COVID-19 Research

Like many other research units, Urban Studies at the University of Glasgow (USG) has shifted some of its efforts towards understanding the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic upon people’s lives and the longer-term implications for societies and cities.  Here you can find out about some of our research projects in this area.

The intentions of private landlords towards cessation of the eviction ban in Scotland.

Research Team:  Andrew Watson (PI), Nick Bailey (Co-I).

Sponsor(s): UKRI/ESRC

During the pandemic, Scottish and UK governments put a ban on evictions from rental housing to protect tenants but also to protect support services and public health. With many people losing income and employment, however, a longer-term problem has been created as rent arrears have risen sharply. Now that the eviction ban has effectively been lifted in Scotland, this short project examines how landlords in the private rented sector are likely to react.


The eviction ban may have given short-term protection to tenants but it did nothing to address the underlying issues. Tenants are now faced with high levels of debt in many cases and are at risk of losing their homes. Landlords face a significant loss of income which may drive some to sell up, reducing the supply of rental housing. Public and third sector services may be faced with a sudden increase in demand. Similarly, the courts, which are already under strain, may face greater pressures.


This project investigates the extent and impact of rental arrears within the Scottish private rented sector. It seeks to understand landlord arrears mitigation strategies, identify their resilience levels and tipping points, and most importantly, the actions they plan to take in tackling arrears. It also examines their attitudes to current interventions as well as proposals for further support for the sector. The resultant data will enable policy makers to make better informed decisions, and allow service providers to adequately plan resource strategies to support both tenants and landlords alike.

The study will be based on an online survey of landlords registered with SafeDeposit Scotland, the largest tenancy deposit scheme provider in the country. Though the focus is Scotland, the findings will have relevance across the UK and potentially in other countries with similar housing regimes. 

Towards a Healthy Urban Environment: Post-pandemic Urban Public Space Planning, Design and Management

Research Team: Jing Yao, with Chongxian Chen of the South China Agricultural University.

Sponsors: Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)

The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 has caused serious consequences to the global economy and wellbeing worldwide. Restricted use of public space and social distancing have been proven as effective measures to reduce the transmission of the virus. Urban public space also plays a crucial role in rebuilding the physical and mental health of residents in the post-pandemic period. The transformation of our relationship with public space as well as the uncertainty in the duration and frequency of the pandemic have raised new challenges to the planning, design and management of public space.

Meanwhile, spatial analytics and data science have been widely applied in exploring the spatial distribution and temporal trends of the spread of COVID-19, enabling effective decision-making for public space management to mitigate disease transmission. This project aims to incorporate spatial analytics into urban planning, design and management, with a focus on epidemic prevention and control.

Health, Social, Economic & Cultural Impacts of COVID-19 on Migrant Essential Workers in the UK

Research Team:  Sharon Wright (PI), Anna Gawlewicz (Co-I), Paulina Trevena (RA), Kasia Narkowicz (Co-I, Middlesex University) and Aneta Piekut (Co-I, University of Sheffield)

Sponsor(s): UKRI/ESRC

This project investigates health, social, economic and cultural impacts of COVID-19 on the migrant essential workforce and how these might impact on their continued stay in the UK. It focuses on the largest non-British nationality in the UK, the Polish community, who are employed across a range of essential work roles and sectors. The project uses this group as an illustrative case study to make wider claims and policy recommendations about migrant work during the pandemic. Methodologically, the project employs a mixed-method approach and involves: an online survey to map COVID-19 impacts on Polish essential workers in the UK; online interviews with Polish essential workers to establish how the pandemic has affected their lives; and expert interviews with key stakeholders to investigate how to best support and retain migrant essential workers in COVID-19 recovery strategies.;; 

COVID-19 and Domestic Abuse: Tracing Changes in Policy, Legislation and Discourse

Research Team: Annette Hastings (Lead Co-Investigator), Mhairi Mackenzie, Alice Earley, Jenny Preece (Sheffield) and Gareth Young (Knowledge Exchange)

Sponsor: UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the profile of Domestic Abuse in public discourse, in the UK at least. While lockdown has undoubtedly amplified the incidence of abuse, it has also played a key role in exposing its extent. Legislation conceived prior to the pandemic progressed through parliamentary processes in Westminster and Northern Ireland during the lockdown period and is due to be finalised and enacted as the crisis evolves.  The project will explore if and how the debate about domestic abuse during the pandemic impacts on legislative and policy change, exploring differences across the devolved nations. Changes to housing policy and strategic practice will be considered alongside other policy issues.

Impacts of COVID-19 on the Economy and Housing Market

Research Team: Ken Gibb and Chris Foye (Knowledge Exchange)

Sponsor:  UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

A key feature of the lockdown is a connecting set of support mechanisms that either augment income or reduce living costs while people cannot work. These include furloughing staff and increasing universal credit but also increasing the local housing allowance and other ways in which mortgage and rent costs are forgiven or reduced (e.g. the right to a three to six month mortgage holiday). Also important has been the near-total shut down of the housing market in terms of transactions, mortgage lending and housebuilding.

Clearly, these elements of the housing market will play an important role in both the likely recession and subsequent recovery – we are likely to see house price falls, activity slowing, mortgage arrears, perhaps political pressure around preventing quite significant house possession. We want to track thinking and policy development in this sphere as well as focus on the benefits dimension and the extent to which these policies are sustained, amended or reversed. A second phase of our work is to consider the housing market’s role in planning recovery and the interventions that may be a part of that narrative: reducing stamp duty, extending Help to Buy, planning deregulation intended to speed up building, affordable supply and (discounted) first time buyer programmes, as well as other policies directed at for instance mortgagors with payment difficulties.

Housing Systems, their Institutions and Resilience

Research Team: Mark Stephens (Lead Co-Investigator), Philip O’Brien, Craig Gurney, Bilge Serin, and Gareth Young (Knowledge Exchange).

Sponsor:  UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

The idea of resilience is employed across disciplinary boundaries to encompass individuals, families, societies and organisations within them. In short, “resilience is not just about ‘bouncing back from adversity’ but is more broadly concerned with adaptive capacity and how we better understand and address uncertainty in our internal and external environments.” (Gibson and Tarrant, 2010). Work currently being undertaken within CaCHE, building on the UK Housing Review, is seeking to assess the evolution of the housing system between the start of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007/08 and the COVID crisis in 2020, and in particular in what respects its resilience was strengthened or undermined during this period. This project provides a valuable opportunity to extend this work into the COVID-19 crisis itself, by focussing on three market-based institutions: Mortgage industry (UK);Housebuilding industry (England and Scotland); (Retail) private landlords (England and Scotland).

Scottish cities and local authorities in the era of COVID-19: data needs, capabilities and uses

Research Team:  Justine Gangneux & Simon Joss

Partner: Digital Office for Scottish Local Government

Some have argued that the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis will further accelerate the adoption of smart city technologies, push local councils to rethink how they operate and encourage collaborations with communities. In this context, data intelligence, capabilities and uses, as well as access to real-time big data are seen by many as an important part of managing recovery at the local level. Consequently, it is important to analyse how local governments utilise data, whether they increase their data capabilities, and/or identify new data needs in response to the crisis. The research entails the following four objectives:

(1)To identify and assess the existing and arising data uses, capabilities and needs of Scottish cities and local authorities in the context of COVID-19;

(2)To investigate whether cities and LAs' responses to the crisis have reshaped data governance, strengthened existing collaborations and networks, or/and generated new forms of data collaborations;

(3)To explore arising opportunities for public data collaborations and citizen engagement;

(4)To examine whether data applications/practices have informed decision- making and improved outcomes related to the management of COVID-19.

Investigating Socioeconomic, Household and Environmental Risk Factors for COVID-19 in Scotland

Research Team: Serena Pattaro, Nick Baily, Evan Williams from Urban Studies and Chris Dibben from SCADR/University of Edinburgh

Sponsors: UKRI ESRC 'Administrative Data Research Centre 2018' (ES/S007407/1); Chief Statistical Office of Scottish Government.

There is a growing concern that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing health and social inequalities.  In this study, we plan to combine individual-level administrative health records from Public Health Scotland COVID-19 Research Database with data from the Census, Ordinance Survey, Scottish Government (council tax) and other area-level environmental data sources to analyse socioeconomic and other risk factors associated with  testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms, receiving critical care and death due to COVID-19 disease.  With regard to environmental risk factors in particular the research addresses three questions:

(i)          Are poor housing conditions, living in a property with a shared entrance (flats) and living in high-density population areas associated with an increased risk of adverse COVID-19 outcomes?

(ii)         Does the propensity to use public transport as the main commute mode to work increase the risk of adverse COVID-19 outcomes?

(iii)        What is the association between exposure to air pollution and ultraviolet radiation and adverse COVID-19 outcomes?

From Charity to Solidarity: COVID-19 Mutual Aid Groups

Research Team: Bilge Serin (Lead Researcher), Adriana Michaela Soaita (Researcher), Eleanor Chapman (Researcher), Gareth James (Knowledge Exchange Associate)

Sponsors: College of Social Science Research Fund, UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

The COVID-19 pandemic, an unexpected global crisis, has changed everyday life in a short period of time while creating a global emergency. Communities have rapidly responded to this fast-moving situation by creating bottom-up initiatives. COVID-19 mutual aid groups have emerged under these circumstances as a key response by communities for communities. The research aims to explore the role of COVID-19 mutual aid groups as a community response in mitigating everyday life challenges emerging under a pandemic situation.

Tenant Activism in the Private Renting Sector

Research Team: Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita (Lead Co-Investigator) and Dr Chris Foye (Knowledge Exchange)

Sponsor: UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

In the face of the COVID-19 lockdown, significant but temporary measures were taken to protect private tenants from eviction but tenants and tenant activists argue that more needs to be done to regulate the sector.  This project employs the definition of ‘everyday activism’ (Chatterton and Pickerill 2010) to understand tenant activism as a broad range of individual or collective actions taken with the belief that one’s action may improve not only one’s own situation but also help other tenants. Drawing on rich data from a purposefully designed online survey with private tenants in the UK who have engaged in such actions and analysis of tenant Facebook groups, the project investigates the questions of why private tenants engage in tenant activism and what they demand from government.

Citizen mobility and the growth of infections during the COVID-19 pandemic with the effects of government restrictions in Western Europe

Research Team: Mohd Sarim, Qunshan Zhao, Nick Bailey

Sponsor(s): Urban Big Data Centre (funded by ESRC)

Mobility restrictions have been imposed by many countries in order to curb the spread the novel coronavirus disease. These vary in overall severity but also in the details of which kinds of activity and hence mobility has been permitted or restricted. This study uses the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker to measure the severity of restrictions on mobility in eight Western European countries but adds additional understanding on the nature of restrictions by combining this with mobility data from Google on different activities. The countries were classified into three categories based on the observed changes in mobility patterns, reflecting differences in the approach rather than severity. The paper then assesses the relationships between mobility patterns and the spread of the virus by looking at the growth rate ratio.   The time lag for the highest correlation is observed to be in the range of 14-20 days in most cases. In some countries, however, there is no correlation between mobility in parks and spread of disease, suggesting this activity is relatively safe with appropriate social distancing. These findings support the use of social distancing measures in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and could also be helpful in case of any future outbreaks of similar infectious diseases.  and

Did Safe Cycling Infrastructure Still Matter During a COVID-19 Lockdown?

Research Team: Jinhyun Hong, David Philip McArthur, Varun Raturi

Sponsor(s): Urban Big Data Centre (funded by ESRC)

Strict measures (e.g., work from home and lockdown) for COVID-19 led to substantial reductions in traffic, making roads much safer for cyclists. Since roads became safer, safe cycling infrastructure may not play a significant role during this period. On the other hand, safe cycling lanes are often connected to amenities, potentially attracting cyclists even if they confer no additional safety benefit. That is, connectivity might matter more than safety. In this study, we utilised crowdsourced cycling data and regression models to examine the extent to which cycling intensity for non-commuting purposes changes with different types of cycling infrastructure in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

Disabled People and COVID-19 in the UK

Research Team:  Tom Shakespeare (PI) (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Nick Watson, (Co-I), Richard Brunner (Researcher), Nicky Burns (Co-I), Jane Cullingworth (Researcher), Charlotte Pearson (Co-I), Philly Wiseman (Co-I) and Shaffa Hameed (Researcher), Nathaniel Scherer (Researcher) and Veronika Reichenberger (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine).

Sponsor: UKRI.

Description: Disabled people are vulnerable to health and social  impacts of COVID-19.  For many, their support needs and their impairments make them more susceptible to the condition and increase the risk of mortality. This qualitative study explores disabled people's experiences of the epidemic in the short and medium term.  It also documents the impact of social isolation and the interruption of support on their wellbeing, the barriers and facilitators of this process and lessons learned for policy and practice. In exploring these issues, the research team will conduct 60 in-depth  telephone interviews with a range of disabled people, including parents of disabled children, with different conditions, in different social and physical locations across England and Scotland, alongside 28 key informant interviews with organisations in the voluntary and statutory sectors.

Lockdown Pains & Mass Exodus: Rental housing in megacities of the Indian subcontinent

Research Team: Dr Sohail Ahmad (PI), Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita (Co-I), Prof Tanjil Sowgat (Co-I, University of Khulna), Dr Sami Ullah (Co-I, University of Gujarat), Mr Faisal Munir (Co-I, University of Gujarat), Mahendra Sethi (Co-I, Indian Society for Applied Research & Development (ISARD)), Shilpi Mittal (Co-I, ISARD)

Sponsor: Scottish Funding Council – GCRF Small Grant

Covid-19 has exposed major structural, social and governance fault lines of developing countries. One of the most heart-wrenching images of the Indian lockdown would perhaps remain the inhuman habitation of migrant labour in financial capitals, followed by their mass exodus to their home villages, walking for hundreds of miles. As governments announce their economic and rental housing packages, we investigate stakeholder needs, market & policy landscape for sustainable rental housing of migrant labour in megacities of the Indian subcontinent.