The Socio-Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Ceredigion County Households

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Abstract

In this study, we investigate the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents of Ceredigion. With the shutting down of most economic activities across the world and the UK through lockdowns, it was inevitable that the resulting impact would be far-reaching and would reverberate across the globe. Therefore, it was expected that Ceredigion - one of the UK’s rural counties, would not be immune to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. Furthermore, the anticipated combined effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions clearly showed the need for a study of this nature.

Ceredigion is situated in the coastal area of Mid-Wales. Geographically, Ceredigion can be described as primarily rural, with towns, villages, and other sparsely populated settlements. Most economic activities include agriculture, hospitality, tourism, retail, civil service, and education, including higher education, self-employment, non-governmental organisations, and charities. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in late 2019 and the declaration of the disease as a pandemic in March 2020 led to the enactment of various restrictions meant to contain it by the United Kingdom and Welsh governments. The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak necessitated some containment measures, which had a direct negative impact on the economy, social health, and mental health of the population. Before long, it became evident that there were socio-economic costs to the pandemic, the restrictions, and the lockdowns that the government had put in place. The UK government introduced the stay-at-home measures on Monday, 23 March 2020.

The main objective of this research project is to examine the evidence to understand the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns on households in Ceredigion. Furthermore, the study seeks to understand the negative and positive developments that occurred during the pandemic and how these could help inform future policy responses by the county council. Additionally, it is expected that this report will be of value to other stakeholders working in the county, such as government agencies, NGOs, charities, and residents. This study is based on a survey of households in Ceredigion, a review of related academic literature, and other studies carried out by government agencies and non-governmental organisations on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom and other countries in the world.

This study investigates how Ceredigion residents’ living conditions, employment, earnings, and consumption levels changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also examines how Ceredigion residents coped while staying at home, focusing on the effect of school closures, changes to weekly activities, caring responsibilities and digital connectivity issues.

We received a total of two hundred and forty-six (246) responses to our survey. Most of the responses came through the online version of the survey, which was hosted on both the Ceredigion County Council and Aberystwyth University’s websites and other social media outlets. During the pandemic, the online platform seemed the quickest and safest way of reaching people hence our decision to conduct an online survey of the residents. Also, we believe that the data collection method did not impede the size and diversity of the data collected. This is because our sample is sufficiently diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, religion, occupation, education, and income levels. Therefore, by convention, the level of response received is more than sufficient for this level of study.

The responses came from residents aged 16 years old and above, of which 73% were females and 25% were males. Most of the respondents (77%) were between 25 and 64 years old. In addition, 93% of the respondents described themselves as ethnically white, and 3% were ethnic minorities. Our respondents included working residents, full-time students, and pensioners. The occupations of the respondents varied widely. 46% of them worked in education and academia, 13% worked in the civil service, 13% in healthcare and childcare sectors, and 10% in not-for-profit, charities, social enterprises, and voluntary groups. 15% of the respondents earned annual salary of £15,000 or below. 15% earned between £26,000 and £35,000; 16% earned between £36,000 to £45,000, 14% earned £66,000 or above.

Our findings show significant changes in the population’s social, economic, and health patterns since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Areas such as household spending, care responsibilities, homeschooling, employment situations, mental health, physical and outdoor exercise, and general health conditions have changed considerably during the pandemic. In addition, the need for computing devices, internet connectivity, and digital accessibility have all seen an increase during the pandemic.

Responses from our survey suggest that the various government employment support schemes, whilst helping to alleviate the immediate effects of the pandemic, might have masked the actual implications of the pandemic on the employment situation of Ceredigion residents. Our survey indicates that the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the employment situation of individuals within Ceredigion varied significantly. For instance, 60% of people in paid employment worked from home since the beginning of the pandemic. 61% continued to maintain their pre-COVID-19 work hours, 5% had reduced work hours, and a further 3% were permanently laid off or made redundant due to the pandemic. Another 3% lost their jobs because their employer had closed due to the adverse effects of the pandemic. Those working in the hospitality, tourism, arts, and entertainment sectors have been the hardest hit due to the government’s restrictions and lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, people in occupations such as teaching, and the civil service continued working online from their homes. Although it seems that the government Furlough Scheme had cushioned the anticipated adverse impact of the pandemic on employment, there was uncertainty concerning what happened to peoples’ employment situation when the Furlough and other employment support schemes were fully withdrawn.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on household income and spending power in the county varied significantly. Our survey shows that 27% made spending cuts primarily because of a reduction in their disposable income due to the effect of the pandemic on their jobs. A majority had to adjust their spending level when they were placed on the Furlough Scheme, reduced their contracted work hours or lost their jobs. Additionally, 8% of the respondents had taken out mortgages, loans, or credit card repayment holidays with their lenders due to reduced income. Overall, 80% of the respondents said they had changed their spending habits – with the most significant increases seen in food items expenditure, household utility bills, internet provision, and online entertainment. Increases in utility bills, internet, and online entertainment were directly linked to individuals spending more time at home and working from home because of the pandemic restrictions. On the contrary, a reduction in spending was seen on outdoor socialising, fuel for commuting, and travelling in general.

During the pandemic, the need to home-school children due to the closure of schools brought increased responsibilities for parents, caregivers, and guardians. This increase in responsibilities is more pronounced for single-parent households, households with more than one child, and where the responsible parent or guardian is in full-time employment. The additional pressure from people taking on other responsibilities resulted in stress and anxiety, further affecting their productivity and performance at work. 40% of households surveyed had children living in them, and many parents struggled to juggle home-schooling with work responsibilities. This is due to the intermittent closure of schools and childcare settings in Ceredigion during the pandemic. For some individuals who fall within the ‘key worker/critical worker’(See Appendix 1) category, the situation was even more challenging. The reason is that critical workers continued to work at their workplaces during the pandemic as their services were deemed essential by the government, so they could not work from home. Although childcare provision was put in place for the children of critical workers, many question the quality of education received during that period. Some of the reasons were that the childcare centres could not have served as care and educational facilities at the same time. At the initial stage of the pandemic, school children of ages from various schools were looked after at the same facility run by Ceredigion County Council. Furthermore, there was confusion regarding who qualified as a ‘key worker’, especially as the description in the initial government guidance was somewhat ambiguous. For example, while healthcare assistants working within the National Health Service were deemed to have met the criteria, carers working in care homes were not. Childcare and home-schooling were problematic for the latter, who had to continue to work on-site. Additionally, 14% of the respondents cared for adults living at home and other family members while holding other job related responsibilities.

Our findings show that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Ceredigion residents’ mental, physical, and general health. 55% of the respondents indicated that they felt isolated from friends, family, and society during the pandemic. Also, 14% of the respondents had to shield themselves following the health guidance given to vulnerable individuals by the National Health Service. These individuals were not to participate or undertake any physical activity outside their homes. Due to shielding, individuals living alone were further isolated from their wider families, friends, and community. Some believed their mental health was affected due to shielding. Another 33% experienced various degrees of difficulty with their general mental wellbeing, and 18% experienced hardship during the pandemic. Furthermore, 37% of the respondents were unable to carry on with their routine physical exercise due to gym closures and restrictions on using external space outside their homes. Additionally, 42% believed that the COVID-19 pandemic directly impacted their regular physical activity. The above findings showed that while healthcare services were dealing with the effects of COVID-19, other healthcare and wellbeing areas seemed not to have received the attention they deserved. As with any survey-based data collection method, it is important to note that most of those who completed the questionnaire were likely to be the least affected by the pandemic. This is evident from the demographic and income characteristics of the respondents – so caution needs to be exercised in reading and interpreting the results. In addition, the people hardest hit might have been preoccupied with their current predicaments not to have noticed or were not motivated to participate in the survey. We hoped to draw further evidence from a different data collection method such as in person focus groups, but this was not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that were in place during the data collection stage.

Finally, the outcome of this study shows that while the containment measures put in place may have been successful in reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the burden on the National Health Service, the socio-economic and general well-being of the population suffered in part, as a result of those measures. For example, the shutting down of economic activities during the pandemic resulted in people’s income being negatively affected by the loss of employment, reduced contracted work hours, or reduced wages for workers on the Furlough Scheme. Also, lockdowns and other COVID-19 containment measures had a direct negative impact on peoples’ general wellbeing due to physical isolation from families and friends and inaccessibility to physical exercise facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and the use of open spaces. Furthermore, the additional stress of homeworking and schooling had significant adverse effects on the population, leading to other health and social problems. As a result, there has been a multilevel increase in vulnerability for most people. It is expected that social, health and economic vulnerabilities are some of the medium- to long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, organisations, governments and government agencies must be proactive to implement appropriate policy frameworks to tackle the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the months and years ahead.
Translated title of the contributionEffaith Economaidd-Gymdeithasol Pandemig COVID-19 ar Aelwydydd Sir Ceredigion
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPrifysgol Aberystwyth | Aberystwyth University
Number of pages72
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023

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