COVID-19 Pandemic: One year on from the UK’s first lockdown

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since the UK entered its first coronavirus lockdown on 23 March 2020. At the time, the future felt bleak and our path out of the pandemic uncertain. It was clear, however, that economics research was going to play an essential role in understanding and responding to the unfolding public health and economic crisis.


By Vicky Jackson, Research Manager, School of Economics

Over the last twelve months, many colleagues from the School of Economics have turned their attention to the impact of the pandemic on areas such as education, gender equality, prices and inflation, employment and incomes, and the UK regions. They have communicated their work to a wide range of audiences, through academic articles, briefings, webinars, podcasts, press and broadcast media. We are proud of the research and analysis that colleagues have produced, which can be explored through our Coronavirus Hub.


Our Research 


Among the research undertaken, Simon Burgess and Hans Henrik Sievertsen have worked on both the impact of lost and disrupted learning as a result of school closures and the policy response. In August 2020, Simon was co-author of the interdisciplinary DELVE group’s Royal Society report: Balancing the Risks of Pupils Returning to Schools which received considerable attention from policy-makers and the press. Simon continues to work on the effects of lost learning and has been active in discussions around the education recovery programme with senior officials in the Department for Education.


Babak Somekh was co-lead author on an ImpactEd report Lockdown Lessons: pupil learning and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic drawing on data from around 60,000 pupils aged 6-18 across England over a seven-month period. Key findings include insights on pupil wellbeing and the unequal impact of remote learning on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This research is intended to support schools in their immediate response to the pandemic and in longer-term strategic planning to mitigate its effects.  


Sarah Smith has studied the unequal burden of increased childcare responsibilities on women. For International Women’s Day (8 March 2021), Sarah guest-edited for the Economics Observatory, commissioning a series of articles focussing on the impact of the crisis on women.


Monica Costa Dias, who joined Bristol this autumn, has looked at inequalities in children’s experiences of home learning during the COVID‐19 lockdown in England and the impacts of the COVID‐19 crisis on inequalities including employment and earning potential, family life and health.

Monica has also studied potential labour market policy responses to the challenges likely to be faced during the recovery period, and Peter Spittal has explored the impacts of COVID-19 on labour markets and the effectiveness of the initial policy responses of furloughing in the UK and Economic Impact Payments in the US.


Helen Simpson has contributed to debate on the economic implications of COVID-19 for UK regions and on the government’s levelling up agenda. She has highlighted the amplifying effect of the pandemic on existing geographic inequalities, with health, economic, and educational effects likely to hit places unevenly.


Finally, Richard Davies, the School’s Professor in the Public Understanding of Economics has produced a report  on prices and inflation in the UK between 1988 and 2020. This extended time coverage allows for a comparison of the coronavirus pandemic with other historic shocks, including the ERM crisis, the 2008 financial crash and the 2016 EU referendum.

Communicating Our Research  

Economics Observatory

Richard Davies leads the Economics Observatory, which we welcomed to the School in September. Funded by the ESRC, the Observatory is a collective initiative by the economics research community to answer questions about the economics of the COVID-19 crisis and the recovery. The Observatory addresses policy-makers, the media, the public, students and teachers who are interested in the economics of COVID-19 and the implications for households, organisations and public policy. Other members of the team include Sarah Smith as a lead editor and Simon Burgess on the editorial board. Since the site went live in May 2020, colleagues at Bristol have contributed articles on the impact of the pandemic on education in universities and schools, on regional inequality and on women. In total, our articles have received over 8500 views. You can find these in the ‘short articles’ section of our hub.  


The Centre for Evidence-based Public Services (CEPS) also receives funding from the ESRC and is based in the School of Economics. It is led by Helen Simpson and is home to a team firmly focused on research with policy impact, conducting data-intensive work on a variety of public services and economic policy issues, from health, education and welfare to transport and the environment.

Evidence Magazine, Winter 2020

In December the Centre produced the pandemic edition of Evidence, its new magazine. It featured articles on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on jobs and on the next generations, both those currently in education and those not even born yet.

Alongside these key resources, academics in the School have also reached policy-makers and the public through other means. Simon Burgess has been interviewed about his research on learning loss by the BBC, Talk Radio and CNN International. Richard Davies was invited to talk to Times Radio about the budget and policies to address the huge government debt accrued during the pandemic. Sarah Smith spoke to VoxEu Podcasts about her research on the impact on gender inequality. Simon Burgess and Helen Simpson both contributed to the Royal Economic Society COVID-19 webinar series.

The pandemic has taken a terrible toll, but its health and economic impacts, and the huge disruption it has caused does provide us with a unique opportunity to challenge the way we manage our society and economy. It provides a once in a lifetime chance to reassess and to hopefully build back better. Once the recovery begins, economics research will continue to provide the tools and evidence to shape this crucial discussion.