We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.


Social distancing more difficult in lower-income areas

New research at the School has found that those in lower-income areas are likely to find it more difficult to follow social distancing guidelines. Professor Parantap Basu, with colleagues from Loughborough University and Universität Heidelberg studied this using Covid-19 statistics from England’s Upper Tier Local Authorities (UTLA) and social distancing data from Google to reveal links between lower-income towns and cities and greater difficulties in maintaining social distancing.

By analysing data on social distancing behaviour across 83 English local authorities (excluding Leicester due to its second lockdown) and Google login datapoints from March to July 2020, the researchers were able to reveal levels of adherence to social distancing in local areas. Residential and workplace Google logins are used as measures of social distancing.

In determining which regions could be deemed as lower-income or higher-income, authors used data on free school provisions and population density. They found that lower-income regions had less home logins, therefore less social distancing, and higher infection rates.

The researchers attribute this perceived disregard for following government guidelines to actually, the lack of ability to work remotely in lower paid jobs, and the greater necessity for public transport use in lower-income areas.

Professor Parantap Basu said:

“As lockdown eases and workers return to work, there is still no Covid-19 vaccine. Therefore, the most effective way to tackle the spread is social distancing. However, this poses greater difficulty for those in lower-income regions. Not only are the majority of people on lower-incomes forced out of their homes (the safest place) due to not being able to work remotely, many also have to rely upon public transport to commute – one of the most difficult places to practice social distancing.”

The research also indicates that whilst enforcing tougher government policies to ensure social distancing (with significant penalties for non-compliance) is effective in controlling the infection rate, even in this instance a significant disparity exists between those on lower-incomes and higher-incomes, as the costs of staying at home are far more damaging for lower-income households or communities.

The research suggests that the UK Government’s job retention scheme only goes some way towards addressing the higher levels of poverty and weak adherence to social distancing guidelines. These schemes should be reassessed to include provisions that treat lower-income subsectors of the economy more generously.

More information

  • We have various research pieces on Covid-19. Click here to read how recent research found that rationing might be recommended for future pandemics.
  • This research was published in the Centre for Economic Policy Research, (Issue 45, August 2020) in their Covid Economics Vetted and Real-Time Covid Economics series. It isfreely downloadable here.