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Two years of COVID-19 data since the UK first ‘locked down’

Data accessed through the UK Data Service is being used to research health, social and economic effects of the pandemic and provides greater context for inequalities across the UK.

We were the first Trusted Research Environment (TRE) to enable comprehensive remote support for users, whilst maintaining data security, back in April 2020. Without early negotiations with data providers and the Five Safe Framework in place, this would not have been possible and any research using UKDS SecureLab would have been severely disrupted throughout the pandemic. 

Since we ingested the first COVID-19 survey data from Understanding Society and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) in July 2020, we have built up an extensive collection of COVID-19 data that has been accessed by researchers across the UK and beyond. Over 12,000 students, researchers and data managers have attended our training workshops, webinars, Safe Researcher Training and conferences to use data more effectively, whilst our online training videos, interactive data skills modules and You Tube channel have received over 7,000 views per month.

The data we hold includes studies and surveys about the effects of COVID-19 on business and community life, the responses of schools to the pandemic, plus issues relating to inequalities, ageing, welfare and mental health. We enabled rapid research from the Institute for Fiscal StudiesNational Voices and The Lancet, among other leading research organisations, to highlight growing inequalities and critical challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Articles in The Conversation and The Guardian have both featured insights from the British Social Attitudes Survey, whilst the New York Times recently highlighted research using our census support services.

We partnered with Welfare at a (Social) Distance to host an early COVID-19 data dive by bringing together major ESRC social, economic and population studies in a single place, providing an early opportunity for researchers, policy and charity experts to collaborate and draw out critical questions about the impacts of the pandemic that will need to be addressed in the future.

Our Data Impact blog has explored various ways data has supported research and understanding around the effects of Covid-19. Posts have covered topics as varied as collaborating on a Covid-19 National Core Study, using new biosocial data to explore inequality of opportunity in health and what the data tell us about the effect of Covid-19 on global fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Other discussions on the blog have drawn from “The Science” and ‘”The Politics” of pandemics to census geography and pandemic statistics, demonstrating how the pandemic has inspired researchers to think differently about social inequalities and research data.

Our 2021 Data Impact conference presented a unique opportunity to explore how data collection methodologies can be improved to fully capture the lived-in experiences of those with different identities and protected characteristics, currently under-represented in many research projects. As inequalities across the UK become more evident throughout the pandemic and are likely to grow as the cost of living rises sharply, these data challenges become even more important to address.

In this rapidly changing landscape, the data will continue to adapt. It is expected that many studies will continue to include questions specific to COVID-19 and changes resulting from the pandemic, and when ready, much of this data will be made available through the UK Data Service.

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