New study to discover inequalities caused by coronavirus pandemic and Brexit across Britain

There are clear signs that the virus has most affected those who are already disadvantaged.

Mass surveys and in-depth fieldwork across England will be used to explore how the coronavirus pandemic is both creating new social inequalities as well as reinforcing existing ones.

The major new study, funded by ESRC as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, will show how coronavirus has affected people differently from diverse backgrounds according to their class, age, location, race & ethnicity, nationality and migration status.

There are clear signs that the virus has most affected those who are already disadvantaged. This new research about how it has deepened inequalities across England will help policymakers and others to help communities.

The University of Exeter-led research will also show how the pandemic is being covered by the media. People will be asked about their engagement with broadcast and online news and newspapers during the pandemic. Initial research suggests people have renewed their use of the BBC in order to read and share news since March 2020.

The project will be connected to another study by the researchers which examines how Brexit has been covered by local and national media, and people’s views on Britain’s exit from the EU, for which they have carried out 180 interviews with communities across England. For this project some of the same people will be re-interviewed about their experiences during the lockdown, and how coronavirus has affected their jobs and relationships.

Dr Katharine Tyler, who is leading the study, said: “Coronavirus and Brexit are extraordinary social and political processes that are occurring simultaneously and both expose the major inequalities that underpin British society across class, ethnic, racial, national, migrant, generational and geographical identities.

“We want to discover how the inequalities of COVID-19 and Brexit have been framed by the media and how this is different to everyday experiences. Understanding these inequalities and their potential effects on social and political polarisation is crucial to answering how and in what shape British society emerges from Brexit and COVID -19.”

The representative online panel survey will collect information about people’s everyday experiences during the pandemic in England over a six month period.

Researchers will analyse content from television broadcasts, national and local newspapers from the home regions of people being interviewed – in the South West (Exeter and Devon), North East (Newcastle and Northumberland) and Midlands (Leicester and Boston)

The researchers will also collaborate with an artist to co-produce an art installation that will convey the inequalities of COVID-19 and Brexit identified as part of the study.

University of Exeter academics involved in the study, which runs until December 2021, are Professor Susan Banducci, Professor Dan Stevens and Dr Laszlo Horvath and Dr Joshua Blamire. Newcastle University’s Professor Cathrine Degnen is also a core team member.

Professor Dan Stevens, who is leading the survey and media work said: “Understanding these inequalities and their potential effects on social and political polarisation will be crucial to answering how and in what shape British society emerges from Brexit and COVID -19. Our surveys and fieldwork will help us to understand people’s ongoing experiences of the pandemic.”

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