On 29 November 2023, the House of Lords will debate a report from the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee: ‘Living in a Covid world: A long-term approach to resilience and wellbeing’, published 16 March 2022. The committee was appointed on 13 May 2021 to consider the long-term implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economic and social wellbeing of the United Kingdom.

‘Living in a Covid world’ is described in the House of Lords Liaison Committee’s report ‘Review of House of Lords investigative and scrutiny committee activity in 2021–22’ as the Covid-19 Committee’s legacy report. As well as summarising the main findings from the Covid-19 Committee’s three previous inquiries on digital technology, children and families, and towns and cities, the ‘Living in a Covid world’ report recommended three elements to “reset the state”: a new approach to resilience, a new emphasis on governing for the long-term, and a new focus on wellbeing.

Alongside the release of the report, Covid-19 Committee chair Baroness Lane-Fox (Crossbench) said:

As we begin the process of living with the pandemic it reminds us that the cycle of politics does not cope well with long-term problems. This is a wake-up call which must be heeded. Political leaders and policy makers must begin to think about ways to deal with long-term issues, where the problems and possible solutions will extend beyond the life of one parliamentary regime or single electoral cycle.

Our ability to plan and to co-ordinate has been shown to be wanting; now is the opportunity for us to reset the state and build it back to be more adaptable, more resilient, more devolved, and more collaborative so we can effectively deal with any disasters, crises or systemic shocks that may occur in the future. Wellbeing and resilience must be at the heart of this reset for it to be successful.[1]

1. What did the Covid-19 Committee recommend?

The report set out a range of recommendations, including:[2]

  • Co-ordinated government policy should prioritise narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy so that no one group is left behind. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities should collaborate with other government departments and devolved administrations to assess lessons learned during the pandemic about the socio-economic determinants of health.
  • There should be renewed efforts to build trusted relationships between the state and all groups within society, including racial and religious groups, young people, disabled people and others. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should conduct an assessment of the relationship between both the national and local state and communities, and develop a plan for improving trust over time.
  • Major efforts should be made to build social capital through community-level public service innovation. This should start with a new wave of devolution to return power to local government, and beyond to local communities.
  • A new settlement is needed between the devolved nations and the UK government to clarify roles and responsibilities and build enduring agreements on issues that affect all the nations of the UK.
  • The government should make a renewed commitment to digital inclusion, including increasing access to affordable devices and data, and increasing digital skills training.
  • The government needs to ensure that all departments are reviewing how the policy areas for which they are responsible have changed in the context of digital acceleration. This includes doctors and teachers being trained for digital delivery, as well as ensuring patient and employee rights in digital contexts.
  • There needs to be a new approach to efficiency, recognising the importance of some redundancy of provision in public services. This would require a major shift in approach to workforce planning, in particular, which will need to continue to leverage volunteer and community capacity in a systematic way, alongside formal provision. In effect, this may mean moving away from a “just in time” model of provision to a “just in case” model for many services.
  • The government should commit to working with mental health services, domestic abuse services, local authority children’s services, third sector family support services and others to monitor and forecast the gap between need and capacity over the coming months and years. Additional funding would be required to meet that gap.

The committee advocated a move from a “welfare state” to a “wellbeing state”, which would have securing the wellbeing of citizens as its core purpose.[3] The committee recommended that developing wellbeing as a measure of successful government activity would benefit from detailed exploration by a parliamentary select committee. It also suggested that other select committees should undertake urgent work on the long-term implications of the pandemic for policy areas such as social care, mental health, and climate change, as well as following up on the issues highlighted by this committee.[4]

2. What was the government’s response to the committee’s recommendations?

The government published its response to the committee’s report in July 2022.[5]

2.1 Health disparities and community relationships

On health disparities, the government pointed to the aims for health set out in the ‘Levelling up the United Kingdom’ white paper (published February 2022). This included a commitment to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy between local areas with the highest disparities by 2030 and increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. The government also cited its commitment to publish a health disparities white paper later in 2022, which would have focused on “disparities related to place, ethnicity and socio-economic background”. However, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed on 26 January 2023 that it would no longer be publishing a health disparities white paper, instead focusing on a forthcoming major conditions strategy:

The major conditions strategy will apply a geographical lens to each condition to address regional disparities in health outcomes, supporting the levelling up mission to narrow the gap by 2030. As material for the major conditions strategy will therefore cover many of the same areas as the health disparities white paper, we will no longer be publishing it.[6]

The government has said it intends to publish the major conditions strategy in “early 2024”.[7] The Department of Health and Social Care published an interim report on 21 August 2023, detailing the case for change and a strategic framework for the major conditions strategy.[8]

On building trusted relationships between the state and all groups within society, the government again highlighted the levelling up white paper, which it said “recognised the importance of social capital in communities across the UK”.[9] It also pointed to examples of action taken to build trust, including establishing vaccination centres in religious venues and launching two community champion schemes.[10]

2.2 Devolution, local government and communities

In response to the committee’s recommendations on increased devolution of powers to local governments and communities, the government restated the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commitment that “every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal, with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution, with a simplified, long-term funding settlement” by 2023. The ‘English devolution accountability framework’ (published March 2023) stated that due to new devolution deals over half of England would be represented by a directly elected mayor or leader following the May 2024 elections.

In terms of funding, the government response highlighted the 2022/23 local government finance settlement, and stated that the government was committed to ensuring that funding allocations were based on up-to-date needs assessments.

In addition to recommending further devolution at a local level, the committee recommended “a new settlement between the devolved nations and the UK government to better clarify roles and responsibilities”. The government said its ‘Review of intergovernmental relations’, published in January 2022:

[Set] out new structures and processes to ensure that ministers at all levels of government have effective and formalised routes for discussion, with accountability grounded in shared secretariat and dispute resolution arrangements.

The government also pointed to a range of measures focused on housing and regeneration in towns and cities, including new permitted development rights, the affordable homes programme,[11] and levelling up commitments. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 received royal assent on 26 October 2023.[12]

2.3 Digital inclusion and acceleration

Responding to the committee’s recommendations on digital inclusion, the government flagged the then Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) investment in digital infrastructure, including project gigabit and the shared rural network. DCMS also created local digital skills partnerships in eight regions in England.[13] The government also highlighted the Department for Education’s work on digital skills training for adults, and the Department for Work and Pensions’ commitment to develop a framework to identify claimants’ digital skills levels and refer them to appropriate courses.

The government’s response described the ‘UK digital strategy’, published in July 2022, as an “important milestone” that reflected “the cross-government activities necessary to ensure that the UK has the right foundations for citizens and businesses alike, support access to digital skills”.

Since the government’s response, in February 2023 the government established a new department with responsibility for digital technology. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology took over responsibility for digital matters from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In March 2023, the government published the ‘UK science and technology framework’. This framework identified the digital economy as one of the five critical technologies for UK economic growth and security.

In addition, the government published an update on its national gigabit connectivity project in September 2023. The government reported that 77% of UK premises were now able to access a gigabit-capable connection.[14]

2.4 Wellbeing

The committee recommended the Treasury use wellbeing as the main indicator of societal and economic progress. The government acknowledged that wellbeing is an important consideration when making spending and policy decisions, and cited the Treasury’s wellbeing guidance published in July 2021 covering how to include wellbeing in the policy development process set out in the Green Book.[15]

The government also acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of many people. The government highlighted investment alongside the ‘Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan’ (27 March 2021) and the ‘NHS long term plan’ (7 January 2019).

Regarding the pandemic’s impact on families and children, the government pointed to its further investment in start for life services and family hubs.[16]

3. Long-term decision making by government

Rishi Sunak became prime minister on 25 October 2022. A year later, he has said his first year in office had been spent “taking long-term decisions” to deliver change, with a list of the government’s “long-term decisions” set out on the Conservative Party website. This included introducing the NHS long-term workforce plan, expanding childcare entitlement and rerouting former HS2 funding to rail and road projects across the UK.[17]

Speaking in the House of Commons following the King’s Speech, the prime minister said that the government’s planned measures would “build a stronger society with stronger communities”. He also said that:

Above all, this King’s Speech delivers change—change in our economy, change in our society, change in our communities. It takes long-term decisions for a brighter future.[18]

Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer, in the same debate, described the government’s plans as “more of the same”, with “low growth, high tax [and] crumbling public services” fuelling decline.[19] At his keynote speech at the Labour Party conference, Mr Starmer set out “five national missions all fixed on a single-minded purpose to govern for the long-term”.[20] This included ensuring more opportunities in communities and getting the NHS “back on its feet”.

4. Read more

Cover image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash.


  1. House of Lords Covid-19 Committee, ‘Pandemic is a wake-up call: Lords committee calls for new approach to resilience and wellbeing’, 16 March 2022. Return to text
  2. House of Lords Covid-19 Committee, ‘Living in a Covid world: A long-term approach to resilience and wellbeing’, 16 March 2022, HL Paper 117 of session 2021–22. Return to text
  3. As above,  p 9. Return to text
  4. As above, Chapter 4: The role of select committees, pp 15–17. Return to text
  5. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘Government response to the Covid-19 Committee’s ‘Living in a Covid world: A long-term approach to resilience and wellbeing’ report’, 7 July 2022. Return to text
  6. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Health: Disadvantaged (128715)’, 26 January 2023. Return to text
  7. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Health services (202879)’, 20 October 2023. Return to text
  8. Department of Health and Social Care, ‘Major conditions strategy: Case for change and our strategic framework’, 21 August 2023. Return to text
  9. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘Government response to the Covid-19 Committee’s ‘Living in a Covid world: A long-term approach to resilience and wellbeing’ report’, 7 July 2022. Return to text
  10. Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, ‘Community champions programme: Guidance and resources’, 4 July 2022. Return to text
  11. House of Commons Library, ‘Affordable homes programme (AHP)’, 20 April 2023. Return to text
  12. House of Lords Library, ‘Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill’, 10 January 2023. Return to text
  13. Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, ‘Digital skills partnership’, accessed 23 November 2023. Return to text
  14. Building Digital UK and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, ‘Project gigabit progress update September 2023’, 20 September 2023. Return to text
  15. HM Treasury, ‘Green Book supplementary guidance: Wellbeing’, 26 July 2021. The Green Book contains guidance on how to appraise and evaluate policies, projects and programmes: HM Treasury, ‘The Green Book: Appraisal and evaluation in central government’, updated 27 October 2023. Return to text
  16. Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education, ‘Family hubs and start for life programme’, 9 February 2023. Return to text
  17. Conservative Party, ‘Rishi Sunak: One year of taking long-term decisions to deliver the change we need’, 25 October 2023. Return to text
  18. HC Hansard, 7 November 2023, cols 22–4. Return to text
  19. HC Hansard, 7 November 2023, cols 13–17. Return to text
  20. Labour Party, ‘Keir Starmer’s speech at Labour conference’, 10 October 2023. Return to text