By Frances Bedding – Head of Partnerships & External Relationships, CAS
The impact of Covid on our economy has been visible in the news every day since the start of the pandemic. The closure of most retail and many other businesses during lockdown, working from home, queuing due to limits on the number of people allowed in premises, and the closure of our social hubs such as pubs, restaurants, some village halls and visitor attractions has had varying impacts on all of us. Now that things are starting to move forward from Covid, with recent initiatives such as ‘Eat out to Help Out’, the opening up of the economy, and growing demand and pressure on our VCSE organisations to provide support to people beginning to realise the impact of reduced hours, furloughing and redundancy, it is good to capture the immediate impacts that we may be aware of, along with some potential longer-term impacts that we may not be so aware of. The VCSE sector will feel many of the impacts of Covid – people worried about their finances and the impact of redundancy or reduced hours, the continuing impact of reduced services and provision of local activities such as exercise classes, lunch clubs, children activities and clubs, and many other things that bring our communities together and boost cohesion.
There is a close link between the economy and its health, and the wider health of our population. Local services rely on a network of community buildings, but also pubs, cafés and places where activities take place – spaces in private premises that are used by clubs associated with that business (shops with crafts, knitting groups, book clubs etc). The lack of activity and freedom to mingle has impacted on the income of businesses and community groups alike – it has affected income and employment, and this translates into fewer opportunities – particularly in our rural areas. We know from recent work carried out by MIND on wellbeing and mental health that key influencers on peoples lives – the need for attention, status, achievement and community – have been affected by the Covid pandemic, and this looks set to continue with recent developments in the second wave of Covid.
MIND have highlighted that as we emerged out of the first lockdown, well-being has not risen as it would be expected to. This is likely to be due to ongoing worries about the future, people’s feelings of insecurity and worries about what the future holds. There is a shared impact on the economy and on the VCSE sector. Worries potentially cause people to be less engaged with their work as they are worrying about wider issues, and they then move from well being through stress into mental ill health. This impacts further on their performance at work, on the economy, and on the demand for help from our VCSE sector to deal with the issues that they are experiencing. This could require help from the VCSE on a number of fronts – mental health and well-being, financial advice, help with relationship issues, domestic violence and help for work colleagues who also feel stressed and needing support.
Going forward the nature of work and training is likely to change:
- Use of office/commercial space within town centre’s, high streets, business parks. The impact of working from home on our town centre economies – café’s, shops and other things that lunch time and early evening trade supports. Possible additional space for VCSE organisations who need additional space to meet rising demand.
- Lunch and early evening economies – negatives for larger towns and cities, gains for rural market towns and local businesses – potential impact on giving and volunteering in the VCSE.
- Work/life balance – loss of social contact balanced against time saved from travel. Time to think on journey home lost and division between work:home is blurred.
- Approaches to further and higher education training needs – remote learning. Will this affect take up? Loss of experience of learning with others.
Transport and travel:
- Public and private vehicle travel – less overall but the balance between the two is changing.
- Active travel – walking & cycling – health benefits in short term. Impact of Winter?
- Distribution of freight
Structural changes to the economy:
- Suffolk’s sector strengths – tourism initially adversely affected – some parts of sector doing well – staycations etc, but others suffering due to social distancing. Impact on young people in hospitality industry. Long term impact if/when second wave materialises.
- Impact of EU exit – opportunities and constraints.
To say that the impact of the pandemic on the economy in the context of people has been significant is an understatement. Suffolk Growth Group recently presented to the Collaborative Communities Board and showed the likely impact on different people. This included a person with reduced hours due to employers reduced business (cancelled membership of a gym – loss of income to local business, potential loss of stress reducer and overall fitness, mental well-being), loss of part time employment for a pensioner (now volunteers locally), redundancy (loss of income to childcare provider and cut back in other household expenditure, worries about paying mortgage so may need advice and support from VCSE), self employed business closure (impact on loss of 15 employees who now claim UC, loss of business rate revenue for local authority, personal mental health issues).