Covid Recovery Strategy: for a fairer future

Sets out our vision for recovery and the actions we will take to address systemic inequalities made worse by Covid, make progress towards a wellbeing economy, and accelerate inclusive person-centred public services.

2. Overview and Vision for Recovery

Impact of the Pandemic

Our response to the pandemic has considered its impact across each of the defined ‘Four Harms’: the direct and indirect health harms; the harm to our society and how we live our lives; and the harm to our economy.[1]

We have consistently sought to alleviate the overall harm caused by the virus. We cautiously eased restrictions when it was safe to do so. We tailored restrictions to epidemiological conditions, through our Levels approach, in order to both suppress the virus and mitigate the broader harms to the economy and broader society. As almost all countries have found, management of the pandemic has been challenging – particularly given the arrival of new variants that have required us to recalibrate our response to keep successively more transmissible variants of the virus under control.

We now face a challenging autumn and winter and will continue to respond effectively and proportionately to suppress the virus and alleviate its broader harms in the different ways set out in our COVID-19: Strategic Framework. At present, the success of the vaccination programme in mitigating much – but, importantly, not all – of the serious health harm of the virus means that we have been able to lift almost all legal restrictions and now have a platform to support broad-based economic and social recovery. Economic output in Scotland (as measured by GDP) has now almost returned to its pre-pandemic level. Labour market indicators are similarly only slightly worse than they were in February 2020. However, we know that many of the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt acutely by many people across Scotland: by the bereaved; by those suffering from long Covid; by those whose businesses, work, education and livelihoods have been substantially affected. The impacts of the pandemic have been felt unequally across Scotland.

Covid has affected people’s health in different ways, with higher levels of morbidity and mortality in certain groups including older people, men, disabled people, minority ethnic groups and those living in large urban areas and the most deprived areas.[2], [3],[4] The pandemic has also affected people’s mental health, with women, young people and young carers, minority ethnic groups and those with an existing health diagnosis reporting greater impacts.[5],[6],[7]

We know that many people were living in poverty before the pandemic: more than one million people were living in poverty, including around 240,000 children (two thirds of children in poverty living in a household where at least one person works), and people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than people from a White British background.[8]

Lower income households were less able to save and have taken on more debt, and young people are more likely than others in the job market to have been furloughed, lost working hours or lost their job.[9],[10],[11] Existing job market inequalities have been reinforced with women, disabled people and minority ethnic people (particularly minority ethnic women) facing persistent employment and pay gaps.[12] Those in precarious employment, carers and lone parents, the majority of whom are women, have also experienced disproportionate impacts.[13] These unequal effects of the pandemic on incomes and employment also have health implications, particularly in the longer term, and will have contributed to health inequalities.

Scotland’s economy experienced a significant shock due to the concurrent impact of Covid restrictions and EU Exit. GDP in Scotland and the UK fell by record amounts and although gradually recovering, remains below pre-pandemic levels.[14] At its peak, around one in three jobs in Scotland was supported by a combination of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and business grants. The extent of impact and pace of recovery has varied. Customer facing businesses, such as retail, hospitality, tourism and the culture sector, have been most affected for longest by restrictions. These businesses tend to employ large numbers of young people and have higher concentrations of low earners who have been significantly affected.[15],[16],[17],[18]

Home schooling also had a disproportionate impact on lower income households. The financial impact of remote learning has been challenging for low-income families, particularly with regard to access to digital technology.[19], [20]


Experience from other significant population-level crises shows that the path to recovery is not linear and people experience a range of emotional responses, with these changing over time.[21] The duration of this coronavirus pandemic and the fact that we must continue to respond to the pandemic mean that our approach to recovery will need to involve concurrent attention to living with the virus, mitigating its harms, and preventing further waves of infection. The foundations of our recovery strategy need to reflect what people, families, businesses and communities identify as priorities to address the impacts of the pandemic and build resilience for the future. The process of recovery involves supporting those individuals, families, businesses and communities through the losses experienced and the construction of a different future.

A range of engagement activity has underlined the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic and set out what sort of recovery people in Scotland want to see(see Figure 2).[22]

The recovery priorities identified by people are closely aligned with the key principles of the Christie Commission’s and the Scottish Government’s reform ambitions: participation, partnership, prevention and performance, as well as place.

We are also committed to reviewing the impact of the pandemic on the Scottish statute book. We want to remove measures no longer needed in order to respond to the pandemic, whilst keeping those where there is demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government’s consultation paper Covid Recovery: public health, services and justice reforms seeks views on the legislative powers that have supported the response to the pandemic, as well as asking more generally about legislative changes which are necessary for recovery.

Vision and outcomes

Our vision for Covid Recovery, as set out in the foreword and in Figure 1, is bold and ambitious. Our three key outcomes (see Figure 3) are central to achieving this vision and are areas most likely to have the greatest impact on tackling the inequality and disadvantage highlighted by Covid. These outcomes will also benefit population health, by addressing some of the key upstream drivers of health inequalities.

Figure 2: What sort of recovery people want to see

  • Achieves financial security for all
  • Supports health and wellbeing
  • Addresses the harms caused by the pandemic
  • Empowers communities and places
  • People told us they want a recovery that
  • Is ambitious and transformational
  • Advances equality and strengthens rights
  • Recognises the value of time and of social connections
  • Starts from the individual
  • Supports economic development
  • Involves people in decision making
  • Is evidence driven

Figure 3: Outcomes

Our Outcomes

  • Financial security for low income households
  • Wellbeing of Children and Young People
  • Good, green jobs and fair work



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