The Covid-19 pandemic has presented enormous challenges across society and contributed to the widening of inequalities across many measures. But has this forced business to step up and become more socially responsible?

There has certainly been a lot to speak out about during the past 18 months. The Resolution Foundation reports that Britain’s richest 10% have gained £50,000 on average, due to a lack of spending opportunities during lockdowns and rising house prices. The BAME community are more at risk of catching Covid-19 than the white population, and while the young are among the least vulnerable to the virus itself, they are strongly affected by impacts such disruption to education and job instability in sectors such as hospitality, retail, travel and other service industries. ONS figures show that of the 811,000 payroll jobs that were lost in the UK in the first quarter of 2021, under-35s accounted for 80%.

But as the situation has worsened, research shows that organisations are responding accordingly. In 2020, the Governance and Accountability Institute reported that 90% of the S&P 500 stock market index companies published sustainability/responsibility reports during the year prior – and the latest survey from the Capita Institute has found that 45% of organisations have been placing more of a focus on social value since the onset of the pandemic.

The Capita Institute is undertaking quarterly pulse surveys, asking over 350 key decision makers how they have been affected by the pandemic as individuals, as organisations and as industries – and explores how we are adapting in these difficult times. In partnership with YouGov, we’re looking at whether there is a great opportunity to view work and life after the pandemic as a new frontier.

In our first pulse survey earlier this year, we examined the views of respondents as they looked back on a challenging 12 months – and found that certain groups are more likely to have suffered from pandemic-related pressures. This includes lower income groups, racial and ethnic minorities, younger people, and women, with 72% of our female respondents saying that the events of 2020 had a negative effect on them as individuals, compared to 59% of males.

Expectations of business to solve societal issues has never been higher. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that businesses are more trusted than government in 18 out of 27 countries – and asserts that these rising expectations of business demand CEOs to focus on societal issues with the same energy used to deliver on profits. And the economic case for striving for equality has been shown widely in research, such as into the gender pay gap and racial equity.

It is clear that today’s business leaders must speak out on a wide range of issues and organisations are being required to step up and play a vital role in the global response. And so many are – there have been countless examples of companies stepping up their contributions to society during the pandemic, from Intel pledging $50 million toward a pandemic response technology initiative, to Estee Lauder donating hand sanitiser to high-need groups and populations or Audible making hundreds of its audiobooks free to children during lockdown.

The Capita Institute’s second pulse survey of the year was conducted in April and May and explores the social value initiatives that have been launched, either pre-pandemic or in response to Covid-19. We found that gender and racial equality initiatives were most likely to have been in place pre-pandemic, highlighted by 65% and 64% of respondents. Meanwhile, digital inclusion and financial support initiatives were the most likely to have been launched as a response to Covid-19 (both selected by 15%).

But there is so much more to do. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded us on World Health Day in April, the Covid-19 crisis "has revealed how unequal our societies are." And as the pandemic continues to impact societies, it’s vital that organisations take this opportunity to maintain their commitment to corporate social responsibility, collaborate and step up to the challenges ahead.

You can register using the button below to receive your copy of the full Pulse 2 great opportunity debate report and automatically receive our third pulse report, which will be published in the Autumn.

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