 30.4% respectively).
  • More than four in ten (41.8%) of respondents that were very concerned about household stress from confinement reported an increase in alcohol consumption
  • Over 30% of respondents said their tobacco consumption had Increased, 8.6% said it had Decreased.
  • More than half (52.0%) of respondents that felt downhearted or depressed at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks Increased their tobacco consumption.
  • Over 37% stated that their frequency of exercising had Increased, 33.2% said that it had Decreased.
  • More than half (53.4%) of respondents aged 70+ reported that their frequency of exercising had Decreased since COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Female respondents were considerably more likely to increase consumption of junk food (54.3%) compared with men (35.6%).
  • Respondents that felt very nervous, downhearted or depressed or lonely at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks reported higher increases in their consumption of junk food and sweets (57.9%, 59.4%, 59.6% respectively).
  • Over 44% of survey respondents reported that time spent watching television had increased.
  • Respondents that had reported either feeling downhearted and depressed, very nervous or lonely at least some of the time in the 4 weeks prior to interview were most likely to have Increased time spent watching television since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions (52.5%, 50.1% and 62.2% respectively).
  • Nearly 3 out of 5 respondents (59.1%) reported spending more time on the internet.
  • Respondents aged 18-34 reported the highest increase (71.9%) in time spent on the internet.

Working Life

  • Almost half (49.1%) of those newly labour inactive since Q1 2020 (those employed in Q1 2020 but not employed in April 2020) rate their overall life satisfaction as Low, compared to 26.8% of those employed and engaged in work duties.
  • Those who are employed and engaged in work duties are most likely to be happy, with almost two in three (62.5%) reporting feeling happy At least most of the time.
  • The newly labour inactive group were the most concerned about maintaining social ties, with 35.6% reporting they were Very or Extremely
  • Those respondents who were working outside the home in April 2020 were more likely to have a low life satisfaction, with 30.0% rating their overall life satisfaction as Low.
  • Respondent working outside the home were more likely to be Very or Extremely concerned about their own health (26.3%), compared to 11.8% of those working from home. These respondents were also more likely to report feeling very nervous, downhearted or depressed or lonely At least some of the time.
  • Of those respondents who want to return to their place of work after COVID-19, 28.3% reported feeling lonely At least some of the time.
  • The newly labour inactive group were the most severely financially impacted by COVID-19. Of this group 38.7% reported a Major or Moderate negative impact on the household's ability to meet their financial obligations.
  • Households with children are most likely to be negatively financially affected by COVID-19, with 23.0% reporting Major or Moderate negative financial impact.

Other Social Impacts

Compliance

  • Four in five (80.6%) respondents rated their compliance with government’s current advice as High, less than one in five (18.4%) rated their compliance as Medium with less than 1% of respondents rating their compliance as Low.
  • Over 88% of female respondents rated their compliance as High compared with 72.5% of male respondent.
  • Compliance with government advice decreased with educational attainment - 83.0% of respondents with higher secondary or lower education rated their compliance as High compared with 77.4% for those with third level bachelor degree or above.
  • Compliance with current government advice increased with respondents’ perception of how severe the illness would be, were they to contract COVID-19 - nearly 87% of those that thought they would have a more severe or critical illness rated their compliance as High compared with 67.1% that thought they would have a mild illness.
  • Compliance with government advice rose in line with respondents’ concern for their own and somebody else’s health. Over 89% of respondents that were extremely concerned about their own health rated their compliance as High. Over 86% of respondents that were extremely concerned for another person’s health rated themselves as highly compliant.

Sources of Information

  • The main source of information used by respondents to stay informed about COVID-19 were ranked Television (36.2%), Mainstream news websites (27.8%), HSE/government agency websites (11.1%), Social media (9.3%) and Radio (8.7%). Less used main sources were Family, friends and colleagues (3.3%), Newspapers (1.9%), Health professionals (1.1%) and Other (0.7%).

[1] Delaney, L. and Dolan, P. (2020): We need graphs for coronavirus misery as well as mortality, Irish Times, April 25, 2020.