It is the first anniversary of the beginning of a home confinement that predicted the social and economic gravity of facing a pandemic in the 21st century. Today, studies on its social consequences make their way through the vast amount of biomedical knowledge accumulated about the coronavirus during the last year.
“Stay at home”, read the institutional slogan that gave account of the obligation decreed by the Government during the first state of alarm. And at home we stay. Each one in his own and, of course, each house is different, as is the place that each of us occupies in the social structure. The differences between homes, environments and life situations were gaining more and more weight in the consciousness of citizens as the days of confinement passed.
Impacted by this situation, some experts from fields other than biosanitary were concerned and, to the extent of their possibilities, made public their reflections on issues other than the virus and health overload, which, however, were seen as relevant to the pandemic. For example, the architectural and habitability characteristics of the homes (without terrace, comfortable, interior, equipped, ratio between meters and inhabitants).
After those reflections, more hypothetical and approximate than supported by research financed and carried out for this purpose, an important message began to be transmitted: the virus, a priori, it does not differentiate between people. However, confinement and other measures imposed to stop the pandemic, despite being transversal, are experienced in different ways and have different consequences depending on the socioeconomic and vital conditions of each household.
In the end, they began timidly to notice the importance of the social dimension of the pandemic.
Less income due to the pandemic
Home confinement at the time motivated reflection on the conditions that created the differences between dwellings. In addition, the past year of the pandemic and the enormous changes in ways of life, behaviors and other socioeconomic situations require rigorous analysis and reflection on their impact on citizens. Only in this way will we be able to better understand its unequal impact among different sectors of the population.
This is precisely one of the main objectives of the second edition of ESPACOV (Social Study on the Covid-19 Pandemic) carried out by the Institute of Advanced Social Studies (IESA-CSIC) between January 18 and 25, 2021 to a sample of 1644 people representative of the whole of the population of legal age residing in Spain.
Among the multiple results of this study, we will focus here on one of undoubted social and economic impact: 40% of the people surveyed state that their household income level has decreased during the pandemic. The data is even worse among the youngest groups: 46% for those between 18 and 30 years old and 53% for those between 30 and 44 years old. It is even worse among those with an average educational level (49%) and, of course, among the unemployed (70%).
Less income, less confidence
The diversity of indicators collected in ESPACOV II allow the construction of a rigorous empirical-based account of how the pandemic is being more difficult for these groups to face. On the one hand, for obvious reasons: they have seen their economic conditions diminish. But also due to perhaps less obvious issues such as, for example, the loss of their social confidence and greater concern for the immediate future.
In fact, it is these same groups of people who trust less in key institutions and groups for overcoming the pandemic, such as the scientific and expert community, pharmaceutical laboratories, governments themselves and even their fellow citizens. The study data show how this situation is projected on such relevant issues as trust in vaccines.
The trust placed in the European Medicines Agency, in charge of approving vaccines, drops from 72% among those who maintain their income level during the pandemic, to 58% among those most economically affected. This is relevant because trust in this institution, together with the level of information about the effectiveness of the vaccine and its side effects, are in turn closely related to the willingness to get vaccinated.
In these indicators, the scores of those who have turned out to be the most economically vulnerable in this pandemic are always lower. This fact could explain, at least in part, that while 51% of the people surveyed who have not seen their income level altered would be vaccinated immediately if they had that option, this percentage falls to 39% in the sector that we have been analyzing.
One might think that those who have suffered the most from the economic consequences of the health crisis were the most willing to restore normalcy as soon as possible, and this goes through a broad and rapid vaccination process. However, what the study shows is that the manifest vulnerability of their living conditions and the impact of the pandemic is not only damaging their emotional health to a greater extent, but also their real possibilities for future recovery. It is a luck of self-fulfilling prophecy: a not inconsiderable 12% of them consider that the economic situation of the country will never recover.
These results help to support the often-noted interrelation of the biomedical and social dimension of the pandemic. If up to now the direct economic consequences of the pandemic crisis have been emphasized mainly, the greater distrust of those who have been most economically punished towards, for example, the solutions offered by the health and scientific system, is no less important.
This could not only harm their own way out of the health crisis, but also further undermine their delicate situation in the social structure and increase already significant social inequalities. Even more so if this fact does not receive the deserved attention both from the research community and funding agencies, as well as from governments and their crisis management and recovery policies.