NEWS
23/04/2021 12:00 BST | Updated 23/04/2021 12:00 BST

These 7 Charts Show How The Pandemic Changed One Part Of The UK

You won't have seen these numbers before – but they tell important stories about how life changed in the West Midlands.

Mike Kemp via Getty Images
Primark in Birmingham, which was among the "non-essential" shops to reopen on April 12. Less fortunate were the 1,460 shops across the West Midlands that did not survive the pandemic.

Charts showing coronavirus cases, deaths and tests have dominated the headlines for the past year. But the pandemic has affected every section of life.

Here are some charts you won’t have seen. They show seven ways that one part of the country – the West Midlands – has changed over the last year.

1. Pressure on young people’s mental health

More young people are in contact with mental health services since the first lockdown began last year.

In Birmingham and Solihull, the number of people who are in contact with children and young people’s mental health services each month is three times higher that in the equivalent period before the lockdown. The tally reached its highest in December 2020 when 6,575 young people were in contact with mental health services.

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, told HuffPost UK: “Young people have been telling us that they’ve struggled to cope with the changes and loss of coping mechanisms brought on by the pandemic, with many experiencing social isolation, anxiety, and fears around their future.

“While measures to control the pandemic have undoubtedly been necessary, it’s equally important to recognise the additional pressure young people have faced as a result.”

2. Fewer young people have been in school 

Most schoolchildren had to learn from home during the first and third lockdowns, but schools have stayed open throughout the pandemic for vulnerable children, and the kids of key workers. So how many does this actually represent?

Attendance in schools across Birmingham fell to 11% for the week beginning January 11. But even in the final week before Christmas, when schools were open as usual, average attendance was only 77%. In Autumn 2019 it was 95%.

Since the reopening of schools, the number of pupils self-isolating has increased and there is still the challenge of vulnerable children requiring technology to work from home.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The return to schools and colleges across England has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, with leaders reporting a sense of calm and cooperation among students who are happy to be back in the classroom after months of disruption.”

3. Calls for support to one rape and sexual assault centre went down

The Horizon Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) provides a free service and support for adult rape and sexual assault victims in the West Midlands.

Perhaps surprisingly given the soaring numbers of rape reports to the local police force last year – and more referrals to domestic abuse charities during lockdown – this particular centre recorded a lower number of contacts from victims during the pandemic than the previous year.

“We have had peaks and troughs – it depends on the month,” said Shabnham Khan from Horizon SARC. “Not all cases [that are reported to police] will come to the SARC for various reasons, such as being out of the forensic window to collect samples, for example.”

In July and August, the number of clients referred to the centre increased, as the government started lifting the restrictions imposed during the first lockdown.

“The lockdown restrictions easing could have been related to the higher number of clients accessing the SARC,” said Khan, “but we saw different types of cases from domestic violence to stranger/acquaintance assaults.

“When we had the first lockdowns, our numbers dipped, but during March 2021 we saw an increase in cases.”

4. More than 860 shops disappeared

The West Midlands registered a record number of shop closures last year, as Covid accelerated the shift to online sales. More than 1,460 stores closed in 2020, 30% more than five years ago, according to the Local Data Company (LDC).

Shop openings continued – Sports Direct announced plans to open a major new store in Birmingham city centre in December – but a record low of 600 ribbon-cuttings meant the region ended up with 868 fewer shops at the end of the year.

This mirrored a wider trend across England, where the net decline in stores approached 10,000. City centres have been particularly badly hit as people stopped commuting. 

There are a total of 372 vacant shops in Birmingham and its surroundings and the inventory of available properties is currently increasing, according to the website completelyretail.co.uk, which lists shops to rent. The highest number of shops to rent is located in shopping centres, followed by high streets and retail parks.

5. Arts organisations received £11.39 for every person – less than half the amount those in the capital received 

Over £750m of funding has been awarded to struggling arts venues and organisations by the Arts Council. 

London received much more than any other part of the country with more than £26 per person going to arts organisations in the capital – while organisations in the West Midlands received less than half of that.

Nearly 4,500 awards have been made to date, with 45% of these going to organisations specialising in music or theatre.

6. Fewer elective procedures taking place

Since the first lockdown began on March 23, 2020, the number of elective procedures carried out has gone down. In Birmingham and Solihull CCG they reached their lowest point in April 2020 with only 4,040 elective procedures performed that month – less than a third of the 14,485 in April 2019.

Almost a year later, they are still not back to pre-lockdown levels. In January 2021, there were still 50% fewer elective procedures in Birmingham and Solihull CCG compared to a year before. 

7. Over 8,000 runs as Parkrun became ‘(Not)Parkrun’

Before the pandemic, thousands of people would taken part in casual 5km runs in public spaces every weekend organised through the Parkrun website.

These have been on hold during the pandemic – but runners have adapted, with Parkrun shifting to ”(Not)Parkrun” events where participants can run alone but share their times as if they ran together. 

Professor Adrian Taylor from the University of Plymouth says the pandemic has had a mixed impact on fitness.

“Some people have been able to flourish without the opportunities and other people may have dropped their fitness levels. You had this opportunity for freedom by doing one exercise a day and we see an awful lot more people out there than expected. But physical health has suffered – as has mental health – for young people. The opportunities to do sport in school have not been available.

“At the first Parkrun event [in June after the third lockdown ends] you’ll see more people. There will be a lot of people who have done their thing who may want to socialise and come out in masks. You’ve got a sense of control, what Parkrun you want to go to, a sense if your time is quicker, your progression is quicker and you have the companionship and the sense of community. It’s something that can be used to connect with other people.”