How do we balance wealth and health during Covid-19?

A new study by academic experts suggests some creative solutions that, it says, can help to save jobs and balance the economic and health issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A woman sits at her desk with hand sanitiser and face mask in the foreground


How can we balance the risks to health and wealth over the next months of continuing Covid uncertainty?

A new report by a panel of experts, convened by the Royal Society, seeks to answer that question and provide concrete suggestions for how the UK can move forwards.

The DELVE Initiative was set up by the Royal Society to “draw on insights from recent economic work into the pandemic that transcends the crude ‘health versus the economy’ dichotomy that indiscriminate lockdown measures tend to invoke” and “explore more targeted interventions that have the potential to alleviate the trade-off between lives and livelihoods, attaining more desirable outcomes in both dimensions”.

Its recommendations recognise that sectors, firms and individuals are interlinked, with measures taken in one sector likely to affect other parts of the economy and that fear is a big driver of economic behaviour with uncertainty set to persist.

It proposes the following potential ways of dealing with the next months:

  • Workplace rotation schemes or split shifts which it says could reduce contact and enable greater social distancing
  • Subsidised workplace testing to identify and control workplace outbreaks quickly, particularly in key sectors and those occupations in which ‘high-contact’ is a feature.
  • Flexible furloughing which it says could help to open up the labour market and incentivise business investment in new homeworking technologies, given disruption is likely to continue and it will be important to develop effective job-creation schemes in occupations and firms that can adapt to these new circumstances.
  • A review of statutory sick pay, which, in its current form, it says is a disincentive for people with Covid symptoms to self isolate.
  • Rotation schemes and better online provision for both teaching and exams when it comes to schools.
  • Promoting new green jobs and addressing regional inequalities, for example, promoting employment schemes supported by training programmes in clean energy sectors and home insulation can aid in reducing carbon emissions.
  • A review of the design of unemployment support systems and schemes designed to help individuals back into work.

It calls for interventions to be targeted at those most affected by the pandemic, including women and those in lower paid jobs which cannot be done remotely. And it says access to good data is vital for those designing effective interventions, for instance, it says action is needed by government to ensure fine-grained financial data is made available for analysis.

The report comes amid concerns for West End jobs due to more people working from home and worrying about the risks of taking public transport and a study by the Office for National Statistics analysis which shows the coronavirus impact on different sectors of the economy.  It shows 46% of arts industry workers were still furloughed between July 13th and 26th and 31% of workers in the accommodation and food services sector. Nevertheless, the ONS says the arts sector has seen the highest proportion of the workforce returning from furlough in the two weeks before the survey, at 25%. This compares to the 17% seen in the accommodation and food services sector and 10% in the construction sector.

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