Mental Health

Why it’s time to change the way we think about ‘progress’ after the pandemic

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Lauren Geall
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The country’s wellbeing has been impacted massively by the pandemic – so it’s about time we had a recovery plan which acknowledged that. 

The impact of lockdown restrictions on the country’s collective wellbeing has attracted a lot of concern over the last 18 months, with rates of anxiety, depression and loneliness all having risen as a result. But just because those restrictions are now lifting, it doesn’t mean things will immediately get better.  

That’s one of the key points made in a new report from the wellbeing charity Carnegie UK, which considers how national wellbeing has been affected over the last year.

The review of Office for National Statistics’ wellbeing data not only found that overall wellbeing in England decreased in 2019/20, but predicts that this decline will worsen in 2020/21 due to falling rates of life satisfaction, happiness and financial stability in the aftermath of the pandemic.  

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In short, the report highlights that things are going to get worse before they get better – prompting calls from the charity for the government to rethink the way it measures the country’s post-pandemic progress. 

Currently, there’s been a lot of focus on economic recovery – e.g how much money people are spending or whether or not people are employed – measured via GDP (gross domestic product). But the charity believes it’s time for the government to use a different measure of national progress – gross domestic wellbeing, or GDWe, which is based on various factors such as health, education, governance and environment. They believe this will allow the government to address what really matters to people, and make policy decisions that reflect this.

“So much of what we’ve talked about during this pandemic has really reflected the complexity of our lives and the fact that things like our personal relationships, and the extent to which we can influence decisions… and even things like our access to green spaces has an impact,” Sarah Davidson, chief executive of Carnegie UK, told The Guardian. “All of these things actually tell you something really important about the quality of our life.”

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Gross domestic wellbeing, or GDWe, takes into account factors such as health, education and the environment.

Using GDWe as a measure of progress would not just help to paint a more detailed picture of the way the country recovers from the pandemic, it could also help to ensure the government addresses the myriad of unique challenges faced by women during the crisis.

Women have not only suffered numerous economic hardships as a result of the crisis – one study found that women are more likely than men to have experienced an overall drop in earnings, for example – but have also been affected by rising rates of domestic abuse (a crime that disproportionately affects women) and, according to research by UCL, higher levels of depression, loneliness and major stress then their male counterparts, all of which would be recognised by a wellbeing-focused approach. 

Using GDWe as a measure of progress could also give the government opportunity to address the further disparities experienced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women during the crisis – a report published by the Fawcett Society last year found that the coronavirus crisis had had a greater financial and psychological impact on BAME women than their white counterparts, with BAME women reporting the lowest levels of happiness and life satisfaction.  

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Finally, while this report and the charity’s mission may focus on wellbeing on a national level, Davidson’s words – and the wider message contained in the report – are an important reminder of the kind of personal recovery we’re all going through, too.

Being able to get out and about, spend money and make the most of restrictions lifting may make it feel like things are back to ‘normal’, but the experience of the last 18 months has taken its toll on us all. Acknowledging that will not only help to relieve the pressure many feel to get back to ‘normal’ before they’re ready, but give us all a chance to reflect on the kind of future we want coming out of the pandemic. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.