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What have we learned about our communities in response to COVID-19 and how can data be used to support our recovery?

Tuesday 16 June 2020 Data Insight & Analytics

Stewart Eldridge's picture
By Stewart Eldridge

What do we know?

Data and intelligence has always been used by local government to better understand residents and communities as well as inform decision making associated with the prioritisation of resources and the delivery of services to meet need.

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has brought people together and promoted a feeling of community cohesion, it has also put issues within our communities including deprivation, social exclusion and health inequalities under a microscope. It is here where up-to-date insight is crucial if we are to tackle these challenges now and in the future.

If we take a look at the review of disparities in risk and outcomes published by Public Health England it outlines a variety of factors – many of which we’ve been aware of for some time – such as age, gender and deprivation where the virus has been felt the most.

It found that the largest disparity was by age, where people 80 years or over were seventy times more likely to die as a result of COVID-19 than those under 40. These disparities exist after taking ethnicity, deprivation and region into account, however do not account for the effect of comorbidities or occupation, which may explain some of the differences. 

Areas of disadvantage and deprivation also have a much higher diagnosis and death rates than those living in more affluent areas. The mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas were more than double the least deprived areas, irrespective of gender. These results demonstrate that there is greater inequality in death rates, due to COVID-19, than in previous years.

Although age, gender and deprivation feature heavily in this report, the analysis also shows that members of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity have between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British. And people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity.

Talking on ITV News (04.06.20), the NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens said “There are very deep-seated inequalities in this country and coronavirus has shone a very stark spotlight on those. We can see that different groups, different communities are affected unequally by this terrible pandemic and that is going to have to act as a major spur to some very profound changes in the months and years to come”.

We have also seen an increase in those more financially vulnerable groups who have been affected by furlough, cuts to pay and redundancies as lockdown has progressed. Many of the people who have found themselves in these situations have turned to the benefits system and charities for help and support.This is supported by the Trussell Trust who have reported an 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared to the same month last year, which includes a 107% rise in parcels given to children. Furthermore; 48% of the increase in emergency food distributed from food banks is due to people reporting a fall in income from work or benefits.

Whilst these challenges may seem like a big mountain to climb and our recovery a long way off, data and intelligence is a key part of our roadmap out of lockdown and recovery.


How can data help support the response best?

Often, the first port of call for public sector organisations is Government data (Open Data) available via the Office for National Statistics (ONS), NHS Digital and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). These are official sources and, since it’s on the Open Government Licence, free to use. But there are limitations: although a variety of demographic, health and income related data may be available these sources are rarely measured at low-level geographies and can be several years out of date.

Administrative data held by local authorities provides an understanding of residents who have made use of their services. Cross-referencing different databases can also help to give a more detailed picture of people who use more than one service. It’s a uniquely detailed source of data not available to commercial organisations.

In isolation, Open and Administrative Data only provides a snapshot of the bigger picture, preventing organisations fully understanding communities to be able to prioritise and deliver services to meet demand particularly in these unprecedented times.

Commercial sources offer a bridge between open and administrative data providing a more detailed and up-to-date picture of residents and communities which adds scale and completeness to the data mix. They can be huge; for example, CACI’s Acorn datasets are built using a variety of data including a lifestyle database, with detailed demographic profiling at postcode and household levels.

As well as its scale, the beauty of commercial data is that it’s constantly refreshed. The data is kept up-to-date, and in some cases, real-time. This brings together digital activity and behaviours, postcode and household-level granularity and the ability to segment community groups to discover their needs.

It is for this reason that using a blend of data sources is so important, particularly when tackling something as big as COVID-19.

Furthermore; we are living through unprecedented times and this was recognised by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock who tweeted “Public information: GDPR does not inhibit use of data for coronavirus response. GDPR has a clause excepting work in the overwhelming public interest. No one should constrain work on responding to coronavirus due to data protection laws.”

In April, CACI launched its COVID-19 local government data initiative with the aim of giving free access to up-to-date data and intelligence to local authorities. This insight has provided a detailed understanding of the demographic, lifestyle, behavioural and health characteristics of local residents, particularly those at-risk and vulnerable groups (over 70s and those who need to shield with underlying health issues) identified by the Government at the beginning of lockdown.

Many authorities who have been actively making use of data and intelligence to support their COVID-19 response and now recovery have typically benefited from the following;

  •  Up-to-date understanding of residents’ health and wellbeing
  •  Deliver relevant support to those disadvantaged residents who are financially vulnerable and those who face acute hardship
  •  Better insight about those who are shielding
  •  Understanding changes to those residents claiming benefits
  •  Assessing increases in demand for specific services
  •  Develop and implement communications and engagement based on preference
  •  Prioritising the delivery of food parcels
  •  Underpinning Council’ emergency response and recovery plans

In order to be able to understand the true effects of the coronavirus, data and intelligence about our communities will be crucial to support this Country’s move from response to recovery.

The Public Sector has faced significant cuts to funding because of austerity and the coronavirus pandemic has amplified this. In order to be able to deliver services to the at-risk and vulnerable members of our communities with limited budget and resources Council’s must make use of data and intelligence in a blended way.


To find out more about what this means for your residents and how we can help you better understand the communities you serve you can contact us now…..



What have we learned about our communities in response to COVID-19 and how can data be used to support our recovery?