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Monitoring socioeconomic and mental health trajectories through the COVID-19 pandemic

Woman working out finances
Published: November 2020

This research investigates how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s mental health and financial situation, and how this differs among different groups of the UK population.

This research aims to identify who has felt the deepest and the longest-lasting impact on their financial situation and their mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how these two impacts are related. By using data collected both before and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NatCen is investigating who was hit the hardest by the initial shock to the UK economy and the lockdown restrictions introduced, and how they have recovered since then.

Findings

The first output of this research project is a briefing paper investigating how job and financial insecurity is related to mental distress amongst employees across the UK, and the impact the UK government’s furlough scheme has had on this. This found that:

  • Furloughed workers were over twice as likely to feel insecure in their jobs and to report high levels of financial insecurity compared to non-furloughed workers.
  • Higher levels of job insecurity and financial insecurity two months after lockdown were associated with greater increases in mental distress.
  • Furlough moderated the extent to which employment and financial circumstances were associated with increases in mental distress. Furloughed workers in insecure jobs two months after lockdown were less likely to experience mental distress than their counterparts who were not furloughed.
  • Furlough was protective of mental health among people with long-term insecure jobs. Furloughed workers who were in long-term insecure jobs, before and during the lockdown, reported no increase in mental distress, unlike their counterparts who had not been furloughed.

Methodology

This research project analyses data collected through Understanding Society’s COVID-19 survey, linked to pre-pandemic data from nine waves of Understanding Society (the UK Household Longitudinal Study) collected since 2009. Understanding Society is a nationally representative sample of households, with each household visited every 12 months. From April 2020 it has also conducted regular surveys asking respondents about their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This allows us to track individuals’ responses over time, while controlling for a wide range of contextual factors measured at multiple time points.

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (grant number ES/V009877/1)