In our series looking at whether the coronavirus would make us better people, our first post described what we meant by better people, and introduced ‘societal’.  Our second post looked at people’s attitudes and values.  This post looks at world changes in the recent past, to see what impact they have on the world’s reaction to this pandemic.

Will the Coronavirus make us better people (more societal)? Part 3 – World Changes

We look at the changes in the world and in society to understand how we have reacted to this pandemic, and the measures taken to control its spread. 

We look at both the physical changes  that have occurred, and also the changes in society’s attitudes and beliefs.


Physical Changes

The world is changing!!!

For the better or for the worse? Who knows?

I am sure there are millions of views on the subject based upon your own life’s view.

Let’s start by talking about change – we have seen change programmes working well and badly. There are generally two types of change; evolutionary and revolutionary. 

Both work and both have upsides and downsides. With evolutionary change you have the ability to take a slower more controlled approach, and manage events or issues arising as a result of the change. With revolutionary change there is always unpredictability and you cannot always foresee the outcome, or manage issues arising from the change.

The boom years

Over the last 30 years it could be said that the pace of change has been quite revolutionary.  There has been a population explosion, wealth increases, housing booms, materialism spiking, obesity increasing and personal greed abundant. The pre- and post-millennium years are seeing a new type of person, who has not seen deprivation, poverty, wars etc. The 80s and 90s saw a major leap in the internet and 00s saw social media storm into our lives.

Our liberal societies have created a different way of living – tolerance all round and a greater understanding of people’s rights. Due to the feel-good factor years of the 80s and 90s it could be said  children were pampered and given far more than ever before. We told all children they could be whatever they wanted in life, and they did not experience any real hardship or disappointment.

Instant coffee

Today there is an instant coffee, DFS buy now pay later philosophy, get rich easy mentality and a celebrity culture. We want everything yesterday and our desire for greater choice in all aspects of life. We used to save for things we wanted – now we get them on credit, which has led to constantly increasing personal indebtedness.

The suppliers have capitalised on this by accelerating our choices and options and offering more and more things for us to buy and use. The throw-away culture particularly in the UK and US is now part of our everyday life.

Life is moving quicker; improved transport and communications links mean the world is now one marketplace like never before. Goods and services are open to world markets and financial sectors are all linked. 50 years ago, a country could have a problem and nobody found out. The macro communications of today means the smallest of information is available every second of every day, and on your phone.

Our souls are peddled around for profit

Media and marketing have never been so dominant as they are today with big data and your soul passed around from company to company to persuade you to buy or influence your opinion. Media feel now they play an even bigger role in persuading you or moulding your opinion on everything in life. Often sitting behind this there are companies and individuals making money out of their action.

Opinions are also now more public and the centre ground seems to have disappeared. We now have rigid views and even the smallest of things get debated and discussed, with extreme views on either side of a divide. Brexit seemed to divide the nation from 2016 to 2020 and people on both sides of the argument had extreme views but there hasn’t been a word about Brexit since the Covid-19 outbreak.

So strong are opinions now that the situation has become almost tribal with people hating each other for holding a different view. Often it can be over the most trivial of things.

I apologise for everything I’ve done and more

If a person says anything today it seems that someone or somebody is offended and demanding an apology. People who hold strong historical values in any area appear to be classed as ISTs.

In 2019 Extinction rebellion have been highlighting the issue with the climate and to get us to focus on climate change. They are seen as extremists to many and heroes to others. But their methods might not be for everyone but their message is clear. This planet is ours; humans are the most intelligent creatures and responsible for the balance and ecosystem.

Many people thought at the time, go and protest in countries that are the worst offenders; see how far you get before you get locked up. But these countries are often supplying the more advanced west.

The dynamics of change have consequences

In 2018 we saw the longevity indicator change for the first time since the 50s. This means currently today’s grandchildren will not outlive their grandparents and this is totally down to lifestyle. We are seeing personal indebtedness the highest ever as people borrow more to have things they want now and not save and buy later. Obesity in the UK is rocketing out of control and we are eating ourselves into coronary issues, type 2 diabetes and spinal issues due to our excess weight. We have seen a dramatic increase in recorded mental health issues especially in the millennials.

Impact on the Earth

Our demand for food means animals and fish are farmed more intensively and kept in cruel conditions. Fed advanced food formulas that make the animals bigger, and faster to market. Our clothing industry is in overload with not just choice but persuading us we need a new wardrobe each year. The cost to the environment is devastating in the poor countries where the clothes are produced.

Then the Coronavirus arrived

In December 2019 The outbreak of Covid-19 came and for the first time since WW2 Society has been forced to change its whole lifestyle and for the adults born since 1980 this is something completely new; a state enforced lockdown, a change of liberty and being told what to do and when to do it with legal consequences if you fail.

It’s interesting to note that when you are faced with such an issue how those previously previously hot topics seem to pale into insignificance.

Enter Zoonotics

In December 2019 the world was introduced to the word Zoonotic;

Pertaining to a zoonosis: a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but that can infect humans. There are multitudes of zoonotic diseases.

When compiling the list below we realised one key thing is we don’t seem to eradicate these viruses totally. Viruses can mutate over time and become even deadlier than before. Often as we have seen in the past very quickly things go back to normal until the virus raises its head again often under the same circumstances.

In 2003 the Chinese government confirmed SARS originated in the meat markets of China. The government banned the illegal markets and 12 months later they all started up again. Controlled accurate monitoring is also an issue. Even now in march 2020 whilst the rest of the world are reeling from effect of Covid-19 and its continuous escalation China has already removed movement restrictions, and declared that it’s under control.

Covid-19 is a version of SARS and has mutated over 16 years but this time it’s more infectious.

List of Pandemics

1918 – Spanish flu originated in China and spread across the world killing millions.
1947 – Zika Virus first discovered in Uganda in Monkeys
1952 – Zika Virus first recorded in humans
1957 – Asian Flu estimated deaths 1 million. Asian flu still has potential to infect in 2020
1976 – Ebola first registered in South Sudan. Passed to humans eating contaminated meat. Evidence in 1994 primates and again in 2001 gorillas.
1981 – AIDS first thought to have spread from Chimpanzee in Africa. 70 million people infected by the virus 35 million have died across the globe.
1986 – Mad cow disease CJD. A man-made disease 4.4 million cows culled. Humans caught CJD consuming contaminated meat.
1988 – Eggs and salmonella scare. Risk to pregnant women, and young children. In 2017 the FSA confirmed near 30 years on that eggs were now safe to eat.
1992 – CJD outbreak of mad cow disease. 177 people died in total.
1997 – Nipah Virus originated in Malaysia and throughout Asia. Recurs on a regular basis. Passes easily from animals, especially pigs to humans. No vaccines available.
2003 – SARs, first reported in China. It affected over 24 countries around the world, 8000 people were officially diagnosed and 800 people died but many countries did not test correctly so numbers would have been far worse.
2005 – Avian bird flu in the UK 183,000 turkeys and 100,000 chickens culled. Humans related to the industry treated of effects. Certain strains can affect humans.
2007 – Zika Virus the first major outbreak in humans. There are now several countries with outbreaks of Zika right up to 2016
2009 – H1N1 Swine fever originated in Mexico and spread across the world; the Virus infected 1.4 billion pigs across the world.
2012 – MERS is a type of Corona-Virus spread via camels, since then MERS is still a virus effecting 27 countries and has killed 57 people. Again, monitoring and testing is not widespread so the numbers could be significantly higher.
2014 – Chicken skin food poisoning risk disclosed by FSA. Washing chicken or touching chickens risks cross contamination with Campylobacter.
2014 – Ebola returned in Africa. Virus passed on from contact with an infected animal. 28,000 infected and 11,300 dead. The Ebola virus is still around.
2015 – Zika Virus originated in Africa and was first identified in 1947 since then it keeps coming back and having a bigger impact each time.
2017 – Avian flu found in UK Chicken Factories 50,000 chickens culled.
2018 – African Swine fever breaks out in China 2.1 million pigs were culled to stop the flow but due to slow reporting effected 14 other countries. The virus is 100% fatal in pigs. Highly contagious. Swine influenzas which is related to the virus swine fever does affect humans.
2019 – Avian Flu outbreak in Suffolk, thousands of chickens culled. Avian Flu can affect humans.
2019 – Corona Virus reported in China in Wuhan meat market. The world of plane travel carried the virus far and wide and has caused one of the biggest issues in modern history, not just through death but financially, physically and mentally.

Changes in Society

How does society react to change?

There’s no simple answer to this. There are some trends – for example, some social attitudes and policies have become more inclusive – such as in gender equality, whereas some have hardened – such as the people’s support for or against some ideas – such as climate change, Brexit or Scottish Independence.

Several studies are looking at what is causing these views – is it age, life experience, etc.

Understanding Society is a UK Household Longitudinal Study that interviews everyone in household to investigate information on changes in society.  These surveys started as The British Household Panel Survey in 1991 and continue now.

They cover some interesting points and examine how people’s attitudes and views have changed. We give a few extracts below that we think are important.


The surveys show that there is a continuing long term decline in religious identity, observance and belief in Britain.Back in 1983 teo thirds of the British public identified as Christian – it is now just over one third with 53% saying they do not see themselves as belonging to any religion. In fact, more people are now positively atheist, with one third now saying they don’t believe in God as opposed to 10% in 1998.

Brits remain tolerant of religion, particularly Christianity, but we are sceptical about its role in society. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the British public agree that religions bring more conflict than peace (28% strongly agree”, 35% “agree”) – while only 13% disagree (10% “disagree”, 3% “strongly disagree”).


People believe more in science than before; only 11% of people now think that science does more harm than good – it was 24% in 1993.

Most people trust scientists to work in the public interest – university scientists (85%)  more than commercial scientists (67%).

Relationships and Gender Identity

Interestingly belief in the ‘common law marriage’ of co-habiting couples still exists, although it has no basis in law. Opposite sex civil partnerships which were introduced in October 2018 are supported by two thirds of people – more from people who don’t identify with religion.

Attitudes to transgender people are interesting. Most people (83%) say they are “not prejudiced at all” towards transgender people, but half (49%) view prejudice towards transgender people as “always” wrong.


Like religious belief, identification with traditional political parties has declined. In 1987, 44% described themselves as a “fairly strong” or “very strong” identifier with a political party, while today it is 35%.  The relationship between social class and political parties has weakened and other factors such as age, education and degree of liberalism have become more important.

Age is a big factor, with Labour support being far higher in younger voters and Conservative support higher amongst older voters. 

Brexit and the EU

The 2016 referendum created a new ‘fault line’ in British society – Leavers and Remainers. These identities in 2019 commanded significantly stronger allegiance than traditional political parties, with 74% of the public describing themselves as having a “fairly strong” (34%) or “very strong” (40%) identification with either Leave or Remain, and just 12% who do not identify with either.  Only 8% say they are a “very strong” supporter of a political party.

Concerns about the social consequences of EU membership were key in influencing how
people voted in the EU referendum. More people who were worried about immigration and held ‘authoritarian; (rather than ‘libertarian’) views voted to leave. Multivariate analysis found that, for the most part, only items associated with people’s sense
of national identity and cultural outlook were significantly associated with vote choice. So the common view that dissatisfaction with politics influenced how people voted wasn’t found to be true.

The surveys worked out people’s attitudes to the EU by asking:

Do you think Britain’s long-term policy should be…
…to leave the European Union,to stay in the EU and try to reduce the EU’s powers,
to leave things as they are,
to stay in the EU and try to increase the EU’s powers,
or, to work for the formation of a single European government?

Until 2008 less than 20% thought Britain should leave the EU, but by the referendum three quarters (75%) felt that Britain should either leave the EU or that if it stayed the institution’s powers should be reduced. 

After the referendum, Britain became MORE divided in its attitudes to leaving the EU. 


From 2002 to 2014 the public has become more positive about the benefits of immigration, but more selective on who they wish to migrate. They are also slightly more sceptical about the cultural benefits of immigration. However, there has been little shift on views of migrant numbers. This is also true in Europe.

YouDrive note: It is surprising then that over the last three decades far right parties have tripled their vote share across Europe from 5% to 15%. Political scientists say that the single most important reason why people vote for far-right parties is their attitude towards immigration. Yet people’s attitudes to immigration haven’t changed. 

This could be due to far right parties becoming closer to traditional parties, voters becoming less attached to a particular party or the news focus on immigration and the refugee crisis.

Mental Health

People’s willingness to work, live and continue a relationship with someone with a mental health problem have improved by 11% since 2009 – from the National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey. Time to Change is a mental health campaign and since it started in 2007 4.1 million people have improved attitudes towards people with mental problems.

Social Care

Most people (86%) agree with policy makers that people over-use A&E and 999 ambulances.  Part of this problem is that 51% of people say it is difficult to get a doctor’s appointment. 36% prefer NHS services where no appointment is needed, rising to 48% of those living in deprived areas.

There is scope to increase the use of online tools (such as YouDriveHealth!) to help tackle high demand. 58% of people with internet access would look online to help understand a health problem and 47% would use the internet to decide what to do about it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put even these online services under strain. Recently a YouDriver struggled to find support for a friend undergoing mental health depression issues, either online or by phone.

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