Written by Marcin Cesluk-Grajewski and Nicola Censini.
On Tuesday 22 February 2022, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organised a conference on ‘Wellbeing and Covid‑19: Life in the pandemic’.
The event, moderated by Jutta Schulze‑Hollmén, Director of Human Resources at EPRS, followed the publication of an OECD report analysing the immediate implications of the pandemic for people’s lives and livelihoods in the industrialised world. Michal Šimečka (Renew, Slovakia), Vice-President of the European Parliament opened the conference and set the scene, recalling the severe economic and social toll Covid‑19 has inflicted. During his speech, he said that ”while a useful concept, GDP does not provide a sufficiently detailed picture of the living conditions that ordinary people experience”. It is necessary, instead, ”to dwell more on the human dimension of the disease”, notably issues such as work-life balance, health, family life, education and safety, as well as a rapidly growing number of cases of depression and the feeling of social exclusion.
In her presentation, Carrie Exton, OECD Senior Expert on Well-Being Data Insights and Policy Practice, accurately highlighted some significant social and economic inequalities that emerged during the pandemic and how these are shaping and orienting people’s daily lives. At European level, the overall picture is not so optimistic. In addition to providing interesting data on jobs, health, work-life balance, safety and more, she said people suffered from increased levels of fear, worry and depression. Such feelings are a direct result of health-related anxieties, such as the possibility of being hospitalised or dying, worries about the financial situation, the complications arising from domestic family arrangements during times of lockdown and restrictions on activities and social connectedness. While negative mental health consequences affect all ages, young people in particular have been found to be at high risk of developing poor mental health. Specific groups have been particularly hard hit, including health and care workers, people with pre-existing mental health problems, and women.
During her presentation, Carrie Exton also examined the role that wellbeing evidence can play in supporting governments” pandemic recovery efforts and in redesigning policy content from a more multidimensional perspective. Proper work-life balance, culture and civil engagement are indeed important for life satisfaction. It is therefore important that institutions start to deal with these problems as soon as possible. If mental and physical wellbeing is not addressed, there might also be both mid- and long-term consequences for our societies. That is’ why it is important to actively involve citizens and stimulate the debate on what policies and tools are needed to achieve these goals.
The conference then continued with an open discussion, with the participation of Céline Nieuwenhuys, who advises the Belgian government as Secretary General of the Federation of Social Services for Brussels and Wallonia, and Miquel Oliu Barton, Visiting Fellow at the Bruegel think tank and Adviser to the French and Spanish governments.
Céline Nieuwenhuys pointed out that crises such as pandemics often lead to divisions in a society, and governments should therefore act to bridge them, notably by taking care of the most vulnerable people’. In particular, she appealed to institutions and companies to remain open to citizens, with an individual welcome at a front desk, where time is taken to solve individual problems. In her opinion, the backlash against vaccinations might have resulted in many people losing trust in governments, or even democracy in general. She also said teleworking from home was welcomed by many, but was hated by a significant part of society, for example, single mothers who had to work while also caring for their children who had to stay at home, or those with cramped spaces. She added that tele-education was not a good solution for students.
Miquel Oliu Barton, noted that ‘the right policies should seek to overcome dichotomies such lockdowns and the erosion of trust in the government and science’. While presenting his research on Covid‑19 certificates, he pointed out that governments did not greatly improve security, but they did a lot to incentivise people to get vaccinated. The vaccination uptake grew massively since the adoption of this too. Anti-Covid policies should have been better coordinated among EU Member States, he said. The coordination worked in the economic response to the pandemic, but not in health and mobility’.
In conclusion, Petra Claes, Head of Medical Preparedness and Crisis Management at the European Parliament, described how the pandemic affected the Parliament and the concrete measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus in recent months.
To watch this event online, please click here.
You can find the next coming EPRS online events here.