Home | Research Themes | Covid 19


Illustration of the coronavirus in red on a black background

It is universally acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on society because it has exacerbated many old and deeply embedded inequalities. And these inequalities are not just restricted to the economic shock of global financial instability and widespread job losses but extend much further into our lives as a result of our gender, how old we are, our ethnic background, where we live, what kind of house we live in, our health and wellbeing, and our behaviours and lifestyle.  The unprecedented restrictions placed on our lives in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease and save lives has caused reverberations that will take years, if not decades, to recover from.

The Understanding Inequalities project team is focused on exploring the intricate nature of how inequalities coexist, interact with and perpetuate each other.  Moreover, we are interested in both people and place and how inequalities intersect across multiple dimensions of social life. As a result, our research is of significant importance to understanding how the pandemic will play out.  Our current work includes understanding how the inequality in educational attainment impacts on our longer-term life chances, how shifting patterns of poverty impact unequally on people’s access to services and jobs, how inequality in exposure to crime affects policing response, and in how poverty and adverse experiences in childhood lead to differential outcomes in terms of problematic behaviour and contact with the justice system.  All of these projects will provide valuable insights into how the pandemic might impact in the years ahead.

More specifically we are focusing on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on policing in Scotland.  Across the UK, police forces were given temporary powers to prevent people from breaching new public health regulations to control the spread of the virus. These powers include the right to issue Fixed Penalty Notices or arrest someone who was not complying with the regulations. However, concerns have been raised that the regulations did not have an equal impact on all members of society, and as a result, the policing powers have been disproportionately applied to some more vulnerable individuals. We are working with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to explore the impact of the pandemic on policing and, more specifically, to examine any inequality in the use of the new policing powers in the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on police use of the temporary coronavirus powers.

Research Papers

UI submission of evidence to the UK Parliament COVID Committee

McVie, Iannelli, Smyth, Pryce and Bannister

The Understanding Inequalities project evidence submission to the UK Parliament COVID Committee highlights twelve areas of inequality that are likely to be impacted substantially by the COVID-19 pandemic based on highly rigorous research evidence:

Police use of Fixed Penalty Notices under the Covid-19 regulations in Scotland: A new data report highlights links with deprivation and inequality

Photo of Police Scotland vehicles on cobbled street


The report provides the first detailed analysis of police use of enforcement under the new temporary powers introduced by the Coronavirus Regulations to help stop the spread of the virus. 

It focuses on the nature and circumstances of the Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued and the aggregate demographic profile of all recipients but does not include analysis of individuals or details of repeat offending, which will be the subject of a later report.

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Differences in the use of the powers in terms of demographic, geographical and deprivation profile of FPNs.

Approach or method used:

Police use of the new Covid-19 powers: Using administrative data to analyse and evaluate practice

Photo showing the torsos of two police officers in yellow high visibility uniforms

McVie and fellow collaborators at the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR)

Research questions: 

The report scrutinises Police Scotland's use of temporary new powers of enforcement introduced to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and asks the following questions:

  • Are the temporary powers being used appropriately, with enforcement being used only as a last resort?
  • What is the public's perception of the police use of these temporary powers?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Differences in the use of the powers in terms of absolute numbers and rates per capita.

Approach or method used:

The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for policy in relation to children and young people: a research review

Smyth and fellow collaborators at ESRI, Dublin.

Research questions: 

How has COVID-19 impacted on the lives of children and young people in terms of their family and peer relationships; formal and informal learning; physical and mental health and wellbeing; and transitions to further/higher education, training and the youth labour market?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Inequality is defined as the differences in social class, education and/or household income across groups of children, young people and families.

Approach or method used:

Our other areas of research

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Car window smashed by car thief


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Students chatting in the library


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New houses being built in a new development


Criminal with handcuffs behind back


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