Family, community and COVID-19 – new research at the University of Lincoln to examine social influences on burden of disease

The ways in which family and community ties across different parts of Britain have shaped the burden of disease from COVID-19 – including apparent disproportionate fatality ratios among different demographic groups – will be explored in a major new research project.

Dr Adegbola Ojo, a specialist in human geography and health inequalities based at the University of Lincoln, UK, has been awarded a prestigious grant by the British Academy to examine how ‘social capital’ – the often unseen social networks that link people and places – have influenced the distribution and outcomes of COVID-19 cases, and how they could also play an important role in communities’ recovery from the pandemic.

He will be investigating the social aspects of family and community life which have shaped previous pandemics and may help to explain why some demographic groups appear to have been impacted disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Ojo said: “There is now a recognition and broad acceptance that the nature of risk in British society has changed dramatically. Risk has become systematised by the social aspects of human activity. Britain has recorded one of the highest case fatality ratios in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, emerging evidence shows that fatal cases are disproportionately concentrated within certain geographical areas and among certain social and demographic groups.

“It is really important to generate understanding of why this may be happening and what role social networks, community cohesion and social capital may have played. There is an urgent need to understand the best ways to help individuals and communities – particularly the most vulnerable – recover in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

The project ‘The Nexus Between Social Capital and the Burden of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom’ is supported by the British Academy’s Special Research Grants (COVID-19) scheme, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Wellcome. The special grants support research in the humanities and social sciences which tackle critical questions raised by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The research is expected to run for two years and will incorporate data from the Office for National Statistics on cases and fatalities as well as a sample of participants from across the UK to examine aspects of social capital. Project partners include Skills for Health, UK local authorities, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland.