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Prof Dan Stevens, Prof Susan Banducci, Dr Lazlo Horvath and Dr Andrew Jones

12 January 2021, 4:36 UTC Share

Identity, Inequality and the Media in Brexit COVID-19 Britain

The research team of Identity, Inequality and the Media in Brexit-Covid-19 Britain reflect on the impact Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic are having on inequalities in Britain.

Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic are simultaneously occurring events, informed by media and government narratives that will have a cumulative and transformative impact on British society. With the country being asked to manage both at the same time fundamental inequalities across identities of class, race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status and generation are being exposed. The dominant media narrative of Brexit was centred on social polarisation, while Covid-19 has been uncritically described in some aspects of the media discourse as a disease that is “bringing society together”, does not “discriminate”, and is a social “leveller.” Yet, these different ways in which the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit have been framed by some politicians and the media are likely to both echo and strongly contrast with the reality of everyday experiences.

Across places in England, we aim to understand how the Covid-19 crisis has deepened the inequalities across identities exposed in Brexit Britain and whether new inequalities are emerging. The project has already identified significant findings. The first wave of a survey was fielded in July 2020. The responses of this initial survey saw little in the way of variation between people living in different regions of England. However, in the second wave of a survey in October-November 2020, this had changed.

The responses from this second survey highlighted some regional differences with respondents in the East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber reported mental health issues in greater proportions than the rest of the country. Similarly, 41% of people in the North West reported feeling isolated which was higher than the 34% of all respondents that reported these feelings. Given that parts of the East Midlands and the North West had, by this point, been in almost continual lockdown since early-Summer this may be evidence of the psychological impact of these restrictions.

The project team also examined the differences between the personal effect of coronavirus on both Leavers and Remainers. In the first wave of the survey, those that voted Leave in the 2016 referendum were less likely to experience either mental health issues or feelings of isolation than Remain voters. In the second survey fewer Remainers reported mental health issues and isolation, while more Leavers reported these problems.

To complement these survey findings, the project team is conducting ethnographic research to explore individuals’ experiences of the pandemic. Initial findings resonate with the survey to suggest that there is a synergy between the ways in which individuals talk about their experiences of Brexit and Covid-19.

Overall, our findings point towards increasing social and political inequalities across society in the face of the pandemic, which we are also exploring in the context of Brexit. It would seem, as with Brexit, that Covid-19 is likely to reshape the social and political landscape of Britain for many years to come.

The survey research is conducted by Prof Dan Stevens, Prof Susan Banducci, Dr Laszlo Horvath and Dr Andrew Jones at the University of Exeter. The ethnographic work is conducted by Dr Katharine Tyler (project PI) and Dr Joshua Blamire at the University of Exeter and Prof Cathrine Degnen at Newcastle University. This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19

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