Social cohesion has helped communities cope better during Covid-19

Olivia Miller
joel-muniz-A4Ax1ApccfA-unsplash by Unsplash

Research by Kent and the Cohesion and Integration Network, Belong, has found that people living in local authorities that have invested in social cohesion in the last two years have coped better during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Residents are twice as likely to volunteer helping others and had seen an improvement in relationships with family and neighbours during the pandemic if their local authority had received government funding for social cohesion projects or identified it as a priority.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compared the views and experiences of people living in six English local authority areas which had invested and prioritised social cohesion programmes prior to Covid-19 with those of people living elsewhere in Britain.

Led by Professor Dominic Abrams of the School of Psychology and Jo Broadwood, CEO of Belong, the study’s key findings included:

  • People in social cohesion investment areas were twice as likely to be involved in social activism during the Covid-19 pandemic than those elsewhere in Britain
  • In areas investing in cohesion, one in four people (24%) had volunteered in the past month compared to just eight per cent elsewhere
  • People living in investment areas reported their relationships with family and neighbours had improved during Covid-19 while those elsewhere rated these relationships as staying the same or declining
  • People in cohesion investment areas were more likely to say they were optimistic about the future than those living elsewhere (54 per cent versus 48 per cent)
  • Positive attitudes towards people from immigrant backgrounds were also more common among those in cohesion investment areas compared to elsewhere.

In total almost 3,000 people were surveyed, assessing the experiences of those in five local authority areas – Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Walsall, Waltham Forest and Peterborough which received Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government Integration Area funding, plus Calderdale which identified cohesion as a strategic priority. These were then compared with the experiences of people living in Scotland, Wales and Kent.

Overall, the research paints a picture of local authorities who have invested in cohesion now reaping the benefits of being more socially cohesive and more resilient during the pandemic. It also identifies factors influencing social cohesion during a time of crisis – and can be used to help other areas rebuild and recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Professor Abrams said: ‘Following the government’s investment in social cohesion in particular local authorities we now observe that their residents are more likely to volunteer, feel more optimistic and report better relationships with family and neighbours. These communities appear better set up to weather the storm of Covid-19. Our research is continuing, and so far supports a strong case for continuing to invest in social cohesion programmes at local levels.’

The study was carried out as part of ‘Beyond Us and Them’, a wider longitudinal study by the School of Psychology’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes and Belong to track social cohesion during the pandemic. The full report titled ‘The Social Cohesion Investment: Local areas that invested in social cohesion programmes are faring better in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic’ can be read here.