Sampling COVID’s impact on Surrey

By Michael Coughlin | 13 January 2021

Heading into the new year it would be easy to underestimate the serious longer term social and economic impacts the coronavirus pandemic will continue to have on our communities and the economy in some obvious but also, as yet, unknown ways.

In Surrey, as part of our place-based leadership, we are using extensive research, data, analysis and insight to better understand these impacts and to inform and guide our interventions and activity in the coming months and years. We are creating, sharing and growing a rich and detailed view of our residents, communities, localities and economy, in order to better serve and support them.

As elsewhere, the pandemic is having significant impacts on Surrey residents, businesses and the economy and we wanted to better understand and forecast these impacts in order to ensure the best possible response, help and interventions going forward.

We commissioned work from Arup early in the pandemic about the immediate effects on the economy and more recently, Third Life Economics, about the underlying and potentially longer lasting socio-economic and behavioural changes brought about by the pandemic.

Our Surrey Future Economy Commission, chaired by Lord Hammond, appointed the University of Surrey to undertake detailed research into sector impacts and suggest interventions which would assist economic recovery, including:

  • Promoting Surrey as a great place to do business.
  • Fostering the growth of our many micro-businesses.
  • Enhancing innovation in our knowledge, health and aviation sectors.
  • Boosting technological and digital infrastructure.

Building on the work with our district and borough colleagues on the Surrey Future Place Ambition, this evidence base is being used by the council to shape a new economic growth strategy. Together with the One Surrey Growth Board it aims to engage all local stakeholders, including businesses and district and borough councils, to collectively corral and focus our efforts.

In parallel with this, recognising the deep impacts felt by individuals and neighbourhoods, we have developed a comprehensive Community Impact Assessment (CIA). Led by our head of analytics and insight, Satyam Bhagwanani, and consultant in public health intelligence and insights, Naheed Rana, and shared widely across the county, it is helping us and our partners analyse and better understand the health and social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on Surrey residents and communities.

Thousands of residents, staff and a wide range of public, voluntary, charitable, faith and private sector partners have taken part in the research. This has helped Surrey CC to develop a deep understanding of our residents’ experiences, assisting in the determination of local priorities. The elements that make up the CIA are:

  • Geographical impact assessment – an analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on local communities across health, economic and vulnerability dimensions.
  • Temperature check survey of over 2,000 households across Surrey.
  • Place-based ethnography – detailed research to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals in those communities that have been most impacted.
  • Rapid needs assessments – 10 in-depth assessments of how vulnerable communities have been affected and these communities’ needs and priorities.
  • Local Recovery Index (LRI) – monitoring how well Surrey is recovering from the pandemic, using a range of indicators across three themes: economy, health and society.

The community impact assessment is a dynamic, ‘living’, dataset which is being regularly updated to ensure its relevance and accuracy. Key findings from the work to date include:

  • Fifty two per cent of 16-25-year-olds feeling lonelier due to lockdown, with 46% of low-income households feeling the same.
  • Over 50% of residents affected in terms of their household employment and finances with a threefold increase in the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits.
  • Difficulty accessing information and online services for some.
  • People with dementia living on their own and homeless people were disproportionately impacted.
  • Pre-existing domestic abuse has been exacerbated.
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic minority (BAME) and gypsy, Roma and traveller communities identifying the need for more culturally appropriate communication.
  • Greater stigma being felt by shielded individuals, people with disabilities and chronic conditions, people in residential homes and people from BAME communities.

More positively, residents reported:

  • Positive sentiment towards local services – e.g. calls and services for vulnerable people such as food and medication delivery, telephone GP appointments, etc.
  • A positive impact on their connection to their local community, with greater links being formed between residents.
  • Some parents and carers spoke about the positive impact of not having to do the school run and feeling more relaxed.

Surrey county council leader Tim Oliver has been clear about the value of having as accurate as possible a picture of the county’s communities and economies, which we will continue to maintain and develop.

The granular, place-based evidence base and the insights it gives us is driving everything we do around our key strategic priorities for a greener future, growing a sustainable economy, tackling health inequalities and empowering communities – with the aim of improving the lives of every Surrey resident.

Michael Coughlin is deputy chief executive of Surrey CC


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