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St Andrews Professor Gives Testimony at UK Covid-19 Inquiry

Professor Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, provided recent testimony at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. Since June 2023, the inquiry has been an ongoing investigation into the national government’s response to the crisis and how it can improve future prevention policies. This included concerns about how various marginalised identities and communities were affected disparately throughout the UK.  

In particular, Professor Reicher spoke on the importance of public trust in the Government as “essential to Covid outcomes”. He explained that the rhetoric demonising vaccine hesitancy was particularly problematic, given that marginalised groups tend to have higher levels of scepticism in regard to vaccinations. 

He said, “If you go down that individualistic route, you then come up with conclusions like Black people are either less intelligent or less moral than others. And hopefully, none of us want to go down that route.”

He continued, “An alternative approach is to say it's not about the information itself, it's about our social relationship to the source of that information: do we trust those who are giving us this information? Do we trust those who are giving us this Information? And there is good reason to understand why certain groups have less trust in government because historically they have been treated differentially.”

Professor Reicher’s 2020 book Together Apart further explains that the imposed policy of lockdown was responsible for the fracturing of relationships between groups and marginalised minorities. This was emphasised by the constant rhetoric of blaming anti-vaccine groups for the spread of the disease. 

He went on to state that the Scottish Government was more effective in its engagement with the public than the UK government over the course of the pandemic: “I have compared and contrasted certain statements at the same time by the Prime Minister and the First Minister, showing how, on the one hand, the Prime Minister tends to tell people off and to threaten to punish them, [and on the other] the First Minister tends to recognise the difficulty people have, the efforts that they are putting into compliance, and encourages them to continue with those efforts for the sake of the community.”

According to Professor Reicher, the Scottish Government’s approach constituted a “beautiful example of the social differences and the way in which you can use Scottishness to create a sense of an inclusive social identity, which includes everybody and brings them together, as opposed to an ethnic identity.” 

Image by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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