Fears grow for financial wellbeing across the world

The toll of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is weighing heavy on the world’s population according to a new report from global health insurer Cigna.

The underwriter has issue its fourth Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study which warns the hopes for a recovery from the darkest days of the pandemic are not a positive as first believed.

Jason Sadler  Cigna’s President International Markets said: “It is now one year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported.

“To think back to December 2019 is to recall a very different world. People reflected on their hopes for the coming year blissfully unaware of the pandemic that lay around the corner, and the monumental impact it would have in reshaping personal and professional lives.”

He said the firm’s first study compared views between January and April to understand the immediate impact of the pandemic.

“At its onset, we saw that health and well-being indicators unexpectedly improved as people adapted positively to the lifestyle changes it brought.  There was a sense of people ‘making the best’ of the circumstances they found themselves in. The field research for this, our fourth study, was conducted seven months later during October and paints a different picture.

“Whereas previously the focus was on dealing with issues of immediate concern, people’s perspective has now shifted to further horizons and their ability to withstand the pressure they’re under.

“The latest study reveals that as the pandemic has become normalised, and people sense light at the end of the tunnel, they are now looking at what the long-term impact will be. And real fears about their financial futures are coming to the fore.”

Mr Sadler said looking at some of the markets that have successfully controlled the virus, Cigna saw signs of what we might expect as other markets emerge from its shadow. The picture is not as positive as might be hoped.

“Taiwan and New Zealand reported record lows of well-being with financial and family concerns, respectively, outweighing other areas of positivity,” he added.

The report  itself said after enduring months of lockdowns, changing restrictions and multiple waves of COVID-19, the mood among people globally has become more uncertain and concerns for the future are commonplace.

Almost half of global respondents (48%) said uncertainty about the future is their biggest cause of stress and a similar number, 45%, said they do not have a financial safety net if they lose their jobs or are unable to work.

Only a quarter (26%) of people are now confident that they can maintain their standard of living; more than half of people (54%) have slashed unnecessary spending, and 39% of people have made permanent changes to how they manage their finances.

It warned financial concerns are playing a significant role in feelings of uncertainty. But they are not the only factor.

“Perceptions of well-being and health are being adversely affected across other aspects too,” it explained. “So much so that in the current report a number of markets reported record lows for well-being during the pandemic – namely, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand. Spain too, after experiencing an upswing in the previous report, saw well-being indicators drop once more.”

It added across the world, both those engaged in a cycle of lockdowns and those looking to restore normality, are struggling to find an effective balance between pressures at work and taking care of the family which is increasing stress levels.

“In some key markets we are witnessing what can be described as a destructive spiral or ‘feedback loop’, where work life and family life are actually harming each other,” it said. “At a global level, almost three in ten people have high well-being scores for both workplace and family. These people have low levels of overall stress and particularly low levels of acute, ‘unmanageable’ stress – only 4%.

“However, on the flipside, more than 40% have low well-being scores in both these areas, and their stress levels are much higher, with 14% reporting unmanageable stress. A lot of people are feeling under increased pressure at work, whilst also worrying that they do not have enough time to care for their family at home, and this translates into real problems.

“We’ve seen this acute family stress result in increases in annoying or destructive behaviours such as nail biting and skin picking; as well as alcohol and drug use.”