Law and compliance during COVID-19

Researchers: Dr Joe Tomlinson | Simon Halliday ...

Project overview


This project will track the expansion of governmental powers in the UK in response to the COVID-19 crisis. It will explore the extent to which people’s perceptions of their rights and of the fairness of government action influence compliance with social distancing and other restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic is arguably the greatest public health crisis in 100 years. In the absence of a vaccine, the UK government have imposed unprecedented restrictions on citizens’ activities and have introduced extensive assistance schemes to mitigate the resulting economic disruption. These responses represent a massive expansion in governmental powers, but the effectiveness of the government’s response cannot be taken for granted. Research suggests that the public’s compliance with laws and regulations is heavily conditioned by: how fair they perceive government action to be; whether decisions have trustworthy motives; protect people’s dignity; are made in an unbiased way; and give citizens some ‘voice’. This study will be conducted through the peak of the pandemic in the UK and beyond, and will provide data and analysis to relevant stakeholders while the crisis is still ongoing.

The research will comprise of three work packages, designed to be flexible to accommodate significant shifts in the government’s response to the crisis.

The first work package will involve analysing the legal and policy implications of all primary and delegated legislation passed in response to COVID-19, using a combination of publicly available material and Hansard Society legislation tracking software. The researchers will build a database collecting information on: the legal and policy change; the powers created for government bodies; the rights and entitlements created for the public; and the restrictions placed upon the public.

The second work package encompasses online longitudinal qualitative interviews and focus groups, exploring how the public understand and respond to these interventions. The researchers will recruit a sample of 80-100 participants who are diverse across gender, employment status, demographics and geographical location. The focus groups will be formed on a rolling basis to allow for data collection to begin as soon as possible, and will be held at monthly intervals until the height of the crisis passes. 15-20 participants will be invited to take part in additional semi-structured online interviews, discussing their experiences of the regulatory response and their views on its validity and proportionality.

The third work package will consist of a quantitative survey to measure how public attitudes to government responses shift over the period of the crisis. An external polling company will be commissioned to survey a representative sample of the UK public over three waves: the first in late April 2020, and the latter two as the pandemic develops over the summer of 2020. These surveys will capture understanding and awareness of regulatory interventions; perceptions of the fairness of social distancing across different fields of life; perceptions of fairness of assistance; rights consciousness; and compliance with restrictions.

The findings of the research will be published on a continuous basis and will be communicated to key decision-makers. The research team have created a website which will serve as an information centre for the project, featuring an online repository of coronavirus-related laws, regulations and policies. At the end of the project, the final conclusions and full analysis will be made publicly available in an open-access report.

Team


  • Dr Joe Tomlinson
    University of York
  • Simon Halliday
    University of York
  • Dr Jed Meers
    University of York

  • Director, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

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COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.