The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has acutely impacted the social systems and populations we have studied for many years. As geographers we are driven to understand these shifts and their spaces.
Policy debate on how to deal with the crisis tends to reference deaths, health system management, and economic productivity. Yet the effect on ‘quality-of-life’ is another immediate consequence of ‘lock-down’ that may be harder to capture, but requires an important focus of its own. An excess of socially isolated time spent indoors with limited space, economic strain, and for some people extreme pressures on time and other support systems will clearly have impacts across different time frames. This pointed strain is becoming more pertinent given the lack of obvious short-term solutions to this crisis aside from social-distancing, and this period of restricted living may become more prolonged.
Effects will be felt by the whole country, but hardship is not felt evenly between communities. We say communities, because neighbourhoods exhibit similarities which unite them in their burden; we can see where these places are likely to be in the data.
What does ‘quality of life’ in lock-down look like? Whilst this is a multi-faceted concept, our model captures 4 prescient everyday conditions of this household burden.
Firstly ‘critical’ workers are commonly unable to shield at home due to the nature and location of their work. Those serving our essential needs who cannot stay indoors include health and caring professionals, shop workers, manufacturing and packaging operators, transport drivers, protective services, postal and delivery workers and teachers among others.
Secondly the ability to access personal outdoor space for physical and mental well being is not available to all households, with those living in flats and terraces often more disadvantaged.
Thirdly given that our household space is now our primary place to be, those with overcrowded conditions have the least space to exist in day-to-day life, and are often unable to safely isolate from those with symptoms of the virus.
Lastly, the need to use public transport presents another enclosed space with potential exposure to infection. We have used access to a car or van as an in-perfect proxy; not all people without a private vehicle will use public transport, but there are many who will.
These indicators are combined into an index to explore spaces across the country. Statistics infer that neighbourhood social-distancing burden is somewhat ‘clustered’, (small areas of around 129 households have a significant Global Moran’s I statistic of 0.16).
Models are rarely perfect. Due to data availability this is currently modelled for England rather than the UK. The key errors in the model include ageing Census data, a limit to the precision of job descriptions in the data, missing indicators for which there are no data (e.g. lone-parent households with dependents or those providing care). An ‘ecological fallacy’ also arises when we assign the average value to all households missing important variation in some places: a common feature of spatial models. But we believe this model provides a good framework for examining neighbourhood disparity. Further details can be found here.
If we want to address this inequity then identifying those places under greatest strain is a good starting point. Geography matters when planning tangible solutions, whatever those approaches become. Opening children’s play parks and community meeting spaces may be important relief in neighbourhoods with little indoor or outdoor space. Further outdoor space may be created by opening private golf courses, (our rough estimates suggest that around 860,000 more urban residents in England and Wales would have public greenspace access within about 500m of home as a result). Ease of reach to testing facilities for critical workers could include residential as well as workplace locations. Free cycling provision for key workers has also been championed, and these commuting routes may also be clustered given where critical workers tend to live. The current heightened focus on the resources available in people’s immediate localities may also have longer-term impacts for Neighbourhood Planning; will post-pandameic neighbourhoods see a greater focus on statutory powers to develop their communities?